Last summer we brought you the story of the Significant Objects Project, an experiment by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn in which they assigned writers to concoct elaborate fictional stories behind ordinary yard sale tchotchkes, and then posted these objects, along with their backstories, for sale on eBay. Much to even their own surprise, bidders went mad. At the end of the experiment, $128.74 worth of "insignificant doodads and dinguses" sold for a total of $3,612.51. Now the project is back for round 2.
Before we go any further, it's important to mention that Walker and Glenn, who both write extensively on human behavior and consumerism, were not out to fool anyone or make a buck. They state on their website that "care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author's byline appears with his or her story." Net proceeds from each sale went to the respective authors.
Pictured above, clockwise from left (click through to read the backstory for each):
- Smiling Mug – Originally bought for $2, sold for $32.08
- Figurine of St. Vralkomir – Originally bought for $3, sold for $193.50
- Wooden Animal – Originally bought for $0.75, sold for $108.50
Now, it's easy to deride the supposed foolishness of paying a hundred dollars for an insignificant wooden carving, but think about the value, really, of any of our cherished possessions. Does your favorite quilt/mug/lamp have true intrinsic value, or does much of its worth depend on the story behind it, if only the value that story holds for you? As much as human beings are acquisitive, we also seek some sort of connection with our things, even if that connection is fictional. Is this absurd? Well, these are the kinds of questions the Significant Objects Project raises.
As of yet, there are no conclusions. Walker and Glenn are currently crunching the numbers on version 1.0 of the project. (A new book, perhaps? We hope!) In the meantime, they've launched version 2.0, this time with all proceeds going to support the non-profit literary organization 826 National. Over a thousand dollars has been raised so far.
Interested? Check out what's currently on offer on eBay. Who knows? Maybe you'll take home a significant object of your own.
Images: Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn