Toronto street signs fetching thousands at auction
In 2013, when the city first considered selling off its vast stockpile of decommissioned street signs, it expected to earn $20 for each of the 1,750 rusted and bent markers, a price that was a touch over the scrap value. Now, at the halfway stage in the first round of online auctions, the average bid for a damaged piece of Toronto wayfinding history is a whopping $271.30.
"[The auctions] are very busy, which is interesting because typically the majority of the bidding at auctions, whether they are online or live, comes in the last few minutes," says John Farquharson, the general manager of Platinum Liquidations, the company running the auctions. "The bidding has been very brisk right off the start."
At time of writing, since the first signs were offered up for auction last month, members of the public have pledged bids totalling $35,805. An acorn-style sign from Avenue Road with "major rust [and] faded paint," according to the description, is attracting bids of more than $1,210. The starting price was $30. The most popular sign, which was from Yonge Street and is signed by Rob Ford, is going for $2,005.
"A lot of memorabilia is enhanced in value by signatures, so we thought we could maybe take a select number of signs and have prominent Toronto personalities autograph them," says Farquharson. "To kick things off, we thought we would get the mayor of Toronto, since they are Toronto signs, to sign a few."
Platinum Liquidations planned to have sports stars such as Wayne Gretzky autograph a handful of signs, but last month city council passed a motion nixing the practice without authorization from the city manager.
The phenomenal demand for Toronto street signs is certainly good for city coffers. Platinum Liquidations takes a 15 per cent cut of the final sale price and the remainder goes back into the public purse. If bidding ended today, Rob Ford's Yonge Street marker would net the city $1,704 (the final haul is likely to be much higher than that -- there are still 30 days of bidding left.) If all auctions ended immediately, the cheque from the auction house would be an astonishing $30,434 for just 146 signs.
Figuring conservatively, the city could net over $70,000 just for its current collection. More are due to be added as signs currently in use become damaged or worn out.
On the other side of the coin, regular people who want to own a piece of the streetscape are almost certainly being priced out. A "Korean Business Area" branded Bloor Street West sign is currently $600, a plain Bay Street marker is $440. To enter the bidding for an old Beach-area Queen Street East acorn design requires a pledge of $705.
That said, demand is still extremely high.
"As far as web traffic goes, I would say almost 20 to 30 per cent go directly to the signs right off the bat, which is fairly significant when you consider how many categories we have," Farquharson says. The company's website crashed on opening day due to the sheer weight of demand.
"We had well over a million hits in a very short period of time, which did suspend service for some people temporarily. We've made some adjustments so if that does happen again towards the close of some of these more popular signs it won't be an issue."
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Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.
Image: Chris Bateman/blogTO, Platinum Liquidations.