PROVIDENCE — As the online auction ticked down to a close on Wednesday, Jennifer Gwynne and her family watched the bids go up and up.
Some people really wanted Elon Musk memorabilia, and Gwynne, who’s from North Providence, had plenty of it. Photographs, a signed birthday card, a necklace. Bidders paid a total of $165,265 for the items in Gwynne’s collection, which includes photographs of Musk — the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and the world’s richest man — hanging out at her mom’s house in North Providence. Gwynne will get the lion’s share of $132,000, or what’s called the hammer price.
“It is an amazing blessing,” Gwynne told the Globe Thursday. “It will make our future so much more comfortable. We don’t have to worry about what we need to do to pay for college. I’ve had such a fun ride.”
The auction was through the Boston-based firm RR Auction, which has carved out a niche for space-age collectibles.
Gwynne said she and her husband had a calm conversation about what to do with the unexpected windfall. No, they won’t buy a Tesla. Gwynne’s stepson is 13 and will need money for college in a few years. Also, she and her husband, who married in October 2020, never took a proper honeymoon; they might go on one now.
She’ll also make a donation to a South Carolina animal charity.
Gwynne and Musk dated while they were students at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s. They broke up when Musk, who was a year ahead of her, graduated and moved to California in 1995.
They’ve taken different paths since, and haven’t kept in touch, although there are no hard feelings, Gwynne said. Gwynne has moved a bunch of times since graduating, and now lives in South Carolina, working for McKesson Medical-Surgical. She kept the photos, cards, and trinkets through a dozen moves, including some across the country.
Musk, meanwhile, has become a billionaire many times over. He’s Time magazine’s 2021 person of the year, the would-be buyer of Twitter, a political lightning rod, and sometimes Internet meme lord. He has always been an intense guy who thought differently — and brilliantly — and never cared what people thought about him, Gwynne said. He was a little more reserved when they were resident advisers together at Penn, but it’s no surprise that the tall and baby-faced Penn undergrad who spoke enthusiastically about electric cars in the mid-1990s would now push for colonizing Mars, Gwynne said.
“He’s just a practical genius trying to do amazing things,” Gwynne said.
The highest-price item in the collection was a necklace that Musk had given her. Musk told her it had an emerald from his father’s South African emerald mine. Gwynne had worn the necklace off and on for years, and had been keeping it in a jewelry box. The lot also included several photographs, including one of Gwynne, Musk, and Musk’s mom. It sold for a little over $51,000.
A birthday card he wrote, in which he professed his love and called Gwynne “Boo-Boo,” went for $16,463.
A photograph of Musk standing by the open fridge at her mom’s home in North Providence fetched just under $1,700; another one of them cuddling in the home got just under $2,000. This was the same trip during which they went to the pool hall Snookers and got into a fender bender, which Gwynne paid to fix.
Gwynne doesn’t know who the buyers are. A request for comment relayed to Musk through Tesla went unreturned. But Musk clearly knew the auction was happening: He changed his Twitter profile picture to one Gwynne took and had saved in a photo album all these years. (It wasn’t one taken in North Providence, sadly.)
Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, said Gwynne’s collection is one of the first archives of personal Musk material to go up for bid.
“Elon Musk is extremely important to the 21st century — his vision of populating Mars would probably make him, if it happens, one of the most important humans in all of history,” Livingston said.
Collectors were willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars because they feel an emotional connection to the subject or, in this case, the person of Elon Musk.
It also helped out a former Rhode Islander quite a bit.
“It’s just an incredible day for Jennifer and her plans,” Livingston said.
Indeed. Gwynne has been fielding a lot of media calls. She graduated from North Providence High School as valedictorian and was voted most likely to succeed, she recalled. This holiday season, the 30th high school reunion is coming up. Mission complete, her sister said.
“I’m going to enjoy it,” she said of her 15 minutes of fame. “I’ll be able to look it up on the Internet until the day I die.”
Correction: This post has been update to remove a picture of an item from a different auction.