I recently attended a charity auction benefiting a family that just lost its young mother. Emotions were high and wallets were out and open. Everyone wanted to help as much as they could—no matter what they received in return.
There were the typical silent auction items—gift certificates to locally owned restaurants, performance halls, day spas and attractions, as well as art and jewelry created by talented local artists, some of whom knew the family well. Then there was the live auction. Among some of the higher ticket items was a Cessna Decosimo statue that went for $1,100 before it was presented to the event’s organizer as an unexpected thank you gift from the friend who won the auction. That’ll tell you a little bit about the mood of the room.
The most intriguing auction item of the night, however, was the highly anticipated offering of a bit of Noog memorabilia. Seems that a tabletop from the former Stone Lion Tavern found its way to a room filled with former Stone Lions, now with the means to spend a little more than $2 for a PBR. The buzz around the place the entire evening centered upon what such a seemingly worthless block of wood would fetch.
But to those in attendance, it was virtually priceless. Even though it was a dingy table top that had seen God knows what during it’s 18 years in one of the Noog’s most treasured bars, it represented history. There were crude etchings on it from patrons over the years, which included “John still sux” and the four-bar Black Flag logo. But more importantly, the filthy block of wood was around for it all—just like many of those willing to spend whatever it took to take it home.
Estimates ranged from $300 up to $1,000—with those speculating the higher end of the range actually prepared to spend that kind of money. Phone calls home to husbands and wives not in attendance were made to determine bid ceilings. In-fighting among those interested got more and more spirited as the spirits flowed. And then, it was time to see if these people were willing to put their money where their mouths wouldn’t touch—even on a dare.
The bidding was frantic. Within the first two or three minutes, bidding reached $850. And just when the auction started to slow, two bidders emerged from the crowd and began a bidding war that would reluctantly end for the loser at an amazing $1,025. I was floored, but I also understood.
This wasn’t simply a generous donation to a needy cause; it was bragging rights to a one-of-a-kind piece of historical significance that only a Stone Lion regular would understand.
I’ve seen other outlays of serious cash for local memorabilia over the years that are just as amazing. I know someone who paid tens of thousands of dollars to have the enormous neon sign from the old Town & Country rooftop meticulously dismantled and stored just because his childhood memories, like mine, include driving across the Market Street Bridge with his parents and knowing he was close to home as soon as it’s red and green beacon presented itself on the north end.
I’ve grabbed up bits of memorabilia over the years from failed establishments that meant something to me. I remember sitting across the street from the old Scrappy’s bar near UTC when the wrecking ball leveled it just to run over and grab a brick. Of course, ask me today what happened to that brick and I couldn’t tell you.
That doesn’t mean that some memorabilia is worthless. Whether it’s matchbooks or coasters from the restaurants and bars your journeys have taken you or a tabletop from a bar where you spent a significant portion of your life, little trinkets remind us of where we’ve been in life. And that’s something you can never put a price on.