The ultimate swag: Enron's sign goes for $44,000 at auction

The big "E'' went for big green.

Enron Corp.'s trademark "tilted-E'' sign sold for $44,000 last week as the bankrupt former energy giant began auctioning off surplus items.

Jimmy Luu, sent by his boss at a Microcache Computer store in Houston to buy the sign, said he was given explicit orders regarding the five-foot stainless-steel sign that once stood outside a downtown Enron satellite office.

"He said, 'Just do anything to get it,'" Luu said after the gavel came down on the big E in a crowded Houston hotel ballroom.

Scott Bui, attorney for Microcache, said: "The reason we bought this was to preserve this business icon. It also signifies a lot of sweat, greed, and fraud in business."

The sign was the highlight among thousands of items up for bid Wednesday and Thursday, September 25-26, ranging from routine office supplies to kitschy items like stress balls, mugs, and an air hockey table. The auction was one of many that will be held to raise proceeds for creditors.

Enron declared bankruptcy in a wave of accounting irregularities that caused its high-flying stock to crash last year. The scandal has resulted in three convictions so far, with more indictments expected.

Luu said Microcache will display the sign at one its of three stores in Houston.

Bidders began arriving at the Radisson Astrodome around 5am, four hours before the auction began. The hotel was jammed with more than 1,000 bidders, with hundreds more in line waiting to get in as early arrivals left. An additional 12,000 people from around the world were registered online.

Auctioneer Kirk Dove kept a humorous perspective on the proceedings, calling the sign the "world's largest cufflink.'' Another "tilted-E'' went for $15,000 in a London auction earlier this year.

Bidders expecting bargains, however, were probably disappointed. Electronics, furniture, and other items were consistently selling at or above retail price because of the scandal appeal. For instance, an older-generation Palm Pilot that sells new for under $100 brought $220 at the auction.

Brian Cruver, a former Enron employee who wrote the book Anatomy of Greed: The Unshredded Truth From an Enron Insider, was at the hotel with his own agenda.

"I'm here to buy my old chair," he said. "It's the most comfortable chair I've ever sat in, and I want it back."