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Report: France

Serge Gainsbourg's cigarette butts - yours for only 500 euros!

Sarah Elzas

Fans of French singer and professional Bohemian Serge Gainsbourg were set to bid for his cigarette butts, nail clippers and other personal items at an auction in western France on Thursday.


Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most influential figures of French popular culture - a singer, a poet, an actor and director, his legacy lives on, over 20 years after his death in 1991.

Fans are even willing to pay big money for everyday items, like grocery lists. Last year, an auction of 10 such handwritten items brought in over 60,000 euros.

On Thursday 31 October over 100 items having to do with Gainsbourg went under the hammer in Nantes, the western French city where last year's auction was held.

Fans could bid online, where an illustrated list of all the items up for sale could be viewed and clicked on.

The Talma auction house in Nantes is warehouse-like space with wooden armoires along the edges and Persian carpets on the floors.

These are the sort of items usually on sale here.

Celebrity items like the Serge Gainsbourg artifacts are not the norm.

"It's pretty exceptional, even very rare," says auctioneer Virginie Bertrand

Last year she was approached by a local who wanted to auction off 10 handwritten grocery lists and song notes by the artist.

The sale went well, so when a friend of Gainsbourg's butler decided to sell some of his collection of items, he came to her.

Today's sale includes his items, along with objects from an anonymous seller, and three diaries belonging to Gainsbourg from a third seller.

Bertrand says appraising these things was not straightforward:

"We are more accustomed to appraising art, paintings, furniture, books, jewellery, silver, that kind of thing," she says. "This is much more difficult. There are not many precedents. There have never been any sale of Gainsbourg's shoes, for example. So it's difficult to put a price on them."

There are two pairs of shoes, the famous Zizi Repetto dance slippers worn by Gainsbourg. They're starting at 2,000 euros.

There are other, even more obscure items, as well: a nail clipper, a pair of glasses, even four cigarette butts - starting price 500 euros.

"Many people are talking about these cigarettes," says David Richard, who works with Bertrand. "According to the seller, he saw Serge Gainsbourg, smoking them."

He says he was a bit sceptical when the man proposed them but some fans who came to look at the objects ahead of the auction were enthralled.

Thibault, 20, and Titouen, 19, both from Nantes, are huge Gainsbourg fans. And for them the Gitanes cigarettes are iconic.

"The Gitanes are kind of what most characterised him," says Thibault. "You see him smoking them in every other photo."

And to be so close to the butts gives them a buzz.

"Here we know his mouth touched these cigarette butts," says Titouen, looking down into the glass case where the butts are on show, packed into a plastic cassette case. "We are 10 cm away from them. It's impressive."

Both say they cannot afford to bid on anything but, if they had the money, they would.

Most visitors are like them: fans not planning to bid on anything, but here to soak in the ambiance.

"It's strange to think he touched these things," says Ambre. "These are intimate objects."

She has come with her father, Pierre, who marvels at a grocery list Gainsbourg wrote for his housekeeper (pharmacy supplies, 6six lemons, Parmesan cheese and a jar of cream).

"It's moving to think that he touched this paper; he wrote it," he says.

Shoes, tapes, notebooks and cigarette butts are among the items at the auction
Shoes, tapes, notebooks and cigarette butts are among the items at the auction Sarah Elzas

David Richard says this and the other items will likely be bought by fans like these.

"In the heart of a fan, you've got a piece of Serge Gainsbourg in your pocket if you buy this kind of thing," he says.

A piece of daily life, starting at 500 euros. Similar grocery lists started at 100 euros at last year's auction, and sold for over 8,000.

The most unique object for sale, according to Richard, is a dictaphone cassette tape, with a song recorded on it.

"It's the last song that Gainsbourg has made, and it has been never released on an album," he says.

He says Gainsbourg sings on the recording and "you have the different commentaries of Jane Birkin", his British girlfriend.

But we'll have to take his word for it. The tape has not been digitised, he says, and will only be played live during the auction.

The starting price for the tape: 10,000 euros.

"It's really hard to put an estimation on these things," he says. "That's why the estimations are not that high because we can imagine that it will increase during the sale."

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