Significant Objects launched one week ago — which means the auctions for our five opening-day items are ended.
Let’s take stock, shall we?
For all the items we’re listing, the opening price is the amount we paid for the object at a thrift store, yard sale, or whatever. The Sanka ashtray with story by Luc Sante was priced at $1, ultimately sold for $17.79. Matthew Battles wrote about a Candyland labyrinth game that cost a mere 29 cents. It sold for $11.50. The cow-shaped creamer with story by Lucinda Rosenfeld was $1, and sold for $26; The JFK bust that Annie Nocenti wrote a story about cost $2.99, and also went for $26. The 50-cent “Chili cat” for which Lydia Millet invented significance was purchased for $22.72.
Now, I would certainly agree with the comments to the Freakonomics blog’s item about this project that this not a new way for writers to make a living. But of course we never had any idea that someone would suggest such an interpretation: This is a creative project, not a business plan!
That said, let’s face it: People are finding new value in these Significant Objects. There are a lot of other things you can buy for $26, but bidders found enough significance in some of these things-with-stories to spend it here. Just for fun, consider the results in percentage terms. The Sanka ashtray was worth 1,679% more with Luc Sante-added significance. And Matthew Battles’ invented backstory to the Candlyand game boosted its value by nearly 4,000%!
Of course that’s just one way to measure such things. And it’s even harder to pick apart the exact nature of this new value. The story is a factor, and so, perhaps, is the devotion of a given storyteller’s fan base. The object itself comes into play: Some must be more pleasing on their own merits than others. And of course there’s secondary attention: Last week this project was written up in The New Yorker’s books blog, BoingBoing, and so on. How much impact does that have? Eyecube raised some interesting related questions about all this. (Others have, too, check the sidebar for more links to what others have said.)
What do you think? Please share your comments and theories.
Meanwhile, we’re very excited that people are in fact buying — the writers involved in this project contributed stories in a spirit of fun and adventure without knowing what would happen, and we of course want the amazing work they did to be appreciated. Two more auctions will end tomorrow, both pieces I like quite a bit: Mark Frauenfelder’s story about a miniature bottle, and Ben Greenman’s on a smiling mug. Also, if the prices I mentioned above sound intimidating, check out some of the other stories, because in my opinion there are still a number of surprising bargains.
And after all this talk about bidding and monetary value, it’s important to close with a different thought: This project is not about the profit motive. The contributors to Significant Objects are coming up with a startling array of great stories, and we’re publishing a new one every day. In fact James Parker’s story will be posted momentarily. So keep coming back to read and enjoy them, and even comment on them, whether you intend to bid or not.