The mysterious yellow lawn signs popped up overnight and seemed to be everywhere.
In Boston’s Chinatown, one was taped to a pole on Washington Street. Just around the corner, an identical sign was affixed to a pole on Kneeland Street. “Forced Auction,” each sign read. “Lamborghini, Picassos, Fine Jewelry, Rolexes, etc.”
Each sign said the auction was happening Sept. 19 so an unnamed developer could avoid bankruptcy. And the impressive list of items continued: “Pissarro, Peter Max, Rembrandt, Dali, Matisse, Fine Silk Handmade Persian Carpets. Call to reserve limited social distance seating.”
The ubiquitous signs turned up on poles, grassy medians, and street lamps all over Greater Boston in the days leading up to the auction Sunday afternoon.
There was no location or address on each sign, just a phone number. By Monday evening, the line was disconnected and no longer in service.
In Boston, code enforcement officers have been taking down the signs since they first began appearing. To date, they’ve removed more than 100 signs from neighborhoods across the city, including Chinatown, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Back Bay.
But the signs aren’t unique to Boston.
Since 2019 there have been reports of these yellow auction signs sprouting up all over the country, including Los Altos, Calif.; Newport Beach, Calif.; Houston; Long Island, N.Y.; Indianapolis; and Denver, to name a few.
The signs that appeared recently in Boston and the surrounding suburbs caught many people’s attention. They sparked a spirited discussion on Reddit.
The signs also prompted some to complain on the city of Boston’s 311 website.
On person complaining about signs in Dorchester wrote: “Can all the yellow force the auction signs be removed from the intersection outside of Neponset car wash, and everywhere else in the city.”
Someone else shared photos of the signs on Kneeland Street and Washington Street in Chinatown and posted them to the city’s 311 website.
“Please have Public Works-District 1C remove this P.O.S.,” the citizen wrote. “They’re plastered all over the neighborhood! Thanks!”
But who is the auctioneer putting up all of these signs?
According to the Boston Public Works Department, its Code Enforcement Division traced the flyers back to a company called Global Auctions USA. The website has no contact information, just a generic “contact us” web form. The Globe sent a message via that web form but did not receive a response.
City officials said that the auction signs were put up illegally and that anyone found posting signs like that in Boston is subject to a $300 fine. Residents who see any illegally placed signs in their neighborhood are encouraged to contact 311.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.