Significant Objects book interview and story reading

Yesterday I was on the Madeleine Brand show on KPCC radio along with Joshua Glenn to talk about Significant Objects, a short story anthology Joshua co-edited with Rob Walker. They even let me read part of the short story I contributed to the anthology.

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

That 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."

'Significant Objects' project gives trinkets a valuable backstory


  1. When my parents passed away I was in charge of selling all their knickknacks and furniture on Craig’s List. I told little stories about all the furniture and items. We sold it all for asking price and I got nominated for a few “Best of Craig’s List” for the stories. The people who got the items said they appreciated the stories of how the objects were used and the people who used them.
    Here was one:
    Occasional chair

    I didn’t know what to call this chair, easy? living room? stuffed? I was told the correct name is occasional chair. Which made me wonder if when it wasn’t a chair it was other things. If it could talk would it say, “Occasionally I’m a chair but mostly I’m a crime fighter.” We have no way of knowing what it is doing when it is not being a chair.

    Here was another:

    Blue. Human sized, see photo.

    This powered lift and recliner chair is especially great for people who have trouble getting out of chairs because of bad knees, weak ankles or a double detached slipped disc surgery. It’s also great for small people who have trouble flinging themselves back hard enough to manually force the recliner on a regular chair to pop out.

    The power recliner and “lift you up” part happens at a moderate pace so you don’t have to worry about the chair shooting you or your mom across the room into the oak entertainment center.

    Do you want to make your mom or dad the envy of everyone at their retirement community? Then buy this chair for them. Their aching backs will thank you. All the other retirees will wonder why their kids aren’t as thoughtful.

    Charge it! We take credit cards.

    We can’t help you move or deliver it but maybe you have some kids who should be helping out their parents while you help out your parents. Ask them to do it and maybe they can get some hard candy when it’s delivered.

  2. This is the secret of success of companies like Saddleback Leather or Filson or L. L. Bean–it’s all about creating a cool narrative. 

    1. J Peterman!

      I swear I bought more of “his” (their) stuff because I wanted so damn hard to be the adventurer the catalog was describing.

  3. I am reminded of the Japanese collectors of Americana – mickey mouse watches, old six-shooters, etc – in The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

  4. I recently sold hundreds of thrift store items on ebay (for a tidy profit, though not as much as I’d hoped). At first I wrote little narratives for each one, but gave up because I had so many things to list and it got tedious (for particularly interesting items I wrote them, just gave up writing them for everything). It came as no surprise, of course, that the ones with amusing narratives got more views and higher bids.

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