Selling Stonehenge and other World Heritage Sites

Here’s a novel suggestion for how the government can help reduce the massive public deficit: sell Stonehenge. A survey of 500 estate agents, among other monuments studied, has placed the price of the ancient stone circle at a cool £51 million. It’s a drop in the ocean of the £156 billion gap between government income and expenditure. But it’s a start.

Okay, so we’re not really advocating putting one of Britain’s most prized historic monuments up for sale: UNESCO would have some angry words to say about that. And it doesn’t even bare thinking how the druids will react. But the survey does shed light on just how much heritage sites are worth. Elsewhere, a price tag of £5.2 million was placed on 10 Downing Street, while Windsor Castle’s value was reckoned at £391 million.

But are the sums on Stonehenge correct? Shouldn’t such an internationally-renowned, popular and iconic monument be worth so much more?

In recent years Christie’s auction house has sold the likes of the Egyptian statue of Ka-Nefer and his family for a tidy £1.9 million, the Canford Assyrian relief for the princely sum of £7.7 million, and the Jenkins Venus for a whopping £7.9 million.

Counting just the 18 large standing stones, the 10 giant stones of the inner circle and the central altar stone at Stonehenge, by a very unscientific breakdown, that £51 million price tag on the Neolithic monument gives its 29 key constituent parts an approximate value of just £1.7 million a piece. That’s lower than each of the Christie’s sales listed above.

Theoretically speaking, don’t these figures at least suggest the total price tag should be a bit higher? Surely a super-wealthy antiquities collector would be prepared to pay megabucks to have a Stonehenge megalith in their living room? Or possibly even a trilith framing their front door?

And what about admission fees? Stonehenge presently attracts around 900,000 visitors a year, at an average price of about £5 per head. Multiply that long-term – by 25 years, say – and that means the monument is worth over £112 million. Consider too that visitor figures will most likely increase in years to come, and factor in revenue from merchandising, and £51 million begins to sound like a snip.

“It’s quite a challenge for estate agents more used to valuing suburban semis to put an accurate valuation on a royal castle or ancient monument,” commented Nigel Lewis, a property analyst at FindaProperty.com, who ran the survey. “But there was a surprising amount of agreement between the different agents we spoke to.”

Clearly estate agents have done their sums, too. They consider many different factors when it comes to judging the value of a property – location, age, whether it’s in need of improvement and so on. Stonehenge doesn’t lack for a good spot, situated on sheep-nibbled rolling Wiltshire countryside. But at 4,500 years vintage it could hardly be described as a new build, while its state of repair is questionable to say the least. And then there’s that ugly car park plonked right across the road since the 1960s (although it’s soon to be removed).

Also, unless Stonehenge’s new owners were to scrap already scaled-down plans for a new visitor centre – current cost £25 million – then that’s a big chunk of change they’ll need to lay out straight after being handed the keys to the front gate. But £51 million still sounds like far too low an asking price.

Someone buying a historic British monument isn’t actually as ridiculous as it sounds. Missourian businessman Robert P. McCulloch in 1968 purchased the old 19th century London Bridge designed by engineer John Rennie (or at least its stone cladding) from the City of London for $2 million dollars. He then shipped it to the United States, where it was rebuilt across Lake Havasu in Arizona as the gateway to a mock-English community. Legend has it that McCulloch mistakenly believed he was actually buying Tower Bridge – a story he vehemently denied.

It’d be a tragedy to see Stonehenge similarly packed-up and shipped off elsewhere. But Number 10 or Windsor Castle? Times are tight, after all.

From The Independent

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Here in America we’ve got our own budgetary gaps to fill.  If the Stars and Stripes were to follow suit (remember this is all theoretical) what would we be able to bring to the auction block?  Off the top of my head I can think of a few World Heritage Sites that may fetch a pretty penny from the right buyer.

First up is Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were both signed.  Ultimately the birthplace of American government, wouldn’t it do wonders to inspire fair forms of government in other parts of the world, say the Middle East?  Could we part with it knowing that the building could possibly inspire other nations to develop a free and equal way of living?  Or would we be wrapped in fear that Independence Hall may end up as a trophy piece on the mantle of some communist nation?

Next, the Statue of Liberty.  Imagine if France were to buy back this long-standing symbol of freedom and new beginnings.  Since 1886, Miss Liberty has sat at the entrance to New York Harbor welcoming immigrants to a land of freedom.   With the way our country (sorry, I mean Arizona) is cracking down on immigration, maybe it’s time we let this one go.  Some things just don’t fit like they used to.  Perhaps it would look better on the coast of England as the pin-up girl of the EU.  Hell, maybe BP can buy it and use it to stop the leak in the Gulf.  Whatever works…

The whole idea fostered by The Independent article is how do you place monetary worth on ultimately invaluable landmarks?  By what criteria is value judged?  While these places may have value in the form of materials or architectural design, the intangible value they have to people and nations can never be calculated.  Ultimately, is the idea of owning a piece of another country’s cultural heritage just too much to consider?

Comments welcome.

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