As the hour approaches 1 p.m. in Lillehammer, Norway, the streets surrounding the city's central square begin to fill with excited people—an average of 200 to 300 of them, including both Norwegians and tourists from abroad—who gather for the daily auctioning of a single white cotton T-shirt. The highest price fetched for one of the shirts, on the 500th day of auctions, was $3,700, and the average winning bid since the auctioning began in 1991 has been $370.
What makes the shirts so valuable? Each has printed on it a clock set to a few minutes before one o'clock, the scheduled starting time of the opening ceremonies of the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, and the number of days remaining until Feb. 12, 1994, the date when those Games will begin. Round-numbered days bring in the most money, which goes to support the Games, and days ending in the number 94 are also popular. "It's definitely part of the Olympic hysteria that is building up both here and in all of Norway," says Svein Strugstad, a spokesman for the Lillehammer organizing committee. "But sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between genuine enthusiasm and financial speculation."