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With the conclusion of the auction for the PBR Bottle Opener + Sean Howe story yesterday, this project passed an astonishing milestone: Total sales have surpassed $1,000. Specifically, we’ve sold 35 objects, purchased from thrift stores and yard sales and the like for a total of $47.75. After our cast of creative writers made up stories about them — and made them Significant — those objects have sold to readers from New York to California, from Texas to Alaska, for a total of $1014.66.

Ponder that for a moment: Stuff once valued at less than $50, converted into stuff that’s worth more than $1,000.

Our hypothesis when started this project in early June was that the Significant Objects, with invented stories attached to them, would “acquire not merely subjective but objective value.”

Looks like that’s being borne out — and frankly at a level well beyond what we would have guessed.

We’re not done, obviously. But this seemed like an important moment to pause and thank again all our writers, our readers, everyone who’s written about the project, and of course all the bidders, for being part of Significant Objects, a great story in the making.


Rob Walker is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, and writes the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine.

6 thoughts on “$1,000+

  1. How much of the value is from the made-up “significance” of the stories and how much of the value is from all the work and PR put into promoting a few eBay items? I can sell a penny for thousand dollars if I had a bunch of people spending hundreds of hours making up stories and a bunch of other websites w/ thousands of readers promoting it. It’s a great idea and I’d like to be a part of that group of people who believe that it’s entirely because the beautiful stories are making people bid on the item but it’d be a better argument if you didn’t tell the bidder you made up the stories until after the auction and if there was no way of connecting this project w/ each item on the auction site. I’m sure there’s a PR to percentage-item-was-sold-compared-to-start-price correlation somewhere. Anyway, I’m probably not the first or last to point that out, but having just given it some thought, I guess the point may not necessarily be, as the website seems to initially suggest, to sell a bunch of eBay items for more than their purchased price, but to create some rules for some great writers to abide by that’ll allow them to showcase their work. I guess the value isn’t so much as the final selling price but the pleasant feeling ppl get from reading these stories. If this site reaches meme status, the value will be more than the profit from some eBay items. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, great site!!!!!

  2. This is an experiment, you know, and we’re open-minded about tweaking our initial hypothesis. Maybe we need to adjust our formula from [object + narrative = significant object], to something like [object + narrative + publicity = significant object]. Thoughts?

  3. (object) + (narrative) + (publicity) + (microfame)

    Announce that some of the stories and photos of the objects will eventually be published in book format and that the objects’ purchasers will get one-line bios and quotes in the book, explaining what about the object or the idea appealed to them.

    (object) + (nonfiction narrative) + (publicity)

    Throw in a few objects where the story is the actual story behind the object. “I was at the Main Street Thriftown last Thursday, looking for material for this project and I came across this figurine. It seemed like it was in good condition and was suitable for any number of creative interpretations. Also, it seemed like it weighed less than 8 ounces, which meant it would be cheap to ship. I bought it, took it home, and took a picture of it next to a penny.”

    (object) + (narrative) + (publicity) – (authenticity)

    Post some of your auctions on eBay w/o linking them to the Significant Objects web site, or otherwise indicating that they’re part of the project (except similar disclaimers, I suppose). Maybe people will think they’re “copycat” SO auctions. So, in effect, you would be creating “knockoff” SOs, instead of the exclusive, limited edition SOs that you currently peddle. (Only, in fact, they would actually be real, incredibly limited-edition SOs. I like this one.)

    (narrative) – (object)

    version 1. Offer only the stories to the buyer. The object will be destroyed once the auction is complete.

    version 2. Offer an auction for a narrative. The winner will provide the object (or a photograph) and a randomly selected author will write a story about it.

    version 3. Offer an auction for a narrative. The winner will provide the object and a specific author, named in the auction, will write a story about it.

    version 4. Offer an auction for the new Dan Brown book.

    [Note: I will be auctioning off this comment and all subsidiary movie and television rights.]

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