A 100-year old chocolate bar sold for nearly $700.
The high-priced sweet took a long, strange journey before reaching the auction table, from bustling English factories to the barren Antarctic landscape, and back again.
The bar was originally part of a 1,588-kilogram (3,500-pound) loaf of cocoa and chocolate that accompanied legendary British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on his 1904 expedition to Antarctica.
The expedition—nicknamed the “Discovery Expedition”—took the research vessel RRS Discovery from the Isle of Wight to the southern tip of Africa, then on to New Zealand, before reaching McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Today, the stately, three-masted ship is a tourist attraction in the harbor of Dundee, Scotland, where it was built.
Members of the Discovery Expedition constructed a sturdy, square storage depot on Ross Island, not far from what is today McMurdo Station, the busiest and most populated area in Antarctica. Scott and other expedition leaders—including the explorers Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton—left tons of food and supplies at “Discovery Hut” while they explored the continent and conducted scientific research.
The chocolate sat in cold storage at Discovery Hut until 1907. At that time, Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition used Discovery Hut as a storage depot while attempting to reach the South Pole. (They failed. The South Pole was not successfully navigated until Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led an expedition there in 1911.)
Leaders of the Nimrod Expedition brought back chocolate and other supplies as souvenirs of their perilous participation in the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration.
The London auction house Christie’s held an unusual “Polar Auction” in September 2001. A diary chronicling Shackleton’s amazing Endurance Expedition of 1915 sold for $153,227. A blubber-stained photo of the Endurance itself sold for $21,900. And a 10-centimeter (4-inch) chocolate bar, left by the Discovery and rescued by the Nimrod, sold for $686.
- The Discovery Expedition was funded primarily by Britain’s Royal Geographic Society and Royal Society. The British government provided a matching donation. The total cost was about $140,000—about $4 million, adjusted for inflation in 2015.
- The Discovery Expedition was well-equipped. The crew ate from specially commissioned Royal Doulton china and silverware marked with the expedition’s crest. Cadbury’s donated 1.75 tons of chocolate and cocoa, Colman’s supplied 9 tons of flour and 1.5 tons of mustard, and a pharmaceutical company provided thousands of gallons of lime juice—to prevent crew members from developing scurvy.
- Discovery Hut, which Ernest Shackleton described as “a most useful pied-a-terre for the start of a Southern journey,” was naturally buried by snow and ice following Shackleton’s final visit in 1917. In 1956, members of the U.S. “Operation Deep Freeze” project removed the snow and ice, and found the structure and its stores remarkably intact. Today, Discovery Hut is one of 92 Historic Sites and Monuments in Antarctica.
Earth's fifth-largest continental landmass.
sale at which goods or services are sold to the highest bidder.
thick layer of fat under the skin of marine mammals.
food made from the roasted and ground seeds of the cacao plant, usually sweetened.
powder made from the roasted seeds of the cacao plant, used to make chocolate.
one of the seven main land masses on Earth.
place where supplies are stored for later distribution.
journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.
part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.
the geographic features of a region.
tall, pole-like structure rising above the top of a ship, where sails and other rigging are held.
to plan and direct the course of a journey.
ship or boat equipped to carry out scientific experiments or collect data.
Robert Falcon Scott
(1868-1912) British explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic.
body of water, larger than a bay, partially surrounded by land.
fixed point that, along with the North Pole, forms the axis on which the Earth spins.
object kept to remind someone of an event.
dignified and imposing.
space for keeping materials for use at a later time.