Ladies and Gentlemen: the Data

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Well, folks, here it is. A comprehensive rundown of the entire S.O. 100, ranked by final selling price. Thanks to this neat-o plug-in, you can also adjust the chart to see it ranked by the price we paid for each object. We’re scrutinizing for patterns — and anomalies — and welcome your thoughts.

Click here to view a single table containing all our experimental data, and links to every post in which analysis of this data has been offered.

Obviously we do not think these rankings reflect the quality of the stories, as creative expression or literature. Rather our hypothesis involves a narrative’s ability to make an object Significant (which is not the same thing as trying to measure a narrative’s intrinsic quality). Still, it’s interesting that among other things this data seems to undercut the frequent contention among certain observers of our project that the results would be driven completely by the relative fame of the author. Look at this table and you’ll see it’s just not that simple.

Something that’s not quantified on this table but that we suspect is a factor: timing. For one thing, there was an August doldrums moment that really seemed to affect prices, possibly because all the big spenders were on vacation. For another, although we haven’t parsed the data yet, it seems likely that objects auctioned off during the first few weeks of the contest didn’t fetch prices as high as did those objects which were auctioned off after the project had received some publicity. So our next table will include a column indicating which week each story was published and object auctioned.

This particular table is also mute on other matters, such as the story type (evidence, fossil, etc.), or the inherent desirability (or lack thereof) of any given object. We’re putting together some more data in separate tables to deal with at least some of this. So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Spot anything interesting? Anything that seems inexplicable — or just makes you curious?

Sales RankObjectAuthorOriginal PriceFinal Price
1Russian FigureDoug Dorst$3.00$193.50
2Indian Maiden R.K. Scher$0.99$157.50
3Wooden AnimalMeg Cabot$0.75$108.50
4Pink HorseKate Bernheimer$1.00$104.50
5"Hawk" AshtrayWilliam Gibson$2.99$101.00
64-TileToni Schlesinger$1.00$88.00
7Metal BootBruce Sterling$3.00$86.00
8Cape Cod ShoeSheila Heti$4.00$77.51
9Fish SpoonsMark Doty$2.99$76.00
9Fake BananaJosh Kramer (Center for Cartoon Studies)$0.25$76.00
9Missouri ShotglassJonathan Lethem$1.00$76.00
12Duck TrayStewart O'Nan$3.00$71.00
12MalletColson Whitehead$0.33$71.00
14Cow VaseEd Park$2.00$62.00
14Felt MouseMeghan O'Rourke$0.50$62.00
16Sand AnimalSloane Crosley$0.99$57.66
17Rhino FigurineNathaniel Rich$1.00$57.00
18Kneeling Man FigurineGlen David Gold$2.00$56.50
19Geisha BobbleheadEdward Champion$1.50$56.00
20BBQ Sauce JarMatthew J. Wells (Slate Contest Winner)$0.75$54.00
21Bird FigurineSung J. Woo$0.50$52.00
22Rooster Oven MittVictor LaValle$1.00$51.99
23Meat ThermometerNicholson Baker$0.75$51.00
23IdolAndrew Ervin$1.00$51.00
25Ziggy HeartTodd Levin$2.00$50.00
25Jar of MarblesBen Ehrenreich$1.00$50.00
27Motel Room KeyLaura Lippman$2.00$45.01
28Statute DishBen Katchor$0.50$42.00
29Ireland Cow PlateSarah Rainone$1.00$41.00
29Rope/Wood Monkey FigurineKevin Brockmeier$0.50$41.00
29Amoco Yo-YoMark Sarvas$0.25$41.00
32Mr. Pickwick Coat HookChristopher Sorrentino$1.00$38.00
33Marines (Upside-Down) Logo MugTom Vanderbilt (Design Observer)$0.75$37.00
33Alien ToyNomi Kane (Center for Cartoon Studies)$0.49$37.00
35Necking Team ButtonSusannah Breslin$0.50$36.88
36Seahorse LighterAimee Bender$1.00$36.00
36Hand-Held Bubble BlowerMyla Goldberg$0.50$36.00
38Round BoxTim Carvell$0.50$35.00
39Cigarette CaseMargot Livesey$0.10$33.77
40Ocean Scene GlobeStephanie Reents$0.50$33.00
41Smiley MugBen Greenman$2.00$32.08
42Halston MugMimi Lipson$0.39$31.00
42Penguin CreamerSari Wilson$3.00$31.00
42Windsurfing Trophy/StatueNaomi Novik$3.00$31.00
45Crumb SweeperShelley Jackson$1.00$30.99
46Blue VaseLauren Mechling$2.00$30.00
47Lighter Shaped Like Small Pool BallRob Agredo (SmithMag Contest Winner)$1.00$27.00
48JFK BustAnnie Nocenti$2.99$26.00
48Creamer CowLucinda Rosenfeld$1.00$26.00
48UnicornSarah Weinman$1.00$26.00
48Praying HandsRosecrans Baldwin$1.50$26.00
48Dilbert Stress ToyBetsey Swardlick (Center for Cartoon Studies)$0.25$26.00
53Cracker Barrel OrnamentMaud Newton$0.59$24.50
54Elvis Chocolate TinJessica Helfand (Design Observer)$0.50$24.00
55Miniature BottleMark Frauenfelder$1.00$23.00
56Chili Cat FigurineLydia Millet$0.50$22.72
57Flip-Flop FrameMerrill Markoe$0.59$21.80
58Military FigureDavid Shields$0.33$21.50
58Choirboy FigurineJ. Robert Lennon$1.99$21.50
58Sea Captain Pipe RestMichael Atkinson$0.34$21.50
58Umbrella TrinketBruce Holland Rogers$0.29$21.50
62PBR OpenerSean Howe$0.25$20.51
63Grain ThingJoanne McNeil$1.00$20.50
63Uncola GlassJen Collins$2.00$20.50
63Ornamental SphereCharles Ardai$1.00$20.50
63Wave BoxTeddy Wayne$0.50$20.50
67Tin ArkRebecca Wolff$0.50$19.50
67Thai HooksBruno Maddox$3.00$19.50
69Foppish FigurineRob Baedeker$1.00$17.82
70Sanka AshtrayLuc Sante$1.00$17.79
71Spotted Dogs FigurineCurtis Sittenfeld$1.00$17.50
72Cat MugThomas McNeely$1.00$17.00
73Dome DollJason Grote$0.99$16.49
74Swiss MedalKathryn Borel Jr.$0.50$16.00
75Duck VaseMatthew Klam$1.99$15.75
76Kitty SaucerJames Parker$1.25$15.53
77Santa NutcrackerKurt Andersen$2.00$15.50
77Piggy BankMatthew De Abaitua$1.99$15.50
77Popsicle-Stick ConstructionSara Ryan$2.00$15.50
77Star of David PlateAdam Harrison Levy (Design Observer)$2.00$15.50
77DeviceTom Bartlett$4.00$15.50
77Toothbrush HolderTerese Svoboda$0.75$15.50
83Basketball TrophyCintra Wilson$2.00$14.90
84Mule FigurineMatthew Sharpe$1.00$14.50
84Nutcracker with Troll Hair (or something)Adam Davies$1.00$14.50
84Golf Ball BankTodd Pruzan$2.99$14.50
87Clown FigurineNick Asbury$2.00$11.61
88Candyland Labyrinth GameMatthew Battles$0.29$11.50
88Pen StandLizzie Skurnick$1.00$11.50
90"Hakuna Matata" FigurineJennifer Michael Hecht$0.99$10.50
90Small StaplerKatharine Weber$1.00$10.50
90Bar Mitzvah BookendsStacey Levine$4.00$10.50
93Coconut CupAnnalee Newitz$0.25$10.00
94Kentucky DishDean Haspiel$2.00$6.75
95Toy ToasterJonathan Goldstein$2.00$6.25
96Fred Flintstone Pez DispenserClaire Zulkey$0.50$5.50
96#1 Mom HooksRachel Berger (Design Observer)$1.00$5.50
98Hawaiian UtensilsStephen Elliott$1.99$4.24
99Toy Hot DogJenny Davidson$0.12$3.58
100Porcelain ScooterTeddy Blanks (Design Observer)$1.00$2.38

PS: If you dig our mug-shaped Significant Objects logo, then you’ll want to check out the Significant Objects Mug Mug, for sale now from Zazzle.


"Significant Objects combines one of the oldest of all media — the near-improvised short story — with the reinvigorated writer-reader relationship afforded by Web 2.0." — The Independent's Couch Surfer. Follow us on Twitter; join us on Facebook.

12 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen: the Data

  1. I’d be interested to see if story type (along the lines of “evidence” and “fossil” mentioned above) played any part in the outcomes of the auctions. I’m have no idea how you would measure this into a quantifiable figure, but it would be interesting to see if humorous stories did better than dramatic ones? Did stories featuring famous people bring in higher prices that ones that didn’t? What about stories told in 1st person vs. 3rd person?

  2. It seems to me that the data sort of busts a lot of common myths – famous people didn’t always fare as well as “ordinary” folk, objects can’t necessarily be grouped by type, or even by the type of story. And that means it emphasizes the randomness that is publishing and reader taste, which is actually kind of cool.

  3. I think it’s the ‘visual’ impact that drives the purchase. For example, we have the Pool ball lighter at #47 with only a 6 word story versus the last item, porcelean scooter at #100 that’s about a 200 word poem plus a song!! What drove either of those items value-the item or the story/song?
    I don’t know but to me, the pool ball was more interesting, standing on its own as an object.

  4. Yes, Joe, I think we’ll add story type to one of our tables, fairly soon. Would also be interesting to rate the stories as either “happy” or “sad,” say. Or first- or third-person. For example.

    But what, if anything, can we learn from this first table? Something this table helps me realize: its starting price might seem to play an important role in determining an object’s final price. Only one of our 10 initially least expensive items — that is, the Fake Banana — made it onto the Top 10 list of final prices. However, when you look at our 10 initially most expensive items you find that four of them — Cape Cod Shoe, Russian Figure, Metal Boot, “Hawk” Ashtray — made it onto the Top 10 list of final prices, while a fifth item from the Top 10 list of final prices (the Fish Spoons) is tied for our 11th initially most expensive item.

  5. Male vs. Female Authors in the Final Price Top Ten (actually Eleven, because of three-way tie for ninth place)? Six men, five women (hope R.K. doesn’t mind people knowing she’s a woman), which I’d call a dead heat. No apparent sex/gender advantage. However — in the next ten top final prices after that, we find nine men. What to make of this?

    And here’s another factor: we ended up recruiting slightly more men than women — I think it’s a 57/43 split. Dang — it would have made our analysis that much easier if we’d recruited 50/50 instead.

  6. Very cool. I’d be interested in seeing how the sequence played into it — the site got exponentially more popular as it went on, and it seems as if almost everyone on the bottom half went up in the early stages on the site.

  7. OK, your wish is our command. We’ve just created a table (though not a chart) that shows hos the sequence may have affected sales prices. We’ll unveil it tomorrow or the next day!

  8. I agree with meothertwin…the visual nature (whose appeal is entirely subjective) is a factor. But I can see why he/she wanted the cue ball. It drips with hipster irony. I would display it too. But my whole street cred would be DESTROYED by some of the other objects. I am just not confident enough to own them! 🙂 (I won’t name them, for fear of sending their buyers into a depressive I-did-not-realize-my-S.O.-is-hurting-my-rep states.)

    You clearly need an expensive psychiatrist to analyze the data against contemporary visual iconography, cultural currency, fragile psyches, adult hipster peer pressure trends, etc.

    Separately (and seriously), I was also attracted to the objects with short or graphic stories because I would have displayed them together with the S.O. I wanted them to fit neatly in a small frame or shadow box.

    Alas I was a loser-Loser-LOSER in all my bids.

  9. Just to let you know, Jonathan Lethem’s Missouri shot glass would have sold for more than $76 had I not made a mistake in my esnipe account. I had a max bid of $105.50, so it would have sold for more than $76 if I had not made that mistake. Sorry Jonathan!

    For me the value of the object would be about 15% the appeal of the object itself and 85% the impact of the writing. I bought two books as a result of this project, having learned about it only a week before it came to an end.

    Thanks for making a mug available! The mug would have no significance were it not for this project, and the writing it gave us.

  10. Pingback: The Data: Week by Week | Significant Objects

  11. A Significant Objects fan who does quantitative research emailed to say:

    “Just for grins, I ran a correlation on the buying/selling price. Nothing there – at 0.15, there’s virtually no correlation. So, it must be the stories!”

    Jules, these factors you mention — yes! Keep ’em coming.

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