Here’s a commodity quotation listing unlike any other, guaranteed.
I’m applying heavy automation so that it should be easy to crunch all the math
and keep everything updated on a monthly basis.
These goods fall roughly into three categories: scientific
marvels, legendary comestibles and personal care items, and outsized bullion
coins/platters. Aside from the merely expensive, some additional items beyond the ones that I’m able to
quote but will mention are, in fact, so elusive that they have no real
market and are therefore literally priceless.
The figures reflect an average of the asking prices
of several parties1. They should be reasonably close for small, tabletop
quantities. Obviously if you decide to stock up on heavy water in 55-gallon
drums you could cut a better deal. Each graph displays the values for the
same given quantity so they’ll compare on an equal footing. To
approximate Euros for April 2015, multiply dollar
amounts by 0.95; for
Pounds Sterling, 0.68.
As different as these seven items are from one another, I'm listing them first because they
all come in at, effectively, under
$300 per troy ounce.
Uranium is normally bought, sold, and stored in the form of its chalky yellow
oxide — better known as yellowcake. Back during the Beaver Cleaver era they used
to give bottles of the stuff away to tourists visiting the mines. The pure metal itself
is by far the cheapest superheavy substance which is the main reason the military craves
it for bullets and artillery shells. Unenriched uranium is mildly radioactive and
despite much hue and cry pretty safe unless it’s finely divided and inhaled.
Which, of course, during warfare, it is.
At around $22
per 100 ml (3.4 oz) bottle, Manni extra virgin olive oil costs
twice as much as
uranium and so far appears to be the world’s costliest. Maybe its
farmers sing to the trees. Chefs use Manni very sparingly but many insist
it’s worth it. Unfortunately for the more workaday product, terms like
“extra virgin” have no legal meaning in the US so you can
find just about any old crankcase sludge marketed here under that rubric (heads up,
|Are two Ns better than one?
Now I also see an oil called Mani
(spelled with one N) being sold. It’s scrupulously labeled as coming from Greece, as opposed to
Italy for the legendary two-N version2, and you’ll notice it’s also vastly
cheaper. The marketplace holds Greek and other non-Italian olive oil in far lower esteem than Italian and there
continues to be a lot of scandal
brewing, if not outright physical violence, over the covert and industrywide substitution of one for the other. For all I know,
may well rival its namesake in actual quality; but as with everything, caveat emptor.
Shilajit or shilajeet is a highly prized tar that seeps to the surface in the
Himalayas during summer thaw. It’s a traditional Nepali tonic and cure-all. In
1870 British explorer Sir Martin Stanley reported that monkeys living in the higher
elevations where they could find and eat shilajit aged much more slowly, Lost
Horizons-like, than their brethren who did not. Shilajit contains humic acids —
large, complex molecules that arise from plant decomposition. So far little or no
clinical evidence suppports any benefits. (It’s also worth knowing that quality
control of shilajit can be lax to nonexistent and that unacceptable levels of heavy metals
like lead and mercury have been reported.)
Heavy water or D2O is water made of the alternate stable isotope of
hydrogen called deuterium. It’s used to slow neutrons in some nuclear
reactors. D2O weighs 11% more than ordinary water and has slightly
higher melting and boiling points. It lies midway between ordinary water and
skim milk in viscosity, so although it doesn’t taste any different it
might conceivably feel a bit unusual in your mouth. Animal studies show that
restricting your fluid intake to 50% D2O or more would cause no end
of grief. Its chemical reactions run a bit slower so your body would have
difficulty dividing cells and repairing itself and would give up the ghost
before the week is out.
is actually more red than yellow. It consists exclusively
of the saffron crocus’s stigmas, not the stalks supporting them which,
brine they inject into supermarket chicken, add little more than dead
weight. Technicians grade saffron by how well it absorbs a 440 nanometer
wavelength of light, a deep violet-blue, resulting in a correspondingly high
reflectance at the other end of the spectrum, red. The best earns an ISO color
strength rating of 230 and above. The spice’s chief active ingredient is
crocin, a deep red crystalline solid that’s also plentiful in gardenias.
Claims circulate to the effect that crocin shows antioxidant and cancer-suppressing potential, so a
number of firms are investigating gardenias as a far
(Note the superfluous yellow stalks.)
You’d probably no more relegate 100-year-old balsamic vinegar to
your iceberg lettuce than you would pour Manni olive oil into a turkey fryer. The classical
balsamic — the only one marketable as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale — consists of
Trebbiano and/or Lambrusco grape juices that have been boiled for 24-30 hours down to a syrup, filtered, injected with a starter culture,
and then ritualistically fermented through a series of progressively smaller casks of varying types of
wood. Aging categories break down into 12 years (labeled red), 18 (silver), and finally 25 to 100 or more (gold).
At the century stage the vinegar is thick, almost black, and entirely non-acidic with an
intense, indescribably complex flavor. Connoisseurs dollop it gingerly onto
meat or fruit or just sip it straight from shot glasses. Clans in
Italy’s Emilia Romagna region have been crafting the product which
Il Grande Vecchio Mussini,
and other brands for over a thousand years. (The oldest stock I’ve ever seen for sale dated back to the mid 1600s, though
despite that it was priced more in line with its century-only peers at around $100 per fluid ounce.)
The red wines of Châteaux Lafleur, Le Pin, and Pétrus figure
prominently on most short lists of the world’s most exalted. Château
Pétrus was served at Queen Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947 and
became a favorite of the Kennedy White House. I’m tracking the price of
1982 Pétrus Pomerol on my graph because it was a particularly good year and
because there’s enough of it around to assure a sturdy market.
$209 per troy ounce approximates
$5100 a bottle.
The willingness of prospective customers to part with that kind of cash for something a
couple can drink inside of an hour depends entirely on how much they trust the people who
have warehoused it. You can infer something by the condition of the bottle’s label
and the size of the empty space inside the neck. If the latter (called
“ullage”) extends down too low, the cork hasn’t been doing its job and
the wine has probably gone bad. Twist tops are vastly superior in this regard, taking an
average of three years to leak in each cubic centimeter of oxygen.
Long gone are the days when circulating coinage held substantial bullion
value. But what the heck. Here’s the current worth
of each of the four base metals in the new gold-colored US presidential
dollar coin. They total $0.04583 or 983 Dongs, up 2% from last month. That’s not
bad for a one dollar face value. The big money loser for the US mint
is the nickel, whose metal content alone now comes to about
|Copper||$ 0.04203 (↑ 2.2%)|
|Nickel||$ 0.00223 (↓ 5.8%)|
|Zinc||$ 0.00097 (↓ 6.3%)|
|Manganese||$ 0.00060 (↓ 0.9%)|
|Dollar Coin Components
In 2004 the Austrian mint struck fifteen copies of a 1000-troy-ounce
24-karat gold “coin” picturing the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra hall on one side and violins, a harp, a French horn and a
bassoon on the other. Half the weight of a typical manhole cover, it
measures about 15 inches (37 cm) in diameter and 5/8 inches (1.5 cm)
thick. At current gold prices its bullion value would be
Canada went one better in 2007 with five specimens of a 99.999% pure 3215-troy-ounce (100 kg) gold coin,
representing a current bullion value of around
This one is 3 ⅓ times the width of the Austrian number but only twice the thickness.
Since gold of that fineness is so absurdly soft and pliable, such a heavy yet
skinny platter of it would be vulnerable to dents and gouges at the slightest
Australia’s Perth mint answered that in October 2011 with a far
larger and proportionately thicker (albeit more rustic-looking) specimen. This one weighs 32,537 troy
ounces (1012 kg). Multiplying the value of the Canadian article above by 10.12 yields
Naturally it displays the Queen on one side and a kangaroo on the other.
One wonders, though, how long they’ll want to keep all that gold
bottled up into a single mass.
Currently the world’s largest silver coin is the medieval-styled
commemorative European Taler struck by the Austrian mint in 2008. It
weighs 645.59 troy ounces (20.08 kg or 44.3 pounds) which at the moment would total around
Proceed to Part II (red mercury, agarwood oil, Escorial wool, etc.) »
World’s Rarest Metals|
Ten of the World’s Rarest Gemstones
Weird Word of the Week
Text © Peter Blinn
1. For informational purposes only. Don’t hold me to it.
2. This Manni vs. Mani business reminds me of that old “David Copperfield with one P” bookstore sketch Marty Feldman was famous for.
3. Since Apsar coins are bullion and issued in excruciatingly limited quantities (either 1000 or 2000 total), their face values are strictly pro forma. The silver ten-spot proofs, like that shown,
typically bring about $200 apiece on the collectibles market.
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