James Gleick has a swell piece in the New York Times Magazine on the intangible quality of “historicity” that makes certain artifacts extremely valuable even when their nearly indistinguishable copies are free.
All these artifacts share the quality that Philip K. Dick, in his 1962 novel “The Man in the High Castle,” calls historicity, which is “when a thing has history in it.” In the book, a dealer in antiquities holds up two identical Zippo lighters, one of which supposedly belonged to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and says: “One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object has ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it? … You can’t. You can’t tell which is which. There’s no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it.” Back in the real world, in 1996, Sotheby’s sold a humidor that had belonged to John F. Kennedy for $574,500. It had historicity.