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Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest "Treasure Hunter" Janice Vance tells her story...

Everyone has a story of the "one" that got away, and the "one" that didn't. Sit back and enjoy Jan's experiences while I dust off the scanner in preparation for the next post....

I contend that the major attraction of going to a tag sale is the thrill of the hunt. Most of us will never prospect for gold in a California stream, win the lottery, or have a rich uncle leave us millions. But there’s always a chance – we think – that the ugly painting we purchase for ten bucks will yield a second painting hidden inside that turns out to be a missing Monet worth millions. 
We hope to find a Rookwood vase behind the pile of supermarket dishes, a signed Tiffany lamp in a box lot of tangled electrical parts,

a 1909 S VDB Lincoln penny in the drawer of that filthy old cupboard.

Along the way, we learn that we probably won’t get rich, but at least we’ll be able to pick up some unique pieces here and there that will help make our house into a home. Our eyes get more sophisticated, our taste more defined. And if our taste changes – no problem! We have our own tag sale, and start over again.

When we furnish our pad this way, we have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find the prince. The gradual acquisition and editing of “the right stuff” is conducted over a period of years, and requires our attendance at hundreds of tag sales, flea markets, and thrift shops, because let’s face it, the average tag sale is just that: pretty average. Some times we don’t even have to get out of the car to know. All we have to do is cruise past slowly, and even from a distance our now-trained eye can pick out the dusty exercise equipment, outgrown baby stuff, chipped and sagging pressed-board computer tables, framed pictures faded to shades of pink and baby blue, glass vases, old Easter baskets, and that neighborhood’s winner of the Ugly Lamp Award. Naw, forget this one. Waste of time.  But wait – hold it! We see an oak chair that matches the three clustered around our kitchen table. Slam on the brakes. Back up. A keeper!
If we’re really, really lucky, some fine day we stumble upon the Tag Sale of The Century, and that makes us forget the thirty-odd weenie tag sales we went to that summer.
Click below to read the rest of Jan's Story

Flashback to the Jersey Shore of the mid 1970s...
...to a young couple with a small boy living in a rented former summer cottage furnished with castoffs, but pining desperately for Golden Oak that was thus far above our meager budget. Neither my mother, whose taste ran to repro dark mahogany William & Mary and Chippendale, nor my father, who liked clean modern (read: cheesy) lines in furniture, favored antiques, and in fact they both told me Golden Oak was considered “junk” when they were growing up. But my mother’s friend Betty, who lived down the street from us, had the same affection for oak I did. She occasionally invited me over for a cup of tea and a look at her latest acquisition.

Betty was a real estate agent, which meant she had the inside track on what home sellers had squirreled away, and when a piece caught her eye, she wasn’t shy about asking if they wanted to unload it. One day she mentioned in passing that her next door neighbors had just retired, and the wife was ecstatic because her husband had agreed to put an addition on their small cottage so she could pull out of storage all the antique oak, dishes, glassware, and accessories she’d collected over the years. Apparently it was his retirement gift to her, because like my parents, he was no fan of old and musty furniture. Three months later, the addition just completed, the wife passed away very suddenly. Betty said, “You just watch. I bet he sells everything and runs for Florida. Rumor has it he’s acquired a honey down there already.”

Sure enough, not long after that a For Sale sign appeared in the front yard. Betty was miffed because the husband had listed the house with another Realtor. But what really frosted her cookies was that he wouldn’t let her in the house to see what goodies were stashed.

One Saturday morning, just as I was getting ready to go to my part-time job at a local card and gift shop, Betty called. “Get down here right now. Hurry! He just put Yard Sale signs up, and he and some other guy are hauling stuff outside. Wait till you see what’s out there!”

I called my mom immediately. “Meet me over there!” She might not like oak, but she loved a good sale. I also knew she’d have more cash in her wallet than I did.

I still don’t know how the pickers and dealers found out about the sale, because it wasn’t advertised in the newspaper, but when I got there my mother was already involved in a tug of war with some hairy fat guy twice her size over a set of cut-glass bowls. Mom had a thing for glass. Evidently they’d both seen quality, despite the dust, as well as the sticker reading fifty cents. Simultaneously.

My husband and I made a beeline for the jumble of oak furniture a few feet away. Within two minutes we’d nabbed a tall Golden Oak chest of drawers, a Golden Oak washstand, and an Eastlake oak dresser with matching carved mirror. We hauled them to one side and put my father in charge of guarding them. Now we could scope out the smalls. I found an oak hall mirror with cast iron hooks marked $1, three oak bentwood chairs at $6 each, an oak parlour table for $5, and added them to the pile.

Even then, those pieces were easily worth about a hundred bucks each. But I got the ultimate shock when I paid for everything with money borrowed from Mom. We were charged twenty-five bucks for all three pieces – not twenty five for each! All the Florida-bound homeowner wanted was an empty yard at the end of the day, no matter what the stuff was really worth. Behind the guy’s back, Betty gave me a big thumb’s up. She knew what a moron he really was.

By then I was running severely late for work, and since I was the one with the keys to the place, I had to leave. At the store, I found my co-worker Jackie outside on the sidewalk, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Sorry I’m late,” I told her. “But it was for a good cause. Oh, and I’m taking my lunch break right now. I’ll explain when I get back.” And I zoomed back to the sale.

By then the place was crawling with people, grabbing things that continued to be hauled out of the house. Couches, more dressers, chairs, lamps, dishes, tables, beds, clothes, kitchen stuff, appliances, so much I couldn’t imagine what hat trick they’d used to fit everything into the house before the sale, all at rock-bottom prices. Betty was still there, combing through the stuff along with my mother, and they’d both assembled piles to take home, guarded by Dad. Content with my furniture, I took the time to look through everything else, and spent another twenty dollars or so for another trunkload of stuff.

Thirty-five years and five houses later, we still have everything we bought that day except for two of the chairs, which finally fell apart from the fatigue of daily use. No Monets, but for us, everything turned out to be treasure.

Remember, if you have a story to tell, feel free to drop me a line and I will post it. It's good therapy....for me to be able to go to bed early now and then.  Thanks Jan!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story! If I were your mom I would love the oak dresser, a little bit of paint and redesign, it would be perfect!


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