Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why I Write This Blog

Anybody who has read previous diaries in this series knows that I love to find valuable antiques and collectibles for next to nothing. I may have left the impression that these diaries are all about the "knick knacks". Today I want to emphasize the benefits of scavenging and why it is important to help each other identify valuable objects to collect or re-sell.

While it's true that I keep a look out for items to re-sell, I have salvaged many items that I use every day, including dishes, Pyrex, cookware, glasses, furniture, toys, books, and vases plus some purely decorative items like art glass and paintings. The vast majority of my finds have been in the "second-hand" economy of thrift stores, yard sales and estate sales or auctions. More and more people are relying on these outlets. As Anneli Rufus, co-author of The Scavengers Handbook, says:

I don't scavenge out of dire necessity... But it's not just a game for me. It's a seriously useful lifestyle in an expensive world where the vast majority of writers -- including my husband and myself -- earn so little that, were they to see the figures, most of our former college classmates would puzzle over how we make ends meet. Thrift shops and yard sales and swapping is how, and the occasional Versace suit plucked from a trash bin. (That happened last Friday, it was right on top of the bin, and it was exactly my size.)

... [A]ttitudes are about to get overhauled, as we are at a point in history when many of the formerly just-making-it and the formerly middle-class are becoming hungry and homeless... For them, as for any of us who need to save cash as the economy nosedives, scavenging will become ever more of a reality and a necessity. When you spot an ex-CEO across the aisle at Goodwill, it won't be exotic anymore.

Most people don't scavenge out of dire necessity, I don't think. I know I don't. Yet. I have been extremely fortunate in this economy so far. Although my 401K has gone to shit and the value of my home has plummeted, my wife and I are both still employed for now. But we both know that can change in the blink of an eye. We need to save for a rainy day. That's one of the reasons we refuse to buy new when we can get what we need or want second hand. Another reason is that buying second hand directly benefits the people that need it most. Almost every thrift store raises money for charity; yard sales help your neighbors raise a little extra cash for their families; estate sales help defray the costs associated with dying, including medical care and funerals. Shopping in the second hand economy also helps keep our dumps and landfills from filling up with stuff that has not yet out-lived its usefulness.

And, yes, another reason is to find collectible items to re-sell to make a little extra cash. A big reason for this series is to provide a place for folks to learn about stuff they may have lying around that they can re-sell for what it's really worth. This week, I found a Torquay mottoware inkwell like this one for $1.99 at the Goodwill. Do you think if the previous owner had known the true worth of this piece, s/he would have given it away? Furthermore, antiques are now seen as a safe investment. What I really like about my knick knacks though is that they link us to our past in a tangible way. I want to continue to write about my passion and I hope that you get something valuable from this series.

So what's your deal this week?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Scavenging in the News

Greetings, fellow scavengers. It's been a quiet week for me. Mostly, I've been trying to get caught up with all the work that piled up while I was on vacation. It hasn't left me with a lot of time to research and write today's SSC, so I thought I would share with you some scavenging news.

If you live anywhere near US 50, which cuts through the heartland from Maryland to California, May 15-17 is the Tenth Annual "Great US 50 Yard Sale".
The tenth annual Great U.S. 50 Yard Sale will be held Friday-Sunday, May 15-17, 2009. The yard sale started in 2000, stretching across most of Indiana. The goal is for it to grow into a Coast-to-Coast event held each year on the weekend before the Memorial Day weekend. The Great U.S. 50 Yard Sale also serves to promote tourism along U.S. 50, to unite the many diverse communities, to provide opportunities for fund raising by civic organizations, to aid the environment through recycling, and to serve as an opportunity for individuals to enjoy a great weekend of sales.

While promoted as a yard sale, the actual sales are limited only by the imagination and law. Individual communities and businesses along U.S. 50 are encouraged to have special promotions during this weekend. Vendors, especially antique and craft dealers, from all over the U.S. are welcome to join us.

This is a non-sponsored event, meaning that it is not promoted by any particular organization, but represents the efforts of volunteers and those who wish to promote their communities. As such, the nature of the sale will vary along the route. U.S. 50 is Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. It is Wyatt Earp Blvd in Dodge City, Kansas. It crosses mountains and deserts, as well as farm land. In some communities U.S. 50 is now a super highway and the sale route might follow Old 50. With such diversity, many decisions will have to be made at the local level. The best source for specific and up-to-date information is to follow the Connect-to-County links.

The official yard sale is over three days. There are no set hours. (If you have ever had a yard sale, you know that advertising set hours never works). Also, given the nature of yard sales (and the history of last year), it is probable that many individual households will not decide to participate until just a day or two before the sale dates. The best option for buyers is to locate a participating county and then just head down the road.

IMPORTANT: Please note that all sales are subject to local laws. Also, no one is to set-up, sell, nor park on the state right-of-way at any time. U.S. 50 is both the Loneliest Road in America and an extremely busy highway. Safety is a primary concern. All sellers should allow for parking and everyone should avoid being on the state right-of-way.

I wish I lived closer because this I think this is the coolest thing evah! I hope they expand this to a full week or longer so the hardcore among us can do coast-to-coast yard saleing. As somebody who just did 1000 miles on I-10 two weekends in a row, if I'm going to drive cross-country AND stop at yard sales, I'll need a lot more than 3 days. Of course, I may be the only one crazy enough to want to attempt it! had a good article yesterday about the authors of a new book called The Scavengers Manifesto.
Scavenging, defined by Rufus as "any legal means of getting stuff without paying full price," takes many forms. From simply shopping at thrift stores, to picking up free furniture from street corners, to swapping clothing, to going to salvage yards to fishing food out of garbage bins, there are different levels of the lifestyle. Rufus and Lawson don't personally do much Dumpster-diving for food but do frequently pick up "lightly dinged" produce at a discount.

"Mostly, what we do is find stuff," Lawson says. "We don't drive a car, on general principle, so we're always on foot. The possibilities for finding stuff expand exponentially on foot."

It's certainly a timely subject. Between the bad economy provoking a collective frugality, and the "free culture" movement gaining steam, with the Freegans of New York City advocating Dumpster-diving as a way of living off capitalist excess, scavenging is a viable way of life for many people.

I think the Freegans are making a legitimate political statement but I hope the goal would be to reduce spoilage and get more food to the hungry. It's a shame that Dumpsters are full while Food Banks are empty.

Please let me know in comments if there are particular subjects you'd like me to cover, or if you have expertise in a particular area of scavenging and would like to share it on the Scavengers Club, that would be great.

So, what's your deal this week?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Eggs

Happy Easter, to those who celebrate. I hope your kids had their fill of scavenging Easter Eggs this morning. My wife, my four-year-old boy and I returned to Phoenix yesterday from our trip to San Antonio, where an excellent time was had by all. Sixteen hours of driving over two days has left me with little time to pull together a decent diary on scavenging for bargains, so what follows are random thoughts from the past week.

- San Antonio is a great city. Steeped in history and thoroughly modern, it offers a lot for us scavengers - antiques stores are scattered at least from Perrin Beitel in the North, down Broadway and into downtown; pawn shops and thrift stores are numerous, and neighborhoods have plenty of yard sales and rummage sales. The Alamo, the River Walk, the Children's Museum and the Witte Museum were highlights of our trip.

- I was pleased to see some items that I have in my collection in the antiques stores and that they were similarly priced to what I'm asking.

- I also took a perverse pleasure in seeing that some dealers had totally misidentified certain items.

- It seems like it is getting harder and harder to find resaleable items at the thrifts. Are people checking values of old household items on the internet before they donate them?

- While glass, pottery and porcelain are pretty, I really enjoy ephemera - bits of paper goods that were never meant to last - like posters and postcards and menus and cards. They give me a much closer connection to history than the stuff that was built to last.

- If Chuck Norris wants to be President of West Texas, he's welcome to it. Thousands of square miles of absolutely nothing but scrub and dust.

- It was surprising to see wind farms in Texas. At one point, we saw oil fields to the South and windmills to the North.

- Twitter has turned into a great resource for me, as I am following several dealers, large and small, which has helped me see what's selling and at what prices.

Thanks for indulging me this week. I'll be back next Sunday with something more substantial.

So, what's your deal this week?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Auction Fever!

Greetings again, y'all. Posting today from San Antonio instead of my usual haunts just west of Phoenix. I'm here going through some stuff for a friend and helping her value it. But that will probably be a topic for another time. Today, I want to talk about auctions - specifically how to get the most out of them. Auctions can be intimidating but once you learn a few very basic rules, you can have a lot of fun and find some great deals while you do it.

First, let me dispel the biggest myth about auctions, which also happens to be one of the biggest reasons people find them intimidating - you are not going to accidentally bid on something you don't want. While it might make for a funny moment in a Pink Panther comedy, in the real world, a twitch or a nod or even a wave of the hand isn't going to cause the auctioneer to point at you and shout "Sold!" Any auctioneer worth his buyers' premium knows who is in and who is out. In the unlikely event that the auctioneer does think you're bidding when you are not, you should immediately say something loud and clear, including wild gesticulations if need be. The auctioneer will backtrack to the bid previous to yours and continue from there. You'll get a bidding card with a number when you put down a small deposit. Wave that when you're bidding and there should be no confusion.

While we're on the subject of bidding, I suppose I should mention the phenomenon of "auction fever". Sometimes the competitive juices get flowing, the price is climbing fast, and you really, really, really want that signed First Edition of Godless because it's a key ingredient for a spell you want to cast to ward off evil spirits. Don't go nuts. You should know in advance exactly how much an item you want is worth and how much you are willing to spend on it. This is why you need to go to the auction preview.

Some auctions will let you preview items the day before; some only have a short preview the day of the auction. The preview gives you a chance to to examine items closely for any damage, overall quality and authenticity (yes, there are fakes out there - if you're unsure, don't bid on it! When the bidding starts and the price starts to climb, don't assume that the bidders know that the item is real. And some auction houses employ shills to help drive up prices).

I have found that a web-enabled cell phone is an indispensible tool when you come across something cool but aren't real familiar with. You can quickly find details about the item and get a good idea how much to spend for the item.

Estate auctions generally are divided into three parts - box lots, smalls and furniture. If you're looking for miscellaneous household items, look for auctions that feature box lots. You can find glassware, silverware, tools, books, records, DVDs, CDs, cookware, small appliances, Christmas decorations, and occasionally a treasure that the auctioneer missed. "Smalls" generally include jewelry, glass, china, porcelain, ephemera and the like. I don't do a lot of furniture but I can tell you that furniture tends to attract the most dealers. If you attend one auction regularly, you'll get to recognize the dealers fairly quickly. As a rule of thumb, collectors target their area of interest and dealers bid on everything.

One last thing you need to be aware of is the buyers' premium that most auction houses charge. It can range as high as ten percent so make sure you calculate that into your budget.

In case you can't tell, I love auctions! But of course, YMMV. They can be long and there can be stretches of items that you could care less about. But they can also be very exciting as you do battle for the items of your dreams and you can walk away with great deals if you are careful and do your research.

So what's your deal this week?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Live Well, Spend Less on Glassware and Dinnerware

Hello, fellow scavengers! Welcome once again to our little corner of Blogistan, in which we share stories and tips to help each other find bargains and great ways to reduce, reuse and recycle through scavenging yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, estate sales and the occasional sidewalk and alley. Today's topic is on finding inexpensive items for stocking your kitchen cabinets or dining room hutch.

One of the easiest and cheapest lines of glassware that you can collect is Anchor Hocking's Early American Prescut.

If you want to start collecting some pretty and practical glassware, Early American Prescut (or EAPC) can be found in abundance at thrift stores and yard sales. Easily identified by the ten-pointed stars and "palm leaves" in the pattern, EAPC reached the height of its popularity in the Sixties and early Seventies. (Some pieces just have the leaves but are good matches with the starred pieces, so feel free to add them to your collection, too). As "empty nest" Boomers downsize, they flood the thrift stores with some good quality items and the abundance means low prices. I don't think I have ever visited a Goodwill that didn't have at least one piece of EAPC, usually for under $5. You'll easily find bowls, plates, trays and vases to start your collection. In the case of EAPC, don't confuse "inexpensive" with "cheap". This is very good quality glass with a pretty, light-catching pattern and you'll have something nice to serve chips, dips and snacks in at your next party. A few items are very rare and can actually have good re-sale value. Be on the lookout for the 11 3/4" panelled bowl with brass handle, the cocktail shaker, the oil lamp, and the 5" footed bud vase. The cocktail shaker is particularly rare and can sell for several hundred dollars.

While you may not "need" pretty glassware, every household needs something to eat off and utensils with which to eat. While the thrifts have plates and bowls and silverware in abundance, the problem is finding complete matched sets. For china, stoneware and silverware, I prefer looking at estate sales and auctions. Yard sales seem to offer the best values for small kitchen appliances and widgets.

So what's your deal this week?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hors d'oeuvres of 1953

My wife picked up a copy of the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook at the Goodwill the other day. It's a fascinating document of post-war America. Leaving aside the assumption it makes that the kitchen and home were the exclusive domain of women ("Dear Homemaker... Of course you're a busy lady)", it offers a glimpse into how our attitudes and tastes have changed. How would would these hors d'oeuvres go over at your next party?

Cream 3 parts bleu cheese with 1 part anchovy paste; form in small rolls; chill; wrap in lettuce strips ad fasten with cocktail picks...

Moisten sieved cottage cheese with catsup; season to taste with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper; form in tiny balls and roll in grated raw carrot...

Stuff chilled cooked prunes... with: (1) Cream cheese and pineapple tidbits. (2) Nippy cheese and chopped nuts...

There's also recipes that call for shredded salt codfish, mashed sardines, and deviled ham (well, not all in one recipe). Now, these all may be delicious. Let me know how they are if you decide to test them. But I suspect there's a reason that these tidbits have faded in popularity.

Coming Up On Sunday's Scavenger Club

Finding cheap kitchen- and dinnerware, including an in depth look at Pres-Cut glass.

Check back later. I'll be sharing some recipes from the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Liver pineapple, anyone?