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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ILL ESOTERICS: A Fingernail Sale


A few weeks ago, my wife, noticing that I had not trimmed my toenails in some time, suggested that I sell them to Macy’s for rich, old ladies to use.


“That’s what I used to do in middle school to make spending money, except that was fingernails, not toenails.”


She told me that she sold her fingernails to Macy’s—not just shreds and clippings, but inch-long segments, trimmed off at her fingertips by qualified Macy’s personnel. Macy’s would pay her a pittance for these keratin-based cleavages, and shape and re-sell the nails to those who could not or would not grow their own.

So there were these women, I imagined them sipping champagne at cocktail parties, wearing fur coats, and, more absurdly, a twelve-year-old’s fingernails.

The fingernail.

grow at a rate of approximately 0.1mm per day, four times faster than toenails, although the exact rate of growth depends on numerous factors, such as nutrition, the age and sex of the individual and the time of year. Fingernails grow faster on young people, on males, and in the summer.

See? Look closely.

Oh wait, look at this one—on a right-handed person, the fingernails on the right hand grow faster.

"For three days after death, hair and
fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off." - Johnny Carson

Fingernails do not continue to grow after death—that is an illusion caused by the dehydration of the body after death—the skin pulls back, revealing more nail.

In their 1984 book, ‘
Rumor!’, Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker debunked a 1960s urban legend that Revlon was paying ten dollars for nails over an inch long. My wife notes that she was paid nowhere near ten dollars a nail. Similarly, the Urban Legends website claims that the fingernail sale rumor has been debunked. Has it now? Well, my wife debunks their debunking. So there.

Body brokers, often working on the grey market fringes of funeral parlors, crematoria, and willed-body programs, 'disarticulate' acquired bodies and sell their parts to medical equipment corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and surgery training programs.

One such body broker, Allen Tyler,
sold surplus body parts from the University of Texas Medical Branch's willed-body program. Over a period of three years, Tyler sold more than a thousand body parts belonging to the university—heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes—and earned upwards of $200,000, according to the FBI. Between November 1999 and August 2001, from fingernails and toenails alone he made at least $18,210. Tyler received $4,005 in one such transaction—payment for 232 fingernails and 35 toenails at $15 each, according to Tyler's records.

After reading that, the title "Department of Human Resources" gives me the creeps.

Macy's neglected to respond to my queries regarding history and prices of
their fingernail market, and my wife suggested that the activity may not have been sanctioned by corporate Macy's policy, but may have represented a shady local underground.

So there is a supply, but where is the market for human fingernails? An Observer article from November 2002, in discussing the human body parts trade in London, references the use of fingernails and toenails in making voodoo poisons. In a related story, I recall my mother cursing my father when he forced her, as his new bride, to clip his toenails. Well, in all fairness, although toenails were not specifically cited in their marriage vows, she did promise to love, honor, and obey. Had my mother been familiar with voodoo practices, no doubt she would have subsequently used my father’s toenails as an active ingredient while making the meatloaf he forced her to cook.

(Interesting note: You can donate your hair to make wigs for people who’ve lost theirs to chemotherapy, but you can’t write off the donation on your taxes, as the hair itself is considered value-less. However, the person buying your hair-wig can write it off as a medical expense. In summary: hair itself is not a commodity, but a wig made from hair is. I venture that there is no commodity version of fingernails.)

Then, there's the biggest nail sale of all—in December 2000, world-record holding creep Shridhar Chillal sought to
sell the nails from his left hand, which ranged in length from 40 to 52 inches, to a total of 226 inches. Even if Revlon’s rumored rate was ten dollars an inch rather than ten dollars for ‘over an inch long,’ and assuming they had any use whatsoever for Chillal’s horn-like nails, he would have brought in only $2,260 for his forty-eight-year effort, which calculates to an annual accrued income of $47.08, about half a cent per hour of growing time—far, far less than he earned as a photographer, or through appearances as a professional freak. In fact, Chillal felt that his due was two orders of magnitude beyond the ten dollar an inch asking price. Reportedly, he wanted to sell his wares for at least $200,000 (a mere $4,167 per year, or 48 cents per hour—a relative bargain). So far, no eccentric millionaire has stepped forward to purchase Chillal’s clippings to place in his collection of famous body parts. Surely, he could sell them online ...

In fact, fingernails do
apparently pop up from time to time on murderabilia sites like and supernaught—auction sites for collectible ephemera associated with serial killers and other famous murderers. If someone, or rather many people, were to trip over Chillal's nails, fall down a flight of stairs and die—perhaps then he could get some return on his investment. A shame, but sometimes you have to work a little harder in a niche market.

Now, I've never killed anyone. Maybe a spider or two, but I don't think that counts. Could I sell my fingernails?

I checked eBay's policies and found that they
prohibited me from doing so: "Humans, the human body or any human body parts may not be listed on eBay." Oddly enough, just under this, it says: "Virtues: eBay does not allow persons to offer or list human virtues such as their virginity or companionship on the Indian site" (italics mine—emphasis presumably theirs).

So no eBay, but there's nothing that prohibits me from selling my fingernails at a live auction.

<bang bang>

"Anyone want to buy my fingernails?"


Darcy Logan said...

I would buy them. I use them for artworks based on the Norse myth of the Naglfar...a ship made from the finger and toe nails of the dead. I can't grow them fast enough, and people are too creeped out to collect their own for me. I am desperate for parings...desperate enough I would buy them :)

Anonymous said...

In Brockton MA in the early 1990s, Macy's bought them for $100 each. I found this site since I'm looking for someone to buy mine now!

louise said...

If you still want fingernails or toe nails, then contact me

louise said...

If you still need finger or toe nails please contact me with how much you pay per 1mm

Anonymous said...

I had a friend in high school in the mid-1970s that sold her fingernails to Macy's as well. Fact, not urban legend. :)

jack mechal said...

Fingernails have been a very important part of our body and they are thought of being a mirror to one’s health.Any disorder that one may seize in the fingernails,that is out of common than the normal fingernails look,must be taken into consideration.
So we must use all below treatment.
Using a toenail clipper that has straight edge will help in cutting the toenails properly leaving no room for any in-growth.
Did you look at our page on ingrown finger?

Anonymous said...

Ive heard of ppl selling to labs, but its impossable to find information on it. Ive always been able to grow my nails out and look every now and again for new leads. So if you need some more nice peices for your art, I can help :)