Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
A section of the tower’s original staircase is up for auction in Paris this month.
It’s not every day that a chunk of one of the world’s most famous monuments goes on sale. But on November 27, Paris auction house Artcurial will be selling off a 24-step piece of original staircase from the Eiffel Tower, removed in 1983 to help lighten the structure while installing a new elevator between its second and top floors. For now, the giant corkscrew of metal sits on display in Artcurial’s courtyard, drumming up interest for the sale.
Admittedly, it’s not the most visually striking thing, though clearly Gustave Eiffel knew a good staircase when he saw one. The remnant, offered with a starting price of €40,000, could still go for a very high sum. In 2016, a collector bought a section of the staircase for over $550,000—and that was for a piffling 14-step segment.
The sale is only the latest episode in a strange trade in discarded bits of the tower, one that has seen sections of the staircase scattered across the world like a handful of giant confetti. Nowadays, bits of the tower crop up in all sorts of unlikely places. A section stands in New York, next to the Statue of Liberty. Another piece is in Japan, and yet another has washed up at Disneyland in Orlando. Beyond many bits in private gardens and homes, there are also sections in Paris’s Parc de la Villette and Musée D’Orsay. France even practices a modest amount of staircase diplomacy, sending sections around the world to go on display, including last year in the Philippine capital of Manila.
So are the pieces worth their price? The Eiffel Tower is certainly a remarkable thing, being one of those truly great tourist sites that doesn’t disappoint in real life. But while the steps themselves are graceful, they don’t automatically recall the dazzling structure from which they have been pruned.
Having said that, the world is full of mementoes more striking for their historical significance than their appearance. The sections of stair certainly look more impressive than the scraps of Berlin wall distributed across the world, which offer viewers no visual frisson beyond a somber reminder that a few bits of rubble once divided the world. The idea of the tower itself going up for sale is far beyond the shores of even remote likelihood, so maybe buyers keen to snatch a piece of its discarded innards won’t be getting such a bad deal.