When Being the Worst is Best

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial game for Atari is infamously terrible because according to critics, it was slow, clunky, and worse–had no point. Apparently, however, treasure hunters have sold the games on eBay and report to have made $108,000 in sales.  This copy sold for $23.99 in  2015.

Julien’s auctions just hosted a sale of property from the collection of Bernie Taupin who is best known for his writing partnership with Elton John.  Together they produced more than 30 gold and platinum albums – songs we all know and love like “Daniel,” “Your Song,” and “Rocket Man.”  But what stood out for me in the publicity leading up to the sale was a headline I read that the lyrics for the “worst rock song ever” according to  www.justcollecting.com, were coming up for auction.

Please be warned I am about to name that song and drop an earworm into your day.  Turn back now if you don’t want this song rattling in your head for the next week.

“We Built This City” was co-written by Taupin and members of the band Starship.  It was released in 1985 and to quote Just Collecting, “We Built This City stands for everything that was terrible about 1980s corporate rock (which is, to say, a lot).” 

When the working lyrics sold on November 9, 2018 the winning bidder paid $2,880.  It got me thinking about when things are so bad – they are actually good (and profitable).

Here are few examples of when the terrible is wonderful.  Enjoy?

E.T. the Extra Terrestrial game for Atari is infamously terrible.  It was released in 1982.  Critics call the game slow and clunky with advertisements throughout, and most damning – the game had no point.  For years it was rumored the company buried – BURIED – a large number of copies of the game in the New Mexico desert.  The rumor was proved true in 2014 when excavators uncovered the treasure (?) of at least 900 copies of the game.  The treasure hunters went on to sell the games on eBay and report to have made $108,000 in sales.  Not bad for some trash.

There are many terrible movies made each year, but some stand out in their terribleness.  There is Mano: The Hands of Fate, The Room which was immortalized in 2017 film The Disaster Artist, and films like Robot Monster.  We love to hate them.  We love to have them lampooned by Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  In fact, MST3K has built an empire (or at least a quirky fan base) built entirely on bad movies.  And that is good.

So good in fact, that fans are clamoring for props, costumes and fan-built replicas from the show.  Like this jumpsuit below worn by Mike in the not too distant future that sold for over $5,000.

A Mystery Science Theater 3000 aka MST3K Mike’s Jumpsuit sold for over $5,000 in 2017.

But before motion pictures or television people read books for entertainment.  Charles Dickens is beloved for his novels and social critique.  A Christmas Carol is an enduring seasonal favorite; Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities are still taught in schools.  But even a great author has some low moments.  If you look up “worst book ever,” Google will direct you to Wikipedia and the “list of books considered the worst” entry.  First on that list are Charles Dickens’ American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit.  Bad is good when you can sell a first edition of Martin Chuzzlewit for $2,750 at auction, which is just what happened in 2017.

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. London: Chapman and Hall, 1844. First book edition sold for $2,750 in 2017.

Readers may disagree with me about this last item, that I feel is the worst, but sells like the best.  To that I say, I will take my opinion and sit elsewhere. 

In 1950, Charles and Ray Eames created molded fiberglass shell chairs.  In my opinion, the world’s most uncomfortable chair.  In 2001, Herman Miller recreated the chairs and markets them as, “A simple, gracious form that fits any body and any place.”  My derriere disagrees.  Perhaps I am the only body that does not fit this form, but this mid-century modern emperor is wearing no clothes.  (Or maybe I have PTSD from a childhood of sitting on these fiberglass torture devices that left silvers in my legs.)  My last pick of the best of the worst is the Eames fiberglass stackable chair.  Popular, expensive, and to me, the worst!

Set of eight Charles Eames for Herman Miller molded DSS style stackable chairs sold for over $3200 in 2017.

What other terrors are treasures?  Please share with us in the comments below.

Megan Mahn Miller is appraiser specializing in Rock ‘n Roll and Hollywood memorabilia (along with other hard-to-value items) as well and an auctioneer and consultant..  Her company, Mahn Miller Collective, Inc. can assist you with your personal property needs.  Visit www.mahnmiller.com for more information.

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