Monday, May 23, 2011
At the auction preview both Mark and I noticed the miniature castle, complete with drawbridge, pennants in the turrets, and dozens of tiny medieval figures. Although we usually don't buy toys, this one was tempting for its intricacy and for that Christmas morning feeling it evoked as we stood admiring it through the glass case. My fingers reached of their own accord for the little knights and I might have left a nose print in my efforts to get closer than the glass allowed.
When that lot came up for sale, Joe, the auctioneer, mentioned it belonged to a ninety year old man who'd had the set since childhood. He was giving it up as part of his move to assisted living. I imagined him coming downstairs on a cold December morning eighty years before, exclaiming in joy that Santa had left the one thing he wanted more than anything. I imagined the endless pleasurable hours of play he enjoyed protecting his castle from marauding invaders. I imagined what it must have been like in adulthood for him to be able to reclaim those happiest of childhood memories whenever he looked at his treasure.
The bidding for the castle was intense and it sold for about the same price as a beautiful deco era wardrobe brought later in the auction. Clearly the old man wasn't the only one who found value in that toy.
I'd like to think that the love he had for the castle and its knights, the depth of his value for it, soaked into the set, and that was at least in part what made it so attractive to all of us there that night.
I often find myself wondering at these auctions what it is that makes an item valuable. Clearly it's not appraised value, since art work often goes for a small fraction of that. It's not size - I've seen a baby grand piano sell for less than an original Coca Cola tray. It's not even about aesthetics - WWII paraphernalia consistently brings far more than the most delicate crystal or most ornate silver.
For the original owner of the castle, I would guess there is no amount of money that can replace the value of his childhood toy. I wonder if he'll mourn the loss, or if he's refocused and found value in different things. Maybe both. I wonder if he got so much value from the castle during the time it was his, that he no longer needs its presence. As he approaches the end of his days, I wonder what does hold value for him - if it's memories, or his family, or the great mystery that awaits him.
Photo from Google Images