My sister, Diamondqueen, is nuts about 60s/70s kitsch: those flat daisy-like flowers that were on the “Have a good day!” posters and the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine; housewares in clashing hues of burnt orange, gold, and avocado green; David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman. And Volkswagen Beetles, which I didn’t know about until recently.
So when I saw an ad for Pier 1 in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper with a multicolored blown glass Christmas ornament shaped like a VW bug and decorated with flowers, I had to point it out to her. Of course, she went into ecstasy at the sight. Later that day I saw a Pier 1 commercial in which the ornament falls of the tree and drag races through the presents underneath. “Hey, I wonder if they’re selling a real ornament that looks like that?” I mused.
By now we ought to know how these things work. I guess we’re just naive. That Friday evening we went shopping, and we stopped in at the local Pier 1. Diamondqueen also wanted to enter a contest they were having for a real VW Beetle, but I said if they had an ornament, I’d buy one for her. There wasn’t a single one. Well, that’s lousy marketing, I thought. Wouldn’t people buy up those ornaments like crazy?
Later I had a hunch to look on eBay. People had bought those ornaments like crazy, all right — to sell on eBay. They had become as hot and rare as Hannah Montana concert tickets, and astonishingly pricey. That night, close to a dozen ornaments were posted, and the bidding ranged from $35 to $69 (the lower bidding reflected the fact that the auction wasn’t up for a few more days).
I e-mailed Diamondqueen about this. She was livid. I’d promised her that ornament; did she want me to bid on one? “NO!” she stormed in her reply. “I’m so f*cking sick of people doing this. I refuse to encourage them by putting one cent in their pockets!”
She has a good point. The speculation on collectibles, even something as innocent as a Christmas ornament, has gone into orbit. A decade ago I had a favorite gift shop that sold a whole range of things, including Beanie Babies. As I was purchasing some Mary Engelbreit treasure for my mother, the shop owner complained about the people who sat in their cars when they knew she had new shipments of Beanies coming in; she’d barely get the toys on the shelves before these folks would sweep in and clean her out. Even though it was good for her financially, she resented the feeling of being preyed upon, and she couldn’t build a faithful clientele because she couldn’t offer the solid range of stock she wanted to.
Throughout the Christmas season I checked back on the ornaments on eBay. I’d consistently see bidding in the $90+ range. I didn’t understand it. The economy was tanking, people were out of work. Even high-paying jobs were shutting down because of the financial and real estate crises. And yet someone — many someones, actually — were willing to overpay drastically for a Christmas ornament. Yes, there were still people in the world with wholly disposable income, who didn’t blink at paying $90 for an ornament they should have been able to buy for a fraction of that simply by walking into a Pier 1 store.
I wondered if the frenzy would die down once the holiday season was past. Tonight I entered “Pier 1 ornament” in the search at eBay (text and description option) and brought up a single VW Beetle ornament. With slightly more than four days left in the auction, the bidding is at $67 (11 bids). Want to bet it goes even higher?
Obviously there are people who have money to spare. Or they’re resolutely optimistic about their job futures and the recovery of the economy. Or they have the same stupid financial practices that got the country into the mess it’s in.