Brass Rat Tales

MIT rings fetch a premium online.

In February, members of the Class of 1983 got an e-mail from their president, Hyun-A Park, announcing that a 1983 class ring was for sale on eBay. When the auction closed, the brass rat wound up not in the hands of an ‘83 but on the finger of another alumnus. Bob Rauch ‘61 paid $964.99 for the ring to replace his own, which had been stolen in a burglary.

A typical MIT class ring, better known as a brass rat.

The online sale of the ‘83 brass rat was not an anomaly. “I’ve seen a dozen or so rings being sold in the past four or five years on eBay,” says Joel Rodgers of the Alumni Association. Rodgers says he browses the auction sites weekly to look for any MIT class rings or memorabilia for sale. Association staff then notify the class officers for the appropriate years, so they can publicize the auctions, in case anyone’s interested in participating – or has had a ring stolen.

The typical 10-karat brass rat contains around $190 worth of gold, yet in recent auctions MIT class rings have sold for $675 to $1,231, according to Rauch. “I have no idea who is bidding them up or why,” he says. In his case, he was bidding against at least two other alums. One, Mike Koss ‘83, couldn’t afford a brass rat while he was in school. The other, Bruce Sohn ‘83, lost his ring on a senior-year recruiting trip.

Although the Coop sells “generic” rings starting at $520, they bear only a graduation year and degree inscription, not one of the unique designs that classes have been creating for themselves for decades.

The ring that sold for $1,231 originally belonged to Walter Harmon ‘52, who died shortly after graduation. His sister, who had inherited the ring, posted it on eBay earlier this year. One of the bidders was Harmon’s Baker House roommate, Louis DiBona ‘52, who wanted it for sentimental reasons and, he says, because he “didn’t want it to go to a non-MIT person.” He stopped his bidding at $350; unbeknownst to him, his daughter kept bidding up to $650. The ring was ultimately purchased by Kenneth Deemer ‘75, who had lost his own ring and whose father received a ScD from MIT in 1952.

Although brass rats can fetch a premium online, rings from other schools often sell for less. When three Harvard class rings recently sold on eBay, the highest bid was $317.50. But brass rats are, after all, distinctive enough to have a nickname and be recognized by other alums at 10 paces. As Bill Hecht ‘61, CEO emeritus of the Alumni Association, points out, “Harvard’s ring looks just like everyone else’s.”

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