Larry Johnson was downsizing his home in British Columbia and decided to sell the enormous, hand-carved wooden throne that occupied most of his living room. On Feb. 8, 2013, he took out a now-famous ad in his local newspaper, offering to sell the grand chair for $5,000 in Canadian dollars.
“HAND carved throne. $5,000 firm,” said the original ad, which cost about $40 and ran with a picture of the ornate chair in the Prince George Citizen newspaper.
The Canadian newspaper was offering a special: Pay once, and the ad will run until your item sells. Nobody took that offer more seriously than Johnson. And the ad took on a life of its own.
A year went by, and there were no takers for his throne. Then two years went by, and then three. Johnson wasn’t worried.
“I had nothing to lose at all,” Johnson, 65, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
Larry Johnson’s original ad for the throne in the Prince George Citizen newspaper.
Meanwhile, some people in the Prince George community of about 78,000 were amused by the recurring ad, but others were annoyed. It was the subject of disagreements among friends and loved ones. It was discussed around town.
Derek Springall, classified-advertising supervisor for the Prince George Citizen, got a lot of grief for it. Some readers were so irritated, they threatened to cancel their subscriptions if he didn’t pull the ad, which ran both in the paper and online.
“We’ve had many calls over the years … from people asking about it and even angry about it,” Springall said.
It was a hot topic of conversation at BX Pub in Prince George, a neighborhood watering hole.
“We just always laughed at it when we saw it,” said BX Pub owner Justin Mousseau, 46. “It becomes annoying, and then it becomes funny. And then it becomes annoying, and it becomes funny again.”
Johnson, an admitted “hoarder and collector,” had no idea that his humble ad was causing controversy.
He bought the throne at a traveling antiques show 20 years prior, and it has served more as a decoration than as furniture in his 900-square-foot home.
But as time went on, he softened on the price: After the first year, he removed the $5,000 firm ask. In his mind, he’d planned to accept $3,000. At that price, it was a steal. After all, it was a beautiful throne, a newer reproduction of a regal chair said to belong to Sir Stamford Raffles, a 19th-century British colonial leader, he said.
Johnson felt he was basically giving it away. But again, no bidders. A few people called him over the years, but they all wanted the throne for a cut rate, and Johnson wouldn’t entertain that.
Sure, he had bought it for about $1,300, but he was confident that antiques only increased in value as they aged. Besides, the throne was an amazing piece of art.
And yet, time is not on your side when you’re selling in the classified ads. In the past year or so, Johnson figured he’d go as low as $1,000 (about $743 in U.S. dollars), which, frankly, was a fire sale for the gorgeous throne, he thought.
Then one day last month, Mosseau, the BX pub owner with a wry sense of humor, decided he would end the long-running ad for good. He would buy the throne for $1,000 and proudly display it in his pub.
BX posted on its Facebook page, writing “Important PSA”:
“We hear a ton of great stories at the BX… . There’s one story that became repetitive and boring… .This throne!!!!! Why is it still for sale? Where did it come from? Who owns it? Did it come from Buckingham Palace? Was it carbon tested? Is it worth 1 Million Dollars? Enough is enough…….we bought it! It’s finally over!!!!!!”
Tons of customers commented, including one who wrote, “Going to miss seeing the add [sic].” And like clockwork, another replied, “Not me I’m sick of seeing that ad.”
Mosseau called the purchase “kind of a joke.”
“But it’s a fun joke. At the end of the day, it’s fun,” he said. “We all need more silly fun.”
It seemed the entire community of Prince George rejoiced that the chair finally sold. Those who got the joke started flocking to BX Pub to see the notorious chair in person. Hundreds of people have liked and commented on BX’s Facebook post about it.
“Everyone was happy that it was finally out of the paper,” Mousseau said.
And they were impressed once they laid eyes on it.
“People were surprised by how big and nice it was,” he said.
Mousseau keeps the throne upstairs, and though people keep wanting to sit in it for pictures, he is trying to limit its use for special occasions such as birthday parties.
He thinks part of the attraction is that “people might have needed closure, they got so used to seeing it in there,” he said.
Johnson was pleased that his patience and persistence paid off, even if the payout was less than he’d hoped for. It is, after all, “just an incredible piece of artwork,” he said.
He recalled how when he kept the throne in his living room, he would carry on with an antic inspired by the Canadian government: He would put on his briefs, sit on the throne and give a “throne speech” as the speaker of his own House of Commons. He cracked himself up.
But as he got older, he decided that it was time to unload some of the larger items in his home.
“I don’t want to leave all this mess to my son” in the event of his demise, Johnson said.
Since the ad stopped running in May, Johnson has gotten calls from people — reporters and others — from all around Canada and beyond. He has had moments of regret for letting the throne go for the discounted $1,000: One woman told him that she would have paid twice as much.
The newspaper has no regrets about continuing the throne ad for so long, despite the reader complaints.
“You’ve got to put something in that space, right?” Springall said with a laugh. “It’s either that or some kind of house filler.”
And in the end, the classified ad did its job. Even if it took a while.