Top Ten Sales — Updated

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Back in mid-September, we paused to assess our list of published stories (and concluded auctions) to see which 10 objects have sold for the most money to date. In part this was to see if the exercise would help us refine our hypothesis about how narrative makes objects Significant. And in part it was because everybody loves a Top Ten List. Here is that list.

It’s about time for an update, since there have been a few changes. Here’s where we stand now (and some thoughts about what it all means, after the jump):

1. Russian figure + Doug Dorst story. Talisman, Evidence. Original price: $3.00. Final price: $193.50


2. Indian Maiden + R.K. Scher Story. Talisman. Original Price: 99 cents. Final price: $157.50.


3. “Hawk” Ashtray + William Gibson Story. Fossil. Original Price: $2.99. Final price: $101.00.


4. “4” Tile + Toni Schlesinger story. Fossil. Original price: $1.00. Final price: $88.00


5. Brass Boot + Bruce Sterling story. Evidence, Talisman. Original price: $3.00. Final price: $86.00


6. Porcelain shoe + Sheila Heti story. Fossil. Original price: $4.00. Final price: $77.51

Cape Cod porcelain shoe

7. Fish Spoons + Mark Doty Story. Evidence. Original price: $2.99. Final price: $76.

Object No. TK of 100
8. Duck Tray + Stewart O’Nan story. Totem. Original price: $3.00. Final price: $71.00

Duck Tray

9. Mallet + Colson Whitehead story. Talisman. Original price: 33 cents. Final price: $71.00


10. Cow Vase + Ed Park story. Fossil, Totem. Original price: $2.00. Final price: $62.00


Back in September I was thinking Doug Dorst’s Russian Figure would probably be this project’s only moment of breaking the triple-digit barrier — but two of our new entries in the Top Ten have repeated that feat: R.K. Scher’s Indian Maiden, and William Gibson’s “Hawk” Ashtray. Our third newcomer to this list is Mark Doty’s Fish Spoons, the auction for which ended yesterday at $76.

Last time around Josh noted that objects from the Talisman category were more highly represented in our Top Ten than in the project in general. Scher’s Maiden is another Talisman — but Gibson’s Ashtray is a Fossil, and Doty’s Spoons are Evidence, and as it happens, the newcomers squeezed a couple of Talismans — (Rhino + Nathaniel Rich Story and Kneeling Man + Glen David Gold Story — off of this list.)

And what about the previously noted animal factor? Aside from the Rhino, Sand Animal + Sloane Crosley Story has also been bumped from the Top Ten. With only one animal-y newcomer (the Fish Spoons), the creature count in the Top Ten falls by one. The Indian Maiden joining the list, and the Kneeling Man departing, means that the representation of humans remains stable — but I think it’s obvious that the “cute” quotient goes way up, and seems intrinsic in fact to both objects in our top two slots.

Finally, I note that the “Hawk” Ashtray and the Fish Spoons join the Duck Tray + Stewart O’Nan Story as Significant Objects that could theoretically serve utilitarian functions in their new owners’ homes. But really — would you risk damage to such valuable items by actually using them?

As always, we welcome your thoughts: Why did these objects/stories sell for more than the others?


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.

8 thoughts on “Top Ten Sales — Updated

  1. Fascinating to think about what this all means!

    We also might want to determine the “modal score” (perhaps my 1 year as a sociology grad student will finally pay off?) in/of our data set, and look at the objects that cluster around that score. Perhaps that will provide us with an important angle on this experiment’s outcome…

  2. Just went and looked at the score set so far. At the moment, the modal score is $15.50 (without including a $15.53 and a $15.75) — but that could easily change. The score $20.50 is not too far behind (esp. if you count $20.51), and $26 not far behind that. The scores $14.50, $21.50, and $31 could also catch up in the remaining weeks.

    Also, if we decided to round up/down, that would make a difference.

    What objects have sold for $15.50, so far? TOOTHBRUSH HOLDER (Terese Svoboda: EVIDENCE), DEVICE (Tom Bartlett: FOSSIL), STAR OF DAVID PLATE (Adam Harrison Levy: EVIDENCE), POPSICLE-STICK CONSTRUCTION (Sara Ryan: FOSSIL), PIGGY BANK (Matthew De Abaitua: TOTEM), SANTA NUTCRACKER (Kurt Andersen: EVIDENCE), and then the two almost $15.50s — KITTY SAUCER (James Parker: EVIDENCE, TOTEM) and DUCK VASE (Matthew Klam: TALISMAN, TOTEM). Just to make this a list of 10, let’s add the scores immediately above and below the $15.50 cluster: $16.49 for DOME DOLL (Jason Grote: TALISMAN), and $14.90 for BASKETBALL TROPHY (Cintra Wilson: EVIDENCE).

    OK — 4 of the 8 (and 5 of the 10) are EVIDENCE, followed by TOTEM and then TALISMAN and FOSSIL. Whereas in the Top Ten list posted above, TALISMAN and FOSSIL are a dead heat, followed by EVIDENCE, then TOTEM. In other words, TALISMAN and FOSSIL are tied for most popular among the objects with the highest scores, while TALISMAN and FOSSIL are tied for least popular among the objects with the modal scores. So at this stage we might be able to predict that the majority of people are likely to find an object that is EVIDENCE attractive; however, an elite minority is likely to find an object that is a TALISMAN or FOSSIL attractive. Very useful information!

    Of course, the project isn’t finished yet, and all this could change. We’ll probably also think of a dozen other ways to crunch the numbers. Perhaps we’ll have to bring a statistician on board…

  3. …what you have is an indication of what the average e-bay literate art-minded person is prepared to splurge on a lark…could be using info in pricing every day “objects d’art” or setting ticket prices for cultural events…have to see whether the scarcity mentality or impending Christmas season effects the remaining 17 items ; )

  4. …seems a figurine has character, which the imagination can imbue and embellish with personality…function is a plus (ash tray, fish spoons)…ideally it should be decorative or have some aesthetic appeal (duck head)…possibly tapping into a pre-existing narrative or mythology (glass slipper)…but there will be anamolies (“4” tile)…….and $76 for a fake banana seems to crest the high watermark for inanity ; )

  5. I don’t know, Mort — a fake banana might just be the perfect great Christmas gift. Speaking of which, that $76 sales price obviously puts it in the top ten, and squeezes out another animal in the process. I guess we’ll have to update this list again soon.

  6. …well, now i know what to get you for christmas…already have an idea on an xmas gift for Josh…the smashed shards of a Bar-B-Que sauce jar ; )

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