The Surprisingly Sweet Reason Why KFC's Auctioning a Bunch of the Colonel's Old Junk

You could say they were clearing the attic, but this stuff is housed in a bunker!

Harland Colonel Sanders, 1970. (Michael Ochs Archive/Getty)

Oct 17, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Here’s something to forward to your grandpa: KFC is auctioning off a bunch of Colonel Sanders memorabilia, and it’s donating all the proceeds to the U.N. World Food Programme as part of the company's larger “Recipe for Hope” campaign to fight hunger. Or, on second thought, even if he’s got email, do you really want to spend an entire afternoon helping him figure out how to bid in an online auction?

“Colonel Sanders' secret recipe to a life well-lived was grounded in giving back and feeding those in need—a principle that lives on today at KFC through our ‘Recipe for Hope’ program,” said John Cywinski, President of KFC U.S, in a release. “It seems only fitting that we continue to honor the Colonel’s commitment to fighting hunger by making it possible for his fans to own some of his most prized memorabilia. In doing so, they’ll be further contributing to that same cause.”

Anyone looking to snap up the legendary handwritten copy of the Colonel’s famous original recipe with its eleven herbs and spices will be disappointed, however. It seems that’ll remain sealed in the company’s vaults.

(Back in 2001, the KFC sued a couple who claimed they had found a copy of the recipe in the basement of a home they bought that the Colonel had once owned. KFC said the recipe was not the original recipe, but the company did reveal that it doesn’t even buy all eleven herbs and spices from the same vendor to prevent any third party from figuring out what’s in the recipe.)

Furthermore, the auction won’t even feature one of the Colonel’s signature white suits, one of which was actually auctioned off this past June and fetched more than $21,000. So what is KFC putting on the auction block?

Um, a lot of plaques. On first glance, they’re the kind of engraved, wood-mounted bric-a-brac that you might find in the office of any civic-minded local businessman, though instead of, say, an award from the Rotary club, we're talking about a key to the city of St. Louis or a framed invitation to the White House from Jimmy Carter. There’s a weird portrait in leather of the Colonel himself that looks like the art project of some talented but disturbed high school senior, and what’s billed as a “rare” Colonel Sanders weathervane. Opening bids at this souped up garage sale are in the $75 to $100 range.

B-roll footage supplied to reporters and intended to promote the auction begins with a car driving toward KFC’s archives, which appear to be carved out of the side of a mountain—it's a frigging bunker, the sort of secure "undisclosed location" you’re more likely to associate with a Tom Clancy novel. If the world as we know it ended tomorrow, we can rest assured that some distant civilization would still be able to unearth a replica of the Liberty Bell that was bestowed on the Colonel for some unknown reason.

Publicly, at least, KFC remains committed to its founder; the Colonel continues to appear as part of the official logo. But beneath the feel-good cause of fighting world hunger one framed office plaque at a time, the auction can also be seen as an attempt by the company to perhaps clear out some of the fustiness of the Colonel’s legacy. After all, there’s only so much you can do to make an image of an old guy in a string tie and white suit appear hip. KFC seemed to acknowledge as much with the launch of “KFC eleven” in Louisville last summer, its first “upmarket” restaurant, which only serves the company’s new boneless chicken—and does not, tellingly, feature the Colonel’s image in its signage.