Marcel Marceau's Not-So-Silent Auction

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John Schults / REUTERS

A battered old hat with a red netted flower that was worn by the late French mime Marcel Marceau on display

Celebrated French mime Marcel Marceau left his mark on the world through silence, but his earthly belongings are generating a great deal of noise these days. On Wednesday, Parisian auction house Drouot began the second and final day of bidding on artwork, books, manuscripts and costumes Marceau left behind when he died at the age of 87 in September 2007. "We have 4,200 over here — certainly an original Marceau merits another bid!" prodded auctioneer Rodolphe Tessier as he stoked the bidding on Marceau's painting The Audience Observing from a reserve price of €800 ($1,080) toward its final sale at €11,000 ($14,850). "Estimating the value of such rare objects as these is impossible — it's the bidding that will determine the price!"

Critics say the bazaar-like atmosphere is hardly fitting. They note that the auction was court-ordered with the limited objective of reimbursing $405,000 in debt Marceau racked up at the end of his life to finance his shows. To ensure that sum is obtained, the auctioneers have set astonishingly low opening prices so everything will find a taker. (See pictures of Marceau.)

"This is reducing the artistic legacy of a man to a fixed sum to be paid off," says Stephan Martell, who worked as Marceau's musical director. "For those of us who knew Marcel and how he lived his life and art as one, this random dispersal of his possessions is very painful."

To mitigate their anguish, Martell and longtime Marceau assistant Valérie Bochenek formed the association "A Museum for Bip" — a reference to the mime's famous sailor-suited character. Its initial aim was to raise $135,000 and buy as many of Marceau's most artistically significant relics as possible — including Bip's trademark costume (for which bids opened on Wednesday at a mere $1,350). Despite their collecting more than 3,000 signatures of support in less than two weeks, Martell acknowledges that they got significantly less money than hoped for. Still, during Tuesday's auctioning, Bochenek made 10 successful bids worth nearly $7,560. (Watch TIME's video "Damien Hirst: Rich Artist Gets Richer.")

That, however, was a mere drop in Bip's trademark flower-sprouting hat. The 400 objects auctioned on Tuesday generated $342,000. Wednesday's docket of 500 items is expected to generate even more, as the majority of Marceau's costumes and stage props are put out to bid.

The items sold on Tuesday include books, drawings and paintings Marceau had collected or created himself. Selling for just over $400 was a French translation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, whose character Pip Marceau, fused with Charlie Chaplin's screen persona, was inspiration for the French mime's Bip. The biggest take of the day was a 1960 portrait in oil of Marceau by André Quellier titled Bip and the Masks, which went for $24,300. (Watch a video on Dickens' world.)

The buyers were a mix of fans, private collectors and professional art merchants, says Tessier, among the many others who were drawn to view the mementos of one of France's most beloved figures. "It's as though you can feel some of what he was about as an artist in some of these paintings and drawings — both those by him and of him," says Emilie Sergent, a 28-year-old art apprentice who furiously noted down the starting and sale price of most of the objects, even though she couldn't afford any of them. "I guess coming here sort of let me feel like I could get inside le mime Marceau's world for the last time before it gets split up."

Despite their tight funds, Martell and his partners hope to buy or borrow as many of Marceau's belongings as possible to create a museum of his life and work. They may get a bit of help from one big spender: the French state. During Tuesday's bidding, an official from France's National Library reserved its right to 20 works of art depicting Marceau onstage. That means that at least some of the mime's legacy has been deemed worth preserving as part of France's national patrimony — a view to which Marceau himself would surely doff his famous hat.

Read a TIME article on Marceau.

Watch TIME's video "Eye on the Saint Laurent Art."