The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” isn’t often true in a literal sense, but it was this week when the city of Alamogordo, New Mexico raised nearly $36,500 by auctioning off the first set of nearly 100 cartridges that were unearthed from their infamous 1983 Atari dumping.
While many different Atari 2600 games were represented in the city’s eBay auctions, the ET patterns central to the ‘urban legend’ of the dumping were – unsurprisingly – the most popular. The eight crumpled but still complete copies of the game, which many have called the worst in history, sold for a median of $1,400, with one copy surpassing $1,537 when the auction ended last night after 42 bids. Even the 11 unboxed ET cartridges dug up from the dirt fetched a hefty average price of $635. The minimum price to own a discarded copy of one of the biggest flops in gaming history? $511.
The 78 non-ET cartridges auctioned in this first batch weren’t nearly as sought after, but they still fetched an average price of $227, which is pretty good for literal trash that’s been in the ground for over 30 years. A boxed copy of Asteroids went for $490, while the absolute lowest price to own a piece of Atari landfill history to date was $157.50 for a copy of Missile Commando.
Don’t worry if you missed your chance to buy decades-old junk this time around; the city says it plans to auction 700-800 more of the 1,300 cartridges actually excavated (the rest will go to the film crew behind the Atari: Game Over documentary and to various museums). Maybe we’ll see Nintendo World Championship-style price inflation on those follow-up auctions – or maybe the market of people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for historic cartridges is already somewhat saturated in this first round.