“We hope that this rare bar set will make a vivid impression on your friends and visitors.”
So reads the handwritten postcard that arrived with the miniature gothic castle bar set I ordered off of eBay earlier this month. And weirdly impressive it is: A relic from the 1970s, the castle opens to reveal a red velvet-lined cabin with space for two glass decanters, and features a pair of drawers housing matching amber shot glasses and a brass-colored coat of arms bearing the manufacturer’s name, S. SPER BIJOU.
It’s also incomplete. One of the decanters is missing, as is a decorative chain at the castle’s entrance, and some of the red velvet, after years of wear, has been removed. In a show of both tact and optimism, the seller openly admits these defects: “We are sorry that this is not a full set,” they write, “but it leaves a place for creative solutions.”
To which we at PUNCH responded by furnishing it with a Brienne of Tarth action figure and a mountain of fake snow.
Why we gravitated to this particular item, I can’t explain. Nor can I make sense of the fact that this thing even exists, and that it’s not the only one of its kind: As it turns out, S. SPER BIJOU specialized in the manufacturing of gothic fortress paraphernalia—not just castles, but assorted jewelry boxes and wooden-handled mugs. From a broader scope, the question really becomes, why would anyone have held onto this stuff for all these years?
After an internet background check on our Arizona-based retailer, I found they sell everything from metal purses made of used license plates to reusable plastic popcorn tubs. What’s more, per the reviews, nearly every item shipped comes with a handwritten thank-you note. (One customer who purchased a “12-inch Snowman Cookie Jar” even reports receiving a Christmas note.)
It also turns out that the seller ships from a town just outside of Phoenix called Surprise. Founded back in 1938, it’s now the state’s 10th-largest city, though it reportedly earned its name when its founder, Flora Mae Statler, declared that she’d be “surprised if the town ever amounted to much.”
I originally wondered who among our readers would actually want to own this imperfect, not very practical, sort-of-broken gothic castle decanter set. Now, I’m reminded of how, during its brief stay at the office, it’s become an unexpected source of entertainment. We positioned it on a highly desirable piece of real estate just above the bookshelves, with our Game of Thrones figurine alongside. As we collectively admired Brienne’s poised silhouette, Assistant Editor Chloe Frechette remarked, without the slightest tenor of insincerity, “It’s just so beautiful and prominent.”
Now it can be yours, handwritten note included.