Collectors want skyline memories

Mementos: There is brisk demand for images of the World Trade Center.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 17, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

It's hard to believe all that's left of the World Trade Center are images captured on posters, in books and on souvenir kitsch. Anything with the skyscraper motif is selling briskly as a collectible, though not without controversy as some online auctioneers caught heat last week for seeming to cash in on the tragedy.

At Prints Plus stores, which carry hundreds of posters and prints, calls for Manhattan skyline posters started coming in almost immediately after the attacks Tuesday.

"Unfortunately it's the byproduct of a terrible tragedy," says president Ted Upland from company headquarters in Concord, Calif. "It's an unexpected surge, and we're happy to do this to fill customer demand, but we wish we didn't have to."

Upland says the most popular images are two panoramic color views that feature the World Trade Center towers prominently at dusk and at night. Requests for the $25 posters have come in from around the country, with New Jersey and New York stores reporting the highest numbers. "We've sold out our stock there," says Upland, who has 157 stores.

Roughly 5,000 prints are on order. At the Prints Plus in The Mall at Columbia, the 20 images in stock sold out by Thursday afternoon.

Three hours after the first plane crashed into the first tower, posters of the New York skyline were on sale at eBay. But by Wednesday eBay had closed down anything marked as "World Trade Center" - 180-plus objects. The highest price for a poster of the modern skyline was $190. It seemed anything with an image of the once indomitable skyscrapers was all of a sudden a hot collectible: key chains, postcards, golf balls, snow globes, playing cards, calendars, checkbook covers, even rubble.

Metal miniatures of skyscrapers were also for sale, but Ward Smith, of Baltimore, canceled his auctions at eBay after receiving criticism.

Smith, 49, has been collecting and selling metal miniature buildings and skyscrapers for two years on eBay. Since April he's included the World Trade Center towers in his offerings. He did business as usual in placing those miniatures on sale Monday night.

He was glued to the TV on Tuesday and didn't check his e-mail until late in the day. "At that point I had received about a dozen pieces of really vicious hate mail telling me how evil it is that I am making money off this and exploiting this tragedy," he says.

He looked at his bids online, which were already up to $1,200. His usual intake per piece is $9 to $100. In a good week, he sells 20 to 25 metal models, usually featuring New York monuments such as St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.

He took the only course of action his conscience would allow. "I ended all my auctions. I didn't want to make money off of this tragedy."

Then he says that eBay purged its listings at midnight on Tuesday, eliminating until Oct. 1 any items with "World Trade Center, war or Pentagon" in their descriptions.

Smith's friend Joshua Knapp, 40, is a fellow collector and seller of the miniatures and a New Yorker of almost 12 years. On Tuesday, he had been downtown working a long day with other volunteers on call after the attack when he came back to a very unwelcome homecoming - more than two dozen hate e-mails. Knapp also halted his sales, the first of which came less than a hour after the first assault.

Books about the towers have skyrocketed in popularity this week. On Amazon's best-seller list Friday, Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center by Angus Kress Gillespie was No. 2. According to the Associated Press, up until this week the book had sold only 2,000 copies. Now 15,000 are being rushed into production.

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