The mystery of the Craigslist pig couch has finally been solved.
For years, its origins have been unknown, even as ads offering the unique piece of furniture periodically popped up in cities across the US.
But while the ads are a hoax, the couch is very real, and has been for a decade. Here’s everything you need to know about the pig couch and the story of how it became the internet’s white whale of for-sale ads.
Pavia Burroughs, Hillock (2010), as seen at her thesis show at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Wait… what is the pig couch?
First of all, it is not, in fact, a couch—it is a chair. Titled Hillhock, it was originally made in 2010 by artist Pavia Burroughs for her senior design thesis at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, where she displayed it as part of a living room set.
Pavia Burroughs? Who’s that?
Burroughs, age 31, is a fiber artist and the director of design at the Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionary in Philadelphia. (If you actually want to buy her art, the best place is from her Etsy shop.)
Okay… and the pig couch, does it mean anything?
Remember, it’s a chair! And while some see it as commentary on obesity and the couch-potato lifestyle, it is actually inspired by an image from Masquerade, an illustrated puzzle book by Kit Williams that was a childhood favorite of Burroughs’s. The illustration shows an old man playing a fiddle and crying while perched on a pig’s back. Seriously.
Kit Williams, The Man With the Violin from Masquerade (1980). Courtesy of Schocken Books.
How in the world did Burroughs make this thing?
Hillhock took four months to complete and started with a chair Burroughs picked up off the street. In her original (actual, not fake) sales listing, according to art and design blog the Worley Gig, it was described as “completely hand stitched, upholstered in dusty pink velvet and pink satin” with “carved walnut hooves and two glass taxidermy eyes. His entire body has been padded.” (His!!) “Being mostly carved from insulation foam, he is surprisingly lightweight and durable.”
Alright, so what’s the deal with these Craigslist ads?
Since at least 2015, Burroughs’s original photo of Hillhock has surfaced in Craigslist postings as far afield as Boca Raton, Florida; Walnut Creek, California; Nashville; and Spartanburg, South Carolina. But it was all a scam!
A Craigslist post for the pig couch in New Orleans.
Who invested their time into figuring that out?
Twitter user Abigail Rowe appears to have been the first to investigate the phenomenon, sharing her findings in 2018. She had responded to an ad claiming to be from a Brooklyn artist named Andrew offering the pig couch for free to the person who could best say what the piece meant to them.
Intrigued, Rowe texted the number in the ad with a poem inspired by the pig couch. Then she got suspicious.
“I looked up #pigcouch on Instagram and Twitter, and also Craigslist boards for other cities, and I found all these postings for ‘free unique couch’ and ‘pig couch’ that were the same photo, with different excuses for why people were dumping them each time,” she told tech blog Pando Daily.
Rowe texted again, saying she knew it was not a real ad. The person who responded initially pretended pig couch was hers for the taking, and was already on a delivery truck. Then he claimed that an angry OK Cupid date had gotten her revenge on him for not being vegan by including his number in the pig couch listing. He also shared screenshots of some of the very earnest would-be pig couch owners hoping to win “Andrew” over.
What in the world. Courtesy of Abigail Rowe.
I… don’t know what to say.
There’s more! On Tuesday, a new pig couch (I mean, chair) listing appeared in New York. “Selling it for $250 even though my boyfriend and I bought it for over 11k and it’s in pristine condition,” the latest Craigslist ad said. “Need someone to pick it up ASAP as my new boyfriend hates it and sadly this is non-negotiable for him.”
When writer Karen Han shared the listing on Twitter, Rowe—still vigilantly monitoring the pig couch interwebs—quickly warned users that this was a scam. She linked back to her original investigation, saying “I’ve been alone in this fight for two years.” Two years.
I’ve been alone in this fight for two years
— Abbey (@birthday_dinner) November 17, 2020
What kind of a person would make a fake ad for this?
First of all, it may not just be one person, and if it is more than one, it’s unclear whether they share a common motivation. But this week’s edition was the work of Marisol Martinez, who has a history of quixotic Craigslist ads dating back nearly a decade, to when she solicited free boat rides to commute from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
“I thought that I would create a semi-believable but share-worthy or interest-worthy post so that people would be delighted by the weirdness of the city,” Martinez told the New York Times, which described her actions as “benevolent trolling.”
“I definitely don’t want to take anyone’s money or waste someone’s time who’s out here trying to buy a couch,” she added. She’s not wasting your time!
Pavia Burroughs, Hillock (2010, detail). Photo courtesy of the artist.
Does anyone actually own the pig couch?
Burroughs sold it on Etsy for $500 in March 2011, having been haggled down from the original listing price of $950. (The sale caught the eye of several blogs at the time.)
“It’s ironic that it’s famous for being ‘sold on Craigslist’, because it was very difficult to sell, it took me a whole year to get that $500 for it,” Burroughs told Jezebel. “But it’s part of the joke; it’s unbelievable that anyone would ever buy it.”
In the end, it was Martin Roesch, a cybersecurity executive, who drove two hours (two hours!) from Maryland to Philadelphia to make the purchase. His start-up at the time, Sourcefire, made a software called Snort which featured a pig mascot. Hillhock became the focal point of the office’s decor, and made the move with the company when it was acquired by Cisco in 2013.
No. It’s not for sale. It’s in our office and we love it. pic.twitter.com/vNSK2vRAn3
— Joel Esler (@JoelEsler) November 19, 2020
Roesch left the company last year, but the pig couch remains on loan to Cisco today. He’s considering offers to sell it, according to the Times—but not if his former coworkers have anything to say about it.
Broadly speaking, Hillhock—like most great art—has transcended the traditional limitations of time and space. As Burroughs told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “The couch is owned by the internet now.”
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