Sage Naumann, a former staffer at the Colorado legislature, was conducting his occasional nerd search of state relics on eBay when a pricey item caught his eye: “ORIGINAL BRONZE WALL SCONCE FROM THE COLORADO STATE CAPITOL BLDG. IN DENVER COLO.”
The list price of the enormous artifact? Available from a Littleton seller for the cool price of $8,995, or $431.82 a month over 24 months with PayPal credit. Local pickup only.
“Own a piece of Colorado history,” the listing says.
Naumann posted about his discovery on social media earlier this year, prompting a short blurb on a political news website. That tipped off the legislature’s Capitol Building Advisory Committee, responsible for maintaining the historic integrity of all things Colorado Capitol. The panel quickly determined it wants the sconce — a decorative light fixture — back. Like, yesterday.
“This is clearly state property and it is the responsibility of the Capitol Building Advisory Committee to keep state property in the Capitol,” Jeanette Chapman, a nonpartisan staffer for the committee, said during a hearing last week.
The panel is debating how to retrieve the fixture. Ideas on the table include purchasing the sconce (it’s unclear where the money would come from), sending the Colorado State Patrol to seize the item (that’s been done with other Capitol relics), or asking the seller to donate the large and expensive light fixture back to the state, perhaps as a tax writeoff.
The panel also is trying to determine if the sconce was stolen or procured legally.
“It’s really hard to ascertain what’s stolen property and what’s not,” said Kurt Morrison, who sits on the committee and works as a lobbyist for Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “For all we know, in the 1940s the legislature could have upgraded all their lighting and they put those up for sale and someone legally bought that.”
Morrison said if the sconce was illegally acquired, the eBay listing is likely to be pulled down by the seller quickly, never to be found again, once they learn the state wants it back. One committee member half-jokingly suggested the panel reach out to eBay’s lobbyist for help.
Rep. William Lindstedt, a Broomfield Democrat who sits on the committee, reminded the panel that items posted for sale on eBay are sometimes offered for only a limited time. “It could just disappear tomorrow,” he said. “Just something to consider.”
The eBay listing has prompted a larger discussion about how to get missing Capitol relics back when they are discovered. The Capitol Building Advisory Committee openly debated last week pursuing legislation that would make it easier to reclaim historic items.
This isn’t, after all, the first time that a valuable object from the Capitol, which opened in 1894, has turned up for sale.
In 2004, a door knob from the Capitol was listed on eBay. The knobs are valuable and tough to replace, so the Colorado State Patrol was sent to retrieve it.
(A similar knob was sold on eBay earlier this month by a seller in Brule, Nebraska, who claimed: “I am told this was acquired directly from the Colorado state Capitol when it was remodeled around 1952 to 1953.”)
State officials may have some legal authority to retrieve Capitol history, but Nicole Myers, a lawyer with the Office of Legislative Legal Services, said the power isn’t absolute.
“We’ve looked into whether the General Assembly would have any recourse,” she told the advisory committee. “I don’t have a definitive answer.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat who sits on the Capitol Building Advisory Committee, believes the state’s legal footing depends on when the sconce was installed.
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“The provision of statute that I think is most applicable here is around whether this sconce is original,” he said during last week’s committee hearing. “The statute is pretty clear that furniture original to the state Capitol building shall remain in the state Capitol at all times.”
Legislative staffers believe the gas-and-electric sconce, which has glass shades etched with the state seal, was once displayed in the governor’s office. Former state Sen. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat who chairs the building advisory committee, said that “heightens the conversation” around its importance.
The seller wrote on their eBay listing that they believe the sconce was removed during Capitol restoration in the 1950s. “Some of the original fittings were removed and discarded,” the listing says. “This is one of those original fixtures.”
The seller posted that the sconce has “shuffled around for about the last 70 years or so.” They estimate the fixture, which is 3 feet tall and extends 2 feet from the wall, is 125 years old.
“THE CONDITION OF THIS SCONCE IS ACTUALLY SUPERB!” the listing says.
There’s reason to believe the seller, who has sold 242 items on eBay and has 100% positive feedback, knows what they’re talking about. They have other lighting items posted for sale, though the Capitol sconce is by far the most expensive.
The seller also doesn’t seem afraid to reveal their identity, as several of the eBay listing images feature a man who appears to be holding up the sconce so it can be properly photographed.
An eBay message from The Colorado Sun to the seller was not returned. The Capitol Building Advisory Committee was also planning to reach out through eBay to the person or people who posted the sconce.
Naumann, the Capitol history buff, originally found the sconce listing on eBay in early January. He said it’s unclear when the item was first offered for sale.
“Look, most of these items were discarded by the state during renovations decades ago,” Naumann said. “The only reason we rediscover them is when an entrepreneurial individual like this eBay seller decides to list it online. We shouldn’t make that a crime. If the state wants the sconce back, it should make an offer.”
Besides, he said, most people with a passion for antiques and history would likely love to help return items like the sconce back to the Capitol.