Mystery Solved: Why We'll Pay $1M for a Clapton Guitar

Celebrity items inspire 'magical thinking' in collectors, say scientists
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 9, 2011 8:24 AM CST
Mystery Solved: Why We'll Pay $1M for a Clapton Guitar
A Bonhams' employee poses with a Daphne Blue 2008 Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster guitar on display at the auction house in London, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011.   (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

It’s strange enough that a guitar used by Eric Clapton sold for nearly $1 million in 2004—but perhaps even stranger that a replica of that guitar is expected to go for at least $20,000 at auction today. Why are collectors willing to pay so much for something Clapton touched—or even just a clone of something Clapton touched? Yale researchers explain that it all has to do with “magical thinking.” Certain items, like those owned or touched by celebrities, are thought to be imbued with “contagious magic,” making them seem more valuable than they actually are, the New York Times reports.

Researchers found that the “celebrity” in question doesn’t even have to have a positive association; one experiment found people were still interested in buying items that once belonged to Saddam Hussein. Even replicas of such celebrity items can hold a similar “imitative magic” to collectors, turning them into “fetishes”—objects believed to hold supernatural powers. Collectors often believe that using instruments or even guitar strings once owned by a celebrity can improve their playing. Though it may sound odd, scientists say such beliefs are actually instinctual—and may stem from the Dark Ages, when those with a belief in contagion stayed away from plague sufferers, and thus survived. (Read more celebrity stories.)

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