About the Significant Objects Project

“Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.” — Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker

“When people are finding meaning in things — beware.” — Edward Gorey


A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!


Significant Object’s first “volume” of stories — by Sheila Heti, Nicholson Baker, Lydia Millet, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem, and 95 others — ran from July to November 2009. SO v1, as we’ve nicknamed that first volume, was a quasi-anthropological experiment whose hypothesis was: “Narrative transforms insignificant objects into significant ones.” The experiment’s parameters were as follows:

1. The experiment’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
3. Each significant object is listed for sale on eBay. The s.o. is pictured, but instead of a factual description the s.o.’s newly written fictional story is used. However, care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author’s byline will appear with his or her story.
4. The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author. Authors retain all rights to their stories.
5. The experiment’s results are cataloged on this website. The project’s curators retain the right to use these materials in other venues and media. For example: Maybe we’ll publish a book.

The results of our experiment? If an increase in the thrift-store objects’ “value in trade” can be accepted as objective evidence of an increase in the objects’ significance, then our hypothesis was 100% correct. We sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51, all of which went to SO v1’s contributing writers.


We’d answered the question of whether stories can add measurable value to near-worthless tchotchkes with an emphatic YES. But what to do with that answer?

Significant Objects’ second volume of stories — contributed by Kathryn Davis, Tom McCarthy, Amy Fusselman, Neil LaBute, Gary Panter, and 45 others — started in December 2009 and wrapped up in February 2010. SO v2 raised $2,244.11 for 826 National, a creative-writing tutoring program for teenagers in seven cities.

This was followed by our third volume, 50 stories by writers including Wesley Stace, Rick Moody, and Heidi Julavits. SO v3 raised $1,748.82 for Girls Write Now, a nonprofit that mentors at-risk young women in New York City. In collaboration with 20X200, we’ll add to that total through sales of (very affordable) v3-inspired prints made by Kate Bingaman-Burt; get yours here and support Girls Write Now.

In June 2010, we published a week of epistolary stories, guest-curated by Ben Greenman. Proceeds from those five auctions went to the nonprofit lit publication One Story.

In October 2010 we published a week of stories leading up to our first ever live event and Object Slam, in San Francisco. Proceeds went to Root Division, the arts organization that hosted our event.

In all, our various second-phase efforts raised $4,351.50 for worthy, lit-related entities. Significant Objects had evolved from an experiment into a thematic literary journal, using eBay as one of its publishing platforms.


In 2012, Fantagraphics will publish a book of 100 Significant Objects stories. While we work on crunching the data and other aspects of the book, the site is on hiatus. Please stay tuned for our spectacular return!


Click here to subscribe to email updates about the Significant Objects project. Click here to follow our Twitter feed. To check out our press clippings, click here. Check out this Flickr group by and for winning eBay bidders on the project’s objects.

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Significant Objects is the brainchild of journalist Rob Walker, who writes often on various aspects of material culture, and Josh Glenn, whose book Taking Things Seriously looks at how we invest ordinary objects with extraordinary significance.

Site design by Matt Glaser. Many thanks to Rob Tourtelot for devising the original site, and to Joe Alterio for the mug logo. SO v2 and v3 would not have been possible without the efforts of Emma Westling. Thanks also to our industrious intern, Katelan Cunningham.

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