If it's Americana, it can be yours

Auction: History both serious and frivolous is being sold on the Internet.

October 25, 2001|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

It's all up for grabs.

You name an event, a moment in time, a shared national experience, and sooner or later it seems it will be transformed into something called "Americana." A thing with a price, an item for sale - "merch."

In academia they call this process "commodification." Elsewhere they might say "packaging."

The profane, the profound, whatever - it's all been tossed into the same box by MastroNet Inc., an Oak Brook, Ill., company that until now had specialized in sports memorabilia. For a phone and Internet auction (www.mastronet.com) today and tomorrow, the company is branching out. Way out.

Depending on how you look at it, the 328-page auction catalog is evidence of what's wrong - or what's right - with America.

You might pick up a few pair of "scarce" circa 1910 Buster Brown socks (minimum bid $150). Or for a few more bucks you might go for a piece of civil rights history: a rusty old Montgomery, Ala., city bus offered as the very bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, for defying segregation laws requiring her to sit in the back (minimum bid $50,000).

The 1936-model bus has been moldering in a grassy yard ever since a Montgomery family bought it to use as a storage shed in the early 1970s. The catalog says much research has been devoted to establishing with certainty that this bus is the bus, and MastroNet's CEO says in a press release that he hopes whoever buys it will restore it as an educational vehicle "for future generations to learn about the legacy of Rosa Parks."

That would be auction Lot No. 1, not to be confused with Lot No. 911, the last item in the catalog: Mickey Mantle's 1949 Plymouth convertible in a color that might best be described as 1970s tuxedo powder blue. Minimum bid: $10,000.

Between the two falls a cultural history hodgepodge: A Mickey Mouse pocket watch; an 1806 shipping document signed by President Thomas Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison; a baseball signed by Harry Truman; a customs certificate signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne; an $11 check signed by Abraham Lincoln; a $450 check signed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; a never-opened box of 1966 Batman bubble gum cards - 24 nickel packs for a minimum bid of $900.

Nothing in the sale marks Sept. 11, 2001. No signed photographs of Rudy Giuliani, no swatchs of the flag that flew above the wreckage or authenticated steel fragments to put on the block alongside an autographed poster of "The Monkees."

Perhaps it's just a matter of time.

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