A bizarre cottage industry born out of the war in Iraq carries a few lessons about humans and the economy. One, Saddam Hussein was one of the most iconic tyrants of the 20th century. Two, even the niche dictator memorabilia market is not immune from the recession.
The fascination with all things Saddam began immediately after the Iraqi dictator was deposed in 2003. In the days following his brutal regime, a number of items made the rounds online including dinar notes bearing Saddam’s likeness and a fork from one of his palaces, both of which sold for over $100 on eBay. Chunks allegedly from Saddam's statue in Baghdad’s Fardus Square appeared soon after shoe-slapping Iraqis and US soldiers yanked his likeness down. The statue bits were later revealed to be fake.
George W. Bush got in on the fun snapping up the pistol brandished by Hussein when he was captured by U.S. forces. After this, Saddamerobilia soon began to fetch obscene prices. Saddam's diamond-encrusted Rolex was sold for $150,000; his favorite Dior sunglasses garnered $12,000; and a Cartier pen used for execution orders saw a $5,000 price tag. There was no word on how these items made it from Iraq to the collectibles market, but the mini-industry stalled when the motherload went up for sale last year.
The Iraqi government hoped to get $30 million for a 270-foot luxury yacht, the Ocean Breeze, once belonging to Saddam but rarely used. In a recession-pinched auction market, the ship didn’t see any bids and eventually sailed back to Basra. It looked like buyers had realized the tackiness of Saddamerobilia and demand for the items would abate. But in retrospect, it was most likely the global economic downturn that kept Hussein’s pleasure vessel without an owner.
The dinars with Saddam's portrait are still up for auction but only sell for a few dollars now, as is a random document signed by Saddam, which hasn't received any bids yet but is looking for a winning offer of $510. As with overall the decline in the art market, Saddam-themed collectibles--we can't really call them art--have taken a hit. Will an upswing in Sadaamerobila mean the economy is back on track or will the recession quench the taste for all things dictatorial?