The biggest bargain in Toronto shopping this year belongs to Jason Naworynski of Etobicoke, who bought the Meteor neon sign inside Sam The Record Man—the whole thing, including the neon-lit marquees on either side—for a bid of fifteen hundred dollars; easily less than a tenth of its original sale value (let alone its historical value). Jason was the only bidder on the item, despite Sam’s being packed with bidders for its bankruptcy auction (and, at times, more media covering the auction than people participating in it). “Are you kidding me?” he said. “That’s a steal.” Jason plans to keep the sign in his warehouse for a couple of years until he figures out what to do with it. Luckily, it won’t be alone—Jason also bought the seven movie theatre seats Sam’s had installed, old seats from a theatre torn down to make way for City Hall back in the day. He paid $425 for them—less than sixty bucks each.
The auctioneer frequently expressed his disbelief that people weren’t willing to pay more for some items. Granted, all auctioneers do this, but towards the middle of the auction his frustration was gradually revealing itself as more genuine. When buyers passed on two stainless steel cabinets at $100 apiece, he spluttered and asked if they knew how much stainless steel was worth. He had to point out that the copy of the Vancouver Sun covering the 1994 Stanley Cup Riots was signed by the entire Vancouver Canucks team that year to get a lousy forty dollars for it.
Sam The Record Man memorabilia was easily the loser in this auction. The giant Sam’s vinyl banner was the best sale at $150, but a second one offered later in the auction went unsold. The giant, gorgeous Sam The Interactive Man art installation sold for $75. A chunk of drywall autographed with messages to Sam from the Bee Gees and the Pursuit of Happiness went for fifty. The “Sam’s Is Indie” painting—which should have been drooled over and caused hipsters to fight one another to the bloody death in pursuit of its purchase—went for eighty.
Big ticket items fared slightly better. The trio of classic 40s pinball machines sold for a combined $875. The antique five-seater shoeshine stand sold for a whopping $2,000. (Admittedly, it’s worth probably five times that at a minimum, but so very little in this auction went past the three digit mark, so you have to count it as a success.)
The antique puppet theatre, which housed a television and sat before those movie seats Jason bought, went for two-fifty. (When asked about the television inside, the auctioneer replied: “Well, I’m not legally liable for anything I say while describing the items, so it’s HDTV, eighty inches long and diamond-studded. How’s that sound?”) The famous Sam’s Throne went for a mere two hundred dollars. (The auctioneer had to threaten to eBay it before anybody made a bid.)
This picture of Patsy Cline—in an eight-foot-tall frame, which alone was worth at least three hundred dollars—went for fifty bucks. The buyer was wincing after he won with his bid. “My wife’s going to kill me. I have no idea where in our house is tall enough to hang this.” He paused for a moment. “Maybe I can hang it at the office.”
Patsy Cline aside, though, the big winner at the auction was musical nostalgia. When a laminated poster of Samantha Fox—Samantha Fox, for crissake—sells for thirty dollars, and Jon Secada for fifty, you know that taste is not the major consideration of the day. For every Steve Earle gold record, there were three Bryan Adams platinum records (one of which sold for five hundred dollars). A signed picture of Tony Bennett went for thirty-five dollars. Gowan, on the other hand, managed fifty. (In a triumph of good taste, Live’s gold record plaque for Throwing Copper only reached seventy-five dollars.) Heck, Def Leppard’s diamond album went for two hundred and fifty dollars. and their drummer has only one arm. Imagine what they could have gotten if he hadn’t lost an arm! That’s probably another twenty-five bucks right there!
The musical fire sale continued with pictures of Sam Sniderman alongside various musical celebrities—Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Stompin’ Tom Connors, and the Guess Who—going for relatively hefty figures (seventy-five to one-fifty in most cases). One dedicated fan of the Guess Who bid competitively on everything involving Randy Bachman or Burton Cummings. “I just love the Guess Who,” he said loudly enough for the entire room to hear, providing every one of the approximately 200 reporters present with a decent quote they didn’t have to work hard to obtain.
Another kid danced when he won a Bryan Adams sign (that literally just read “Bryan Adams” and nothing else) for thirty dollars. However, Bryan Adams’ “name sign” was easily trumped by the Byrds ($160), Frank Zappa ($175) and Neil Young ($140), making it quite clear that the buying crowd was primarily composed of aging hipsters trying to recover their lost youth via a spending spree. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This writer was personally quite tempted by the Pursuit of Happiness sign, which went for forty, and “I’m An Adult Now” is starting to become uncomfortably familiar in sentiment.)
Movie posters and related stuff were the biggest bombs. Nobody, oddly enough, wanted to buy a Superman Returns three-dee standee for ten bucks. (Possibly because if they wanted one, they could have just stolen it from their local Blockbuster.) Multiple “Sam The Video Man Presents” posters from the Toronto Film Festival were passed over. TIFF posters themselves, laminated and pristine, barely sold at ten bucks each. A Mr. Bean poster went for twenty dollars, noteworthy for being sold for more than five.
In summary: if you wanted to buy some nostalgia, cheap—well, you still can, because a lot of it is still available as after-sale items. And when Torontoist says cheap—we’re not kidding.
(PS. The giant sailfish went for a hundred dollars. The auctioneer was not pleased. “It costs a lot to stuff a fish, folks.”)