As the primary leader of India’s independence movement against British rule, Mahatma Gandhi was the architect of a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would influence the world.

His life and teachings inspired activists around the world, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Far less noteworthy but reflective of the man, Gandhi (1869-1948) was also known for giving old or unwanted pairs of rather identifiable glasses to those in need or to those who helped him. A pair of Gandhi’s glasses shook the collecting world when they recently sold for $340,000 at auction – more than 17 times pre-auction estimates.

“An incredible result for an incredible item,” the British auction house East Bristol Auctions wrote on Instagram.

Mahatma Gandhi

India’s Mahatma Gandhi was known to gift his possessions to those who befriended him. 

The story of how the glasses came to auction is almost as incredible as the auction results.

Speaking prior to the sale, auctioneer Andy Stowe said he discovered the glasses while checking the mail at his office in Bristol, southwest England. “I saw an envelope hanging out of our letterbox – really, literally, just hanging out,” he said.

When a colleague opened the envelope, they discovered the unusual contents – a pair of gold-rimmed, circular glasses.

“They had a little note in there saying ‘These belonged to Gandhi, and my uncle was given them,’” Stowe said.

Stowe then called the phone number on the note and traced the item’s seller, an 80-year-old who lived locally.

The man told Stowe that the glasses had been passed to him from his uncle, who told him Gandhi gave them to him during the 1920s or 1930 while he was employed in South Africa.

“The uncle (was) working for British Petroleum at the time and was stationed in South Africa, and it can be presumed that these were gifted by way of thanks from Gandhi for some good deed,” East Bristol Auctions said in its sale catalog.

“We started doing some research and realized they were worth quite a considerable amount of money,” Stowe added.

Stowe told Sky News earlier that the consignor had said: “If they’re no good, just throw them away.”

When Stowe suggested the glasses might be worth as much as $20,000 the man “nearly fell off his chair”.

“It’s a phenomenal result,” Stowe said. “These glasses represent not only an auction record for us, but a find of international historical importance.”

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