Sotheby's Misses with Atari Memorabilia

'80s Marketing Archives Fail to Meet Reserve, Hype

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Sotheby's made headlines earlier this week with its decision to auction off 2,200 pieces of paraphernalia by video-game pioneer Atari Corp. on June 21, at a starting bid of $150,000.

Perhaps not surprisingly, bids for the lot yesterday did not meet reserve.

The game proofs, character sketches and marketing cartoons fell into the hands of Cort Allen, a semiconductor design consultant, in the mid-80s. Mr. Allen stumbled upon the items at a fire sale of Atari office equipment while searching for used furniture. He left with 40 cabinets full of artwork priced at $2 each. The rest is history.

Auctioneers put the objets d' Atari on the block as a single lot, set to fetch somewhere between $150,000 to $250,000 as part of a "Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana" collection. The accompanying catalogue entry for Lot 151, "Atari Video Games," gives the breakdown:

An extensive archive of original marketing materials from the "Golden Age" of Atari, ca. 1981 to 1983, comprising more than 2,000 items of widely varying sizes and formats...mostly related to marketing materials for Atari games and game consoles, especially boxes and manuals, but includes some early design and graphic work for specific game characters and components...contains mostly English-language materials, but proofs and mechanicals for cartoons and manuals in French, German, Spanish, and Italian are also present.

Interestingly enough, the archives end at 1983, often referred to as the year of "the great video-game crash," when PC popularity began to climb.

The 350-pound collection remains with Mr. Allen.