The Significant Objects Mug Mug

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We better not find one of these in a thrift store any time soon.

In response to email and queries in this site’s comments about buying a Significant Objects Mug (i.e., because of our project’s mug logo, which Joe Alterio whipped up for us in a hurry when we suddenly decided to retire our original logo, a Salvation Army shield parody), we did a little research and found that manufacturing an actual red mug takes a bit more savvy than we now possess. We’re looking into that and welcome your tips.

Meanwhile, we’ve devised something every bit as pleasing: The Significant Objects Mug Mug.

That’s right, we’re now selling a handsome mug upon which is featured a depiction of our own, even more handsome mug logo. Why is the mug logo Alterio created so perfect for our enterprise, you ask? To answer that is to explain the secret origin of Significant Objects! Read on.

O.G. S.O.

O.G. S.O.

As I’ve mentioned in a few interviews, a mug was partially responsible for inspiring this entire project. Specifically, the mug above. I bought it years ago on a trip to Baltimore with my now-wife; and in 2005, I broke it. Obviously this mug had no particular marketplace value at the time I accidentally smashed it — yet I was quite stricken. To me it was irreplaceable, precisely because there was a nice story to it. (I’ll spare you.) And that got me thinking. . . (Why did I photograph the mug? I knew that some day I’d cross paths with Joshua Glenn and we’d create Significant Objects! But I threw the actual object away. C’mon, it was just a busted mug.)



When Significant Objects launched this past July, a flurry of bloggers writing about the project picked the early S.O. shown above to illustrate their stories and posts — a Smiling Mug, bought by Josh, and given Significance by Ben Greenman. Josh has already written a bit about this mug in an analytical post on Significant Dishware.


The Significant one

The Halston Mug, which I purchased my first shopping excursion for the project, and which was given Significance by Mimi Lipson, was another important early object. A critique that a couple of humorless observers made about Significant Objects in the beginning was that we weren’t really being scientific. For instance, to demonstrate truly that our stories were making our objects more valuable, some contended, there should be a direct control group: the identical object, sold sans-Signifcance, at the same time. To these nitpickers, I say: see below.

Screen Grab

Screen Grab -- Significance crushes the competition.

The Mimi Lipson-Significant Halston Mug sold for $31. This screen grab, made while the auction was still ongoing (and the Significant Halston Mug bidding was at $17.61) demonstrates that anybody who wanted an identical mug could “Buy It Now” for as little as $5.99. Why not do that? Because every other Halston Mug on offer was insignificant. Sure, you could buy one of the other mugs if you were only interested in getting your money’s worth. (Although frankly those eBay sellers are dreaming; I bought the S.O. Halston Mug for 39 cents.) But our mug was a mass-produced object converted (by Mimi’s story) into a one-of-a-kind Significant object. I rest my case.

"Inspired by" Norman Rockwell

"Inspired by" Norman Rockwell

There have been other mugs in S.O. history, and there will be more to come. But the Country Doctor Mug pictured both above and below, which featured a design “inspired by the art of Norman Rockwell,” is now one of the project’s memorable Insignificant (or Lost) Objects. “I grew to loathe the mug,” Josh recalls in the Significant Dishware post, “and finally I hurled it into the garbage.” I vividly remember Josh informing me that he had banished this object to the realm of definitive non-significance. I was stunned! I’ll admit that I had been fascinated by the lame “explanation” on the back.


Back Story

“You threw it away?” I asked, incredulous that Josh didn’t consider such a powerful manifestation of, well, bullshit, worth hanging onto.  “You’re right,” he replied. “I should have smashed it.”

He really hated that mug.

What will we do with the “royalties” from the Significant Objects Mug Mug? Since we’ve already purchased several SOMMs ourselves, we’re at least hoping that future sales will help defray our own costs.


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.

12 thoughts on “The Significant Objects Mug Mug

  1. Since I had been hoping for a Significant Objects mug, I immediately ordered one from Zazzle when you announced they were available. I customized mine with a picture of the Pink Horse on one side and on the other, the paragraph from Kate Bernheimer’s story in which the narrator describes how her youngest daughter found the Pink Horse. Thank you for this project. I know your objective is to analyze how objects attain significance, but what I love about it is the wonderful writing that has resulted from it.

  2. Wonderful writing was always a secret agenda of the Significant Objects project… but we had no idea just how good the stories would be!

  3. Any chance of a significant objects book of short stories, with pictures? I’d buy it.

  4. I second the idea of a Significant Objects short story collection, complete with photos. And while I’m sure you have any number of potential agents at your disposal, I’d love to sell this. LS

  5. Thanks about the book encouragement, it’s something we’d love to do, but can’t really comment about it at the moment. It’s helpful to see evidence of an audience. We obviously think it would be an amazing book.

  6. Pingback: Significant Objects V.2

  7. Pingback: Scottish Doll six-word story contest: we have a winner! | Significant Objects

  8. Rob, I took my Significant Objects Mug mug with me to my family get-together at Xmas this year — it was greatly admired.

  9. That’s cool! Interestingly, just hours after you posted this comment, my wife smashed my SOMM to bits. She says it was an accident. In any case, an interesting turn of events, given that there is a smashed mug in the project’s roots. I’m tempted to try to sell the shards on eBay.

  10. PS: You know that ridiculous “LET’S BREAK TOGETHER” mug I bought for the project? (What does that phrase mean?) It’s the only object I’ve purchased under the auspices of shopping for SO that I’ve decided to keep for myself. I’m drinking tea out of it now.

  11. Pingback: Pictures of stuff AND the idea of books, cont’d.

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