Adam Harrison Levy | Essays

Significant Objects: Star of David Plate

Significant Objects is a much-discussed experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker. Their hypothesis: if a talented writer invents a story about a thrift-store object, that object will acquire not merely subjective but objective value — on eBay. How better to test this hypothesis than via a week-long collaboration with Design Observer? The first of five stories is by Adam Harrison Levy; it has also been posted to Significant Objects, and the object itself is for sale here on eBay.

Star of David Plate

Now that Budd Schulberg has died, the story of how I stole this plate from him can finally be told. I was researching a documentary film and I had taken a bus out to his house on Long Island in order to interview him. Schulberg wrote the screenplay for On The Waterfront ("I coulda been a contender"), named names for the House Un-American Activities Committee and, during World War Two, arrested Leni Riefenstahl, the famous film-maker. Not many people know that.

In my capacity working on documentary films, I’ve met a lot of famous people and stolen great stuff from them — Harry Belafonte's precise V5 roller ball pen, Liza Minnelli's ashtray, and a used Kleenex from Debbie Harry's red leather handbag. Some people collect autographs from famous people. I collect things.

These things represent the defining moments of my life. By stealing objects from people whose lives have been important, I celebrate my encounter with them (at least that is what I tell myself in order to explain what otherwise might be termed theft). A Kleenex is a Kleenex (even when smeared with lipstick) but when its Debbie Harry's Kleenex, it becomes truly important, and it gains even more importance when it joins Belafonte's pen and Minnelli's ashtray in my collection. Right?

So it was a crisp fall afternoon and I had taken the Hamptons Jitney out to see Schulberg, who lives near the ocean. He picked me up in his car. He was ninety-two at the time, and his head just about cleared the dashboard. We made it back to his house more or less in one piece.

We sat down in his living room, which was a jumble of really great stuff. On the mantelpiece was his Oscar for On The Waterfront (patina chipped and damaged and way too obvious to steal), a signed photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald (framed and therefore too clunky), and a number of sea shells (too cute).

I asked Schulberg questions about his life. During World War Two, he had been a member of John Ford's film unit. His mission was to find and edit Nazi film footage to be used during the Nuremberg Trials. It was the first time that film was used as evidence in an International Court of Law. I was impressed. My own work demands that I view video clips on YouTube.

While he was talking, I spied the plate — which contained some loose change and three paperclips — on the credenza. Something about the simplicity and modernity of its shape reminded me of an Eero Saarinen Tulip Table. The artfully incoherent placement of the stars was like a Dada backdrop. The plate was clearly mass produced. It called out to me. When Schulberg doddered off to take a leak, I slipped the plate — change, paperclips, and all — into my bag.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Technology

Comments [11]

hello world

So a subject invites you into their world and you return the favor by stealing from them? A class act, that.
Matthew Brett

Hi Matthew,

Perhaps you didn't have a chance to read the introduction (in italics preceding the actual story). This is a work of fiction.
adam Harrison Levy

Matthew, you might want to re-read the post, especially the introduction, which tells you that the story is invented!
Rob Henning

haha i love random collectables. i have a jewish plate similar to it
debt reduction

this series should be called "insignificant rubbish"
frederike suzuki

I think this project is completely flawed. The idea that it will have "objective" value is totally lost because some fan of the writer will order it for way more than it is worth.

This is a pointless experiment proving that people will pay money for things that have no real value - either sentimentally or pragmatically.


I would think that referring to the project on the actual bid page would also provide too many variables. That fact that the story is fiction and you state that on the site seems to invalidate the project.

Other than that, the hypothesis is interesting!

A nostalgic kleptomaniac scores a rare Jewish dinner plate? Brilliant! I want one. Only I don't like to steal from the elderly. Bad karma.

This is really strange post.
I wonder how much the plate was sold for.
If I understand correctly this is an invented story about the plate?
David Weitzman

Fabulous article. Thank you so much!

Jobs | July 16