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'Significant Objects' project gives trinkets a valuable backstory

An image of the book
An image of the book "Significant Objects" by Josh Glenn and Rob Walker.
Josh Glenn & Rob Walker

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Can a few words dramatically increase the economic value of a yard sale castaway?

That's what Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker set to find out when they started "Significant Objects," a project that invited people to write stories about unimportant trinkets and knick-knacks found in thrift stores that they re-sold on eBay.

The auctions are upfront that the stories are fiction, but regardless, seemingly irrelevant novelties that are given a backstory are sold for much higher than one would expect. The 100 objects, purchased for $1.25 each on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total.

"We went to thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets ... These are the things that nobody wanted; these are the lowest of the low," Glenn described. "We got a duck vase, a crumb sweeper, a brass apple, a bouncing bird thingy, a mermaid figurine that was broken and washed up on the beach. Some obscure kind of stirring or cooking implement that we don't really know what it does. A pool ball shaped cigarette lighter."

Glenn added that over the course of the whole project, the value of the objects went up over 2,700 percent. The highest grossing item was sold for $193.

"We know that real stories make object more significant, but what Rob and I wanted to test was that artificial stories, completely fictitious, made-up stories, could add value to an object," he said.

Mark Frauenfelder, journalist and author, wrote one such story for Significant Objects.

Excerpt from "Significant Objects:"
Excerpt from the book Significant Objects