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Toronto street signs fetching thousands at auction

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 28, 2014

toronto street sign auctionIn 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.

toronto street sign auction"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.

toronto street sign auctionOn 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."


Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Chris Bateman/blogTO, Platinum Liquidations.



Tool replying to a comment from Reed / May 28, 2014 at 09:13 am
Yeah but its not signed by Rob Ford so its useless.
Steverino / May 28, 2014 at 09:23 am
Why not make and sell even more signs on demand? Could be a nice ongoing revenue stream, if this many people are interested.
mn / May 28, 2014 at 09:29 am
These prices aren't sustainable. There's only 140 signs up for auction out of thousands. Once people get used to a new auction every couple of months, they'll stop thinking of them as valuable.
Rae replying to a comment from Steverino / May 28, 2014 at 09:44 am
I theres only interested because they are originals that were used and are rare. If you mass produce not sure if they'd still have the same effect as buying a tourist street sign or subway paraphernalia in NYC or London UK. They sell this stuff all over the streets in those cities, not sure Toronto has the same symbolism.
mike in parkdale / May 28, 2014 at 09:45 am
Rob Ford has the handwriting of a elementary school student. It's hardly a signature when it's ugly block printing.

Wasn't there some new story about having the Rob Ford signs pulled? Shouldnt that have been included in this story?
Gorb replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / May 28, 2014 at 10:55 am
Speaking of elementary students - how is is your reading comprehension? Try re-reading paragraphs 4 and 5 - ask for the help of an adult if you keep having difficulty.
Get with it replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / May 28, 2014 at 11:04 am
No it shouldn't have been included in this story because the signs weren't pulled - read the article above...

"The most popular sign, which was from Yonge Street and is signed by Rob Ford, is going for $2,005."
#FordMoreYears / May 28, 2014 at 11:22 am
Today is Rob's Birthday!!! (as well as Jogn Tory's).

We wish him well, and hope for a speedy recovery! Happy Bithday big guy we miss you, we need you!

See you all October 27th!
W. K. Lis / May 28, 2014 at 11:43 am
I'm making a wide guess. The old city of Toronto signs (acorn and street number, black letters on white background) are fetching more than the "suburban" white letters on blue background signs.
We're NOT at the height of the market / May 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm
Home affordability becoming a stretch, and likely to get worse: RBC
Gabe replying to a comment from Rick / May 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm
What are you on about? No one has paid tens of thousands for a street sign. The highest priced sign is going for $2,005 who says that's too high, especially if your using it for decor in pub or restaurant.
E.H. Zwick / May 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm
This has been a bit sketchy. I am looking to buy the sign with my street and street number in it. The same bidder keeps outbidding himself. Firstly, why is he bidding before the last 5 minutes? Secondly, why is he outbidding himself? This raises the price. I tweeted this to the auction company and they were less than helpful.
HowStuffWorks replying to a comment from E.H. Zwick / May 28, 2014 at 01:05 pm
Oh Mr. Zwick. It is likely that the current high bidder has given a high upset bid. Let's say he is willing to pay $800 dollars for the sign. If the current bid is $600 - and someone bids $650, the system will automatically make a bid from the high bidder for $655. The unsucessful bidder's name never even makes the bid list. Nothing sketchy - just computers.
Marina / May 28, 2014 at 01:37 pm
user-pic you can buy subway signs with your fav streets listed. Makes a great statement piece.
Stu / May 28, 2014 at 03:18 pm
Let's get those prisoners banging out street signs and license plates again!
Rick / May 28, 2014 at 03:31 pm
Doesn't Rob Ford's autograph devalue the street sign? I know I wouldn't buy one with his signature on it. Would go home and scrub it right off with rubbing alcohol.
CleverGuy2 replying to a comment from #FordMoreYears / May 28, 2014 at 03:31 pm
Happy 45th Birthday Rob Ford.

Get back to city hall ASAP. The mice are spending the city into the pits of hell. The wanabe mayor and cohorts are going to Niagara Falls for a week at the tune of $20000 of tax payer money. Come back Mr.Ford and stop this spending madness.
Terry / May 28, 2014 at 07:55 pm
The Yonge Street signed by Rob Ford is still the highest bid! One day that sign will hang in a museum after all the scandals are over and we look back at this time in politics and realize that Rob pushed the political landscape not only for Toronto but for all of Canada.

Happy Birthday Rob!
Cathy replying to a comment from Terry / May 29, 2014 at 12:12 am
WOW I'm starting to warm up to Rob again. I can't believe it but it's happening. I hope he comes back a changed man that drives his projects and ideas to completion.
E.H. Zwick replying to a comment from HowStuffWorks / June 4, 2014 at 03:40 pm
Doesn't this 'bid history' look sketchy to you? barfly8 is not simply setting his upset bid. He keeps increasing it for no reason.

Bid History
$155.00 jarvis123
$140.00 jarvis123
$135.00 barfly8
$130.00 barfly8
$125.00 barfly8

I am telling you, either people are stupid or the website is inflating the prices.
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