holiday gift issue 2023

The Best Gift I Ever Gave Was a Baroness Title

Illustration: Pete Gamlen

Every year, I try to get my gallerist, Ellie Rines, a birthday gift that she will remember. She’s incredibly frugal and pragmatic but also very fun, loves a good prank, and values relationships and experiences over material things (art aside). But she has already got a great collection, and another work by me would be too business. One year, a group of us organized a Law & Order SVU–themed party (it’s her favorite show). Another time, we rented a Times Square billboard that flashed her headshot for 15 seconds every hour for 24 hours. But by far the best gift I’ve ever gotten Ellie is an aristocratic title. Turns out they’re available for purchase via the Principality of Sealand, the self-described “smallest country in the world,” located east of Essex, England, on a defunct WWII fort in the North Sea. Here’s the story: In the 1960s, a man named Paddy Roy Bates scaled the fort—which was essentially just a hunk of concrete in the middle of the ocean—and started broadcasting a pirate radio station there, playing music like the Rolling Stones 24/7 in protest of the BBC’s strict programming. He named the place Sealand and declared it an independent state. It was far enough offshore to evade British jurisdiction.

The “independent” spirit of the Principality of Sealand reminded me of Ellie. When I first met her in 2015, she was often perched on her own lofted platform in her new Chinatown gallery, 56 Henry, where she slept at the time. And she definitely punches above her weight careerwise. I figured if I couldn’t arrange for her to meet Bates or his son, Michael, the prince of Sealand, a deed of title personally signed by the latter would be the next best thing. I added her baroness title to my cart at A week later, the framed title arrived in the mail and I presented it to the new Baroness Eleanor Webster Rines.

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The Best Gift I Ever Gave Was a Baroness Title