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A look back at some of the biggest and weirdest auctions of 2023

If there's one thing auction sales can tell us, it's that you really can put a price on just about anything. From microscopic handbags to historic lighthouses to an Emmy-winning crossword puzzle partner, this year saw newfound worth and record sales in all kinds of things — old and new; material and intangible.

NPR's audience, meanwhile, found more value in some stories over others about the items on offer. We've rounded up some of our most popular reads in auction news from 2023. The best part? They're not for sale.

A long-lost painting bought for $4 sold for nearly $200K

A lucky shopper bought an original N.C. Wyeth painting for less than the price of a latte at a Savers thrift store in New Hampshire. The winning bid was for over $190,000. But, as it turned out, the buyer never materialized.

Twitter auctioned off its office supplies, including a pizza oven and neon bird sign

After Elon Musk took over Twitter and before he turned it into what he's renamed as X, his cost-cutting run on the company included an auction of "surplus corporate office assets" from the company's San Francisco headquarters.

Twitter auctioned off office, kitchen and tech supplies from its San Francisco headquarters.
Noah Berger / AP
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AP
Twitter auctioned off office, kitchen and tech supplies from its San Francisco headquarters.

The government offered up 10 lighthouses

Now that GPS can steer boats to safety, what is a lighthouse but a hot seaside property?

Plymouth Light Station, which dates to 1842, stands near Cape Cod Bay and Plymouth Bay, in Plymouth, Mass.
Paul Hughes / General Services Administration via AP
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General Services Administration via AP
Plymouth Light Station, which dates to 1842, stands near Cape Cod Bay and Plymouth Bay, in Plymouth, Mass.

She left her 2007 iPhone in its box for over a decade. It sold for $63K

Don't underestimate nostalgia.

Bisrat Kinfemichael, a professor of accounting and finance at the New York Institute of Technology, told NPR after the record-breaking sale in February that demand has made unopened first-generation iPhones into "extremely rare commodities, similar to precious metals."

An original Princess Leia dress, expected to fetch $2 million at auction, went unsold

One thing that didn't sell at auction? What's believed to be the only surviving Princess Leia look from the 1977 film that kicked off the franchise.

Brandon Alinger, chief operating officer at Propstore, wears white gloves to handle the Princess Leia dress worn by actress Carrie Fisher in the 1977 film <em>Star Wars</em> before it went up for auction in Los Angeles in June.
Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Brandon Alinger, chief operating officer at Propstore, wears white gloves to handle the Princess Leia dress worn by actress Carrie Fisher in the 1977 film Star Wars before it went up for auction in Los Angeles in June.

A chance to solve a crossword puzzle with Natasha Lyonne

It was just one of a handful of clever ways A-listers leveraged their celebrity to raise money for the writers and actors strikes that brought Hollywood to a halt this summer.

Post Malone set a new record in the game card industry

The rapper, a known fan of Magic: The Gathering, bought a one-of-a-kind card from the fantasy tabletop game for a reported $2 million.

A tepid auction took the wind out of wind farm sales

Even leases for offshore wind production in the Gulf of Mexico, a game-changer for green energy, went up for bidding this summer — a first for the region. NPR's Planet Money looked intowhy the offers for the patches of sea didn't meet expectations for a competitive auction.

Michael Jordan's "Last Dance" sneakers sold for a record $2.2 million

Michael Jordan's game-worn sneakers from the 1998 NBA finals are displayed at Sotheby's on April 5 in New York.
Bebeto Matthews / AP
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AP
Michael Jordan's game-worn sneakers from the 1998 NBA finals are displayed at Sotheby's on April 5 in New York.

The basketball phenom's Air Jordans, the pair he wore during the 1998 NBA Finals, were the most expensive sport shoes ever sold.

2,000 near-threatened white rhinos went up for auction

A man who'd been trying to save the white rhinos of South Africa from being poached into extinction needed some helpcaring for his massive herd.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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