In the July 29 issue, an appraisal of a Tiffany document box made me pause and wonder, “What if?”
In the appraisal, a collector asked if he had paid too much in purchasing an interesting “glass box” for $40 at a local yard sale. Our antiques expert Anne Gilbert explained the brass over green and white glass box was made by Tiffany studios from 1898-1920. It was in a rare pine needle pattern worth $1,000 or more.
Collectors always love stories like this but it made me wonder: How many others have shared this collector’s bit of good luck? How many wonderful stories are out there but rarely see the light of day?
As a result, we asked our readers and Web site visitors to share their stories for Antique Trader’s Favorite Yard Sale Finds Contest. What follows is the result – amusing, unbelievable and outrageous. The winner receives a copy of the 2010 Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, with bonus DVD.
Enjoy and remember that you are always welcome to send your stories of a “favorite find” to email@example.com.
One of the great joys of collecting cookie jars is the hunt. Nothing gets the heart beating faster than seeing a long sought-after jar tucked away in the corner of an antique store or sitting on a kitchen counter at an estate sale.
Recently we joined other collectors and dealers on a hunt at an estate sale about three hours from our home in southern California.
Unlike the majority of estate sales, this one allowed you to sign up early to hold your place in line – but there was a catch. There always is. The sign up list went up at midnight but you couldn’t leave and come back the next morning for the sale. You had to stay with your car, parked on the street, except for one 30-minute run in order to fetch coffee or find a bathroom. If you left and didn’t come back, your name was scratched off the list.
So why did we decide go? Because we saw in one of the online pictures a portion of a blue bow that could only be a 1940s Shawnee Muggsy cookie jar. After confirming with the company handling the sale that there were over sixty cookie jars being offered, we knew we had to join the hunt.
My partner Gary and I arrived at the location at 11:20 p.m. and when the list went up we were numbers ten and eleven on the list.
We had brought along pillows but two six-foot tall middle-aged men aren’t going to find comfort in a Saturn Ion coupe no matter how hard we tried. As it was a humid night, we left the windows down and at 3 a.m. we enjoyed a unexpected shower compliments of the home’s sprinkler system!
By 4 a.m. there were 66 people signed up and when dawn broke, the list had climbed to 120 names.
Emblazoned on the gate of the estate sale home was “Tara” and sure enough, the home behind the gates was a smaller version of the famous mansion from the film “Gone with the Wind.” In fact, the entire neighborhood had thematic homes. Across the way was a Mediterranean villa next door a South Seas estate. One further down the road had been styled after the Greek Acropolis. What a setting for an estate sale.
We mingled and chatted with fellow collectors to determine our competition. There were at least three other cookie jar collectors but they were further down the list, so our chances looked good.
At 7:30 a.m. they lined us up and gave us final instructions not to run, push, punch, grab or steal. Precisely at 8 a.m. they opened the gates, allowing the first 25 people down the hedge-lined path to the open front doors. I didn’t run, but I’m 6 foot, 3 inches and can stride past the best of them, even if my legs were still cramping from a night spent in a shoe boxed sized car.
Hoping the jars were in the kitchen, I traversed the front steps in a single bound, crossed through the front doors past a grand staircase into a dining room where I could see in the reflection of a mirror the jars sitting on a kitchen table.
Hearing footsteps and panting behind me, I lengthened my stride and reached the cookie jar-laden table first.
As it turned out, the panting was coming from Gary, who started placing cookie jars into our boxes as if possessed. We didn’t check condition, as we knew we could do that later in a holding area. We just grabbed and placed the jars in our boxes and about our feet.
By the time we had sixteen cookie jars on the ground, two collectors had made it to the table. Their groans confirmed we already had the best jars, but that didn’t stop one determined collector from trying to reach for the Shawnee Muggsy. Politely, but firmly, she was told the jar was sold.
“How much?” she inquired.
“Forty dollars,” I replied, raising myself to my full height indicating she would need more than herself to wrestle the $450 book-valued cookie jar away from me.
Then the real fun began.
We had to take each jar from the kitchen to the holding area, circumnavigating what had now become a crazed mass of overly tired and anxious buyers. With sounds of breaking china in our ears, we carried all sixteen jars to a holding table, carefully avoiding one poor lady who had slipped and fallen on a small set of steps. As she was already being helped, we didn’t stop. Besides, it could have been a diversionary tactic.
After careful inspection, we returned nine jars back to the kitchen because their condition was not acceptable. We still had to get seven cookie jars and two salt and pepper sets through the front doors, across a long veranda and down six steps to the checkout tent on the driveway – all the while avoiding Grand Central Station-type crowds.
I carried the first two jars to the check-out tent, leaving Gary to guard the jars on the holding table. He was now 200 yards away from me and that one lady collector was still buzzing about him, determined to run off with at least one of the jars.
A lady we had chatted with before the sale started came to our rescue and between the three of us we guarded and carried until the jars had been placed in the check out tent and been paid for.
Taking turns, we carried them to our car. When the last jar had made it safely into the car, we leaned back on the trunk and watched in amazement the scene before us. I can only describe it as if one were watching a colony of army ants flowing in and out of their hill. Some carrying items, others scurrying about in search of treasurers, and yet more pressed hard against the front gates still trying to get in.
When the dust had settled, we had in our car the Shawnee Muggsy for $40, a McCoy’s Boy on a Baseball for $12, Kitten in Basketweave and Dog in Basketweave for $25, a Metlox Mammy for $55, a Sierra Vista/Starnes Froggy Goes a Courtin’ for $12, a Brayton Laguna Mammy for $65, and two sets of Muggsy salt and pepper shakers, one plain and one gold for $8, each. It was a successful, exhausting, exhilarating hunt we will never forget.
Would we drive three hours and sleep in our car again just to buy some cookie jars? You bet! Because it is this type of magical, crazy adventure that makes collecting so much fun and so worthwhile.
Desert Hot Springs, Calif.
I watch the local paper for garage sales and go to all of them. A few years ago I saw an ad for a sale that was out in the country quite a ways and the directions were not very good. The ad said the sale was at the old Wilson house and I knew where that was.
At the time I had a resale shop and after I closed at 4 p.m. I made my way to the sale. An older lady in her early 50s was sitting in the shade in front of a large double garage. A few items were scattered on the ground in front of the garage. Most of what was for sale was still packed in boxes in the garage.
I asked the lady how the sale was going and she said, “Not worth a darn. I’ve only had two shoppers all day and they only spent 50 cents.”
She seemed very downhearted about the results of her sale. She told me her mother had passed away 10 years ago and she had packed everything in the house and stored it in the garage and rented the house to a family with three small children. They had been excellent renters for 10 years. They asked her recently if there was any way they could use the garage and she told them she would have a sale and clean it out so they could use it.
She said, “I’ll gladly take $100 for everything in the garage so I can get this over with.”
There were several good tools and a Craftsman vice that had been unpacked and I told her I would be glad to give her $100 for everything.
She said, “Thank you! Now I can get back to Houston, Texas, where I live.” She then made me promise to be sure and clean out the garage completely because she had told her renters she would have it ready for them to use.
After hauling four pickup loads to my resale shop, I finally loaded the last box onto my truck. It was a large box filled with red velvet curtains with tassels and they were very musty smelling. I decided I would take them to the dump the very next time I went. My wife changed my mind. She said if we could get the musty smell out of them, she would make stuffed animals out of them.
We were hanging them over the clothesline when I noticed a small drawstring bag pinned into the back of one of the curtains with a rusty safety pin. I thought, at first, it was the rings for the tiebacks for the curtains. Then I decided to take a look in the bag.
The first thing I found was an Iranian gold piece about the size of a silver dollar with a catalog value of $350.
The next item in the bag was a piece of jewelry shaped like a sword with a diamond in the center. It was 18 carat gold and the diamond was a quarter carat. The local jeweler gave me $450 for it.
The last item in the bag was what looked like a silver ring with what looked like diamonds in it. I had the local jeweler appraise it for me. When he told me it was worth $10,000 I nearly fainted.
I asked him why they would set diamonds in silver and he said, “It’s not silver, It’s platinum!”
When I put the ring in an auction it brought $8,600. Not a bad investment for $100!!!!
Roseville wall pockets for $1.50
This question has made me think back to some of my favorite finds at yard sales:
1. About 10 years ago, digging through a box at a yard sale, I found a Hull “teacup” wall pocket for 50 cents. It was vintage Hull, not reproduction.
2. Four or five years ago at a carport sale (sitting on a little metal shelf) was a vintage Roseville wall pocket. I believe it is the Wisteria pattern, very pretty blue-ish green with creamy yellowish flowers. It was in absolutely in mint condition for $1. Roseville is inscribed on the back of the wall pocket with the original price sticker, which has faded and is now blank. This was fairly exciting needless to say!
3. About eight or 10 years ago, driving down one of our local streets, I saw a house that I had never seen a yard sale at. I was tired and nearly drove off because all I could see from my car was clothing – not what I wanted!
But something told me to check it out and up the walk I went. On the porch, not visible from the street, was a box with two brown stoneware mixing bowls in it and two Fire King Jadeite swirl mixing bowls with original price tags attached – all four bowls for $2.
I believe these are three of the main reasons I look so forward to yard sale season each year. I’ve collected for 30 years and been an antique dealer since 1992. I LOVE the thrill of the hunt. I have enjoyed sharing these memories with you.
Paula Hall Flora
In 2007 I flew from Las Vegas to White Plains, N.Y. I arrived in the morning and my daughter patiently took me yard saling on the way to her home in Connecticut.
At one of the stops I found a set of vintage Dansk stainless steel flatware for $15. I paid the $15 with concerns I might not recoup my investment. As it turned out, the pattern was the highly desired retired “Thistle.” The set, with a starting bid of $19.98 sold for over $600 on eBay. That remains my favorite yard sale find and I love Dansk!
My most recent favorite find was a 50-cent jewelry box with assorted kids necklaces and a vintage Navajo silver and turquoise bookmark. It was all black with tarnish and didn’t look like much, but I could see it was signed on the back. We were able to make a very good profit on it by selling it for $137, after the commission from the gallery. Amazing what you find mixed in with junk. It was a very pleasant day of shopping for me.
I think my greatest rummage sale/yard sale find was a mahogany armoire I was lucky enough to find about eight years ago.
I stopped at a yard sale in White Springs, Fla. The yard had table after table of glass and ceramic items. The folks running the sale told me their children were saving up to go to Wild Adventures, a theme park in Valdosta, Ga. I happen to be from Valdosta so I knew exactly what they were excited about. The family was having the yard sale to help the kids raise the money.
They showed me an old armoire that had come out of the old house they lived in. The residence appeared to have been built in the 1920s or 30s. The armoire was covered in white paint, the thickest white paint you can imagine and someone had played a dart game using the doors as the targets.
The doors had carved clusters of grapes peering out from under the clumps of white paint. I looked inside and could see the original wood. I believed it to be mahogany. I could see possibilities here!!
My mind was churning and I was getting more excited by the minute. I asked what was the least they would take for it. They said $250. I told them I was going to have to spend several hundred dollars to get it in shape. They finally said $200. I turned around to walk away and the man said $175 was the very least he could take.
I wanted to get the price down but I also wanted the kids to go to Wild Adventures, so I agreed. I backed the truck up to the long front porch and it took me, my son and the man and his wife working diligently to get the armoire loaded. There were two parts: a top section with doors and bottom drawers and a lower section which served as a stand or cradle.
To make a long story short, I was able to get it back home and had it restored to the original wood. It is Honduras mahogany according to the restorer and is one of my most prized possessions.
About eight years ago I visited an estate sale in my neighborhood. The sale was in the basement of the house and everything was quite dark. The owners of the house had passed on and the relatives were selling off contents of the house.
After selecting a few household items, I came across a small piece of stained glass that measured 10 inches by 10 inches. The stained glass was dated in the 1500s and had a coat of arms and devil design and had amour, mystical fish, shields, lions, etc.
Thinking the date in the 1500s could not be correct I put it down and walked away. But what if I was wrong? I went back a few times before asking the 15-year-old boy who was helping his mother sell off the things how much they wanted for the stained glass. He took it from me and held it up the light and said, “You mean this thing with the foreign writing on it? We want $10 for it.”
He was holding it backwards and the date from the 1500s was being read backwards!
I decided to take a chance and purchased this item. Although I have never formally had this appraised in person, I sent a photo to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and they told me it was likely an old piece of Swiss stained glass that perhaps was once owned by the museum itself before [the staff] cleared out a collection in the early 20th century.
A work colleague of mine who’s brother worked for Sotheby’s told him he would appraise it for about $5,000.
My favorite: found a marble that was very old and bought it for 5 cents, sold it for $85.
Via Antique Trader Forums
“Shiny” and “sparkly” have always diverted me from my intended mission, whatever that may be. In this case I was checking out at a church garage sale last year, when something sparkly caught my eye. It was a gold watch with 32 shiny stones on its face. The name on it was Raymond Weil, which I recognized as a good brand.
I figured $6 wouldn’t be a bad investment if it turned out to be real, and not too much to swallow if not. My jeweler couldn’t tell me anything about it, but he did put in a new battery for $8. However, the pin on the side wouldn’t move, so the time couldn’t be changed. Pretty watch, but maybe not a good one.
New year. New jeweler. The battery was turned right-side-up and the watch works great, and it is a real Raymond Weil, worth about $600.
That was my monetary great find. But the best, best find was when I was about seven years old. It was at a garage sale – the first time I’d ever heard of such a thing (this was, ahem, in the 50s). My mom loved pottery, having been schooled in the fabulous Ohio pottery since Day One. I found a tiny green vase at that sale that cost me my entire week’s allowance – 25¢ – for her for Mother’s Day.
Once I was grown, I could appreciate why and how much Mom treasured the perfect, signed and dated little Rookwood vase.
Lisa Freter Mull
We lived in Algonac, Mich., and went to a church sale. My husband liked a chromolithograph print or “chromo litho” (of course we didn’t know that was at the time) by Louis Atkins of the Grand Canyon and El Tovar. Last winter we were watching Antiques Roadshow and saw the same litho appraised for $4,000.
We have not been able to get that same appraisal here in Michigan. We are still hopeful.
I have two favorite yard sale finds. The most recent purchase at a yard sale was a Kosta Boda candlestick signed “K”. I purchased it
for $2 and sold it to someone in Australia for $28.80.
The second find were two Wallace Nutting prints I purchased for $2 and they were sold at auction for $75.
I won’t get wealthy but the chase is fun.
“When I grow up I want to be a rag picker.”
Who plans that? What a fun way to make a buck! Although the term ‘treasure hunter’ has a better ring to it.
My favorite treasure find (so far) was Halloween collectables.
I was rag picking/treasure hunting at the local auction. After it ends every Tuesday afternoon and the buyers have sorted and taken what they want they leave the rest all over the floor of a huge building – lots and lots of junk, and maybe … treasure.
So I’m going through boxes (we call it rooting) and there are maybe only five pickers left in the building when I spot some Halloween and Christmas ornaments in the bottom of a box. I whisper to my partner ‘SCORE!!’
She says, “Why are you whispering, no one else here speaks English.”
Found were two sets of composite candy containers made in Germany (1920s?) and two pumpkins and a cat stacked on top of each other, one witch and one cat on little paper platforms with Germany stamped on the bottom and 16 witch stickers. I’m so glad I found and saved them. They were minutes from going into the dumpster!
I put them on eBay in two lots starting at $9.99. In seven days one lot sold for $423 and the other $349. How fun is that?
Many years ago when I lived in London, England, I was already a collector of small antiques and collectibles. I am now 86 years old and still collecting.
One Saturday afternoon I heard the Boy Scouts were having a Jumble (Garage) Sale. Now that was the very best, as it always was amazing what people gave to the Scouts.
It was in the Scout Hut and it was packed. Well, I looked to see what I could find and after a few minutes I saw the bottom half of a travel desk in good condition. I just had to get a hand on it through the pushing crowd. I managed with a bit of a shove to get hold of it and held tight. Now I had to find the top half!!!
Well, I looked and pushed and I looked some more. Suddenly I saw a woman coming towards me, clutching the top half to her chest. We both looked at each other and, well, we both wanted what the other had! I offered to buy it from her and she also offered to do the same; neither gave in!
So, nearly desperate, I said, “PLEASE let me have it! It’s for my mother-in-law who is visiting from Canada!” (Which was true)
When she heard “mother-in-law” she looked at me and said, “Here, have it!”
And she was gone and I had both halves!
I gave it to my mother-in-law who took it to Canada and had it restored to its original beauty. I saw it years later when I visited. It had pride of place and I silently thanked that unknown woman!
This is my most noteworthy story.