• Interview: Emily Spivack of Sentimental Value

    Emily Spivack curates Sentimental Value, a website that focuses on the stories behind clothing items on eBay, and she spoke to us about the site's beginnings, her plans for the future, and the craziest stories she's come across.
    Interview by Katie Gregory

    Hi Emily! Introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about Sentimental Value.

    Sure! So, I started Sentimental Value as a web-based art project back in 2007. I’d been spending time on eBay for years and I’d always been interested in vintage clothing and weird tchotchkes, all the fun random things that you could find on eBay, clothing and beyond.

    One day I think I was looking for a pair of vintage heels and I came upon this Playboy bunny costume from the mid-'60s; it was complete with the earpiece, the tail, the stockings, and it had the vintage heels and everything the woman would wear. It also came with her ID card. It was like a very basic black and white photo of this woman. It was fascinating. Obviously I didn’t bid on the shoes because the whole thing was expensive since it was a collector’s piece and I didn’t need the rest of the bunny outfit [laughs], but it was this moment where I was like wow, there are people and stories behind these things being sold, and really seeing a name and face with the garment, and in that instance the contrast between the ID photo and the more extravagant outfit, that was the moment when I had the idea for Sentimental Value.

    After that, I started looking around on eBay to see if there were any more stories I could find. Once I did, I started putting them on the website, and then in 2010 I started bidding on the actual items. On the website I’ve collected about 600 stories and I probably have about 60 physical objects in my collection. [A selection of which are on display now at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.]

    Is there anything in particular you like to search for on eBay or do you just dig around?
    I sort of just do a lot of digging around. I know that vintage things are going to tend to have more of a story, obviously. A lot of the time a story might be kind of basic and not all that interesting, but just when you think you won’t find anything else, you find another incredible story.

    Anything you tried to bid on but lost out on at the last minute?
    One thing I feel like I should have bid on but I did not was this Jawbreaker hoodie. It was this incredible story, but it was expensive. I don’t just bid on anything because it’s like a weird thing to bid on these items since I’m not wearing them, but I should have bid on this because the story is just incredible. It’s a love story, it talks about Myspace; it kind of taps into all the elements of why I like this project.

    What’s one of the craziest stories you’ve come across?
    There’s a pretty amazing story about a woman who would shop in her sleep. Things would arrive in the mail and she’d have no recollection of purchasing them and they wouldn’t be things she’d normally purchase. She realized that she was sleep shopping. She had to set her alarm every night to remember to check and see if she had bid on anything the night before.

    And you also have a book coming out soon. Is that tied to Sentimental Value?
    It’s a different project, a different website. It’s called Worn Stories. That’s where I go and interview people about a piece of clothing that has some story, memory or extraordinary event attached it. Sentimental Value, everything is really found, but with Worn Stories I’m going in and talking to lots of different people, and the book will be coming out in 2014 on Princeton Architectural Press.

    And where do you keep all the things you buy for Sentimental Value?
    [Laughs] Well, I have a spare closet and I try to keep it all organized in bins in this extra closet. Eventually I’m going to have to figure out something else because that can only last so long. If this project keeps going, and I can’t imagine it ending anytime soon, I’m going to outgrow the closet at some point!