Saturday, May 29, 2010

Yard Sale Heaven – I’m Obsessed

People can be divided into those who like to sleep late on Saturday morning and maybe go to church or golf on Sunday, and those who are on the road at 8 a.m. both days, clutching the newspaper classified section, searching for flea markets and yard sales, determined to be the first one through the gate. Guess which category I’m in.

Those of us with “I brake for yard sales” bumper stickers are motivated by tales of life-changing finds—an original copy of the Declaration of Independence or a Paul Revere tea pot from grandma’s attic, or those Jackson Pollack paintings someone found in the trash. Every yard saler has a tale of the Big Find.

Here’s mine. Maybe 25 years ago, when I was just starting to collect antique photos, I saw a cardboard box labeled “Instant Ancestors” on a front lawn not far from the village green in my own village. In the box I found a battered small, thick leather-bound album filled with CDVs. “CDV” means Carte de Visite, and the photos, wildly popular around the time after the Civil War, are the size of a business card.

I noticed that maybe a dozen of the photos in the album were of Native Americans. The portraits were identified in type as taken by Joel Emmons Whitney at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, of Dakota warriors imprisoned after the Sioux uprising of 1862. Each one, including Chief Little Crow, was identified along with how many white men he had killed.

I was happy to pay the five-dollar price of the album. When I eventually put it up for auction at Skinner’s Galleries and got $500 return on my investment, I felt very smug. Not so much today, because I know that the value of those Whitney Indian photos has climbed so that each one of them would now bring around $500.

All yard salers are looking for that Big Find and my village of Grafton is a happy hunting grounds. (So is Brimfield MA, about 20 minutes away, where in May, July and September they roll out maybe the biggest flea market in the country.)

I think Grafton is one of the prettiest New England villages, thanks to its carefully preserved historic district around the Common. That’s why they filmed “Ah Wilderness” here back in the 1930’s. And around that historic common, with its 300-year-old Inn, I just KNOW there are treasures that will someday appear in a yard sale on someone’s front lawn.

Today, Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, was a very good day, although I don’t think any of the treasures I bought will make me rich. The first place I hit was the home of Carol and Richard, who for many years owned the Grafton Country Store—one of the longest continuously operating. They have a great collection of primitives and early prints, tools, cookware, etc. not to mention hot coffee and free donut holes to welcome the early birds. I bought 21 things, the most expensive of which was an ironstone butter crock at $20.

The next yard sale, also near the Common, greeted me with a wicker antique doll carriage --the twin of one I had as a little girl. But I wasn’t about to spend over a hundred dollars on a duplicate doll carriage, with no granddaughter to give it to. But I then I saw a stunning set of Madeira Lace work – ten place mats and a table runner—with their own blue brocade carrying case plus a handwritten note that it was “Made on the Island of Madeira for the Beede Family, makers of Madeira Wines”.

I have never been able to resist fine textiles and embroideries, so I bought the set of Madeira work, telling myself it was for a daughter’s trousseau, but at the moment, both daughters have a strict embargo against my bringing another thing into their apartment “if I can’t eat it, drink it or date it” as one put it.

The third yard sale, in a red barn in nearby Shrewsbury, was mostly furniture and there’s no more room in my house for furniture, so I came away with only a child’s rocker, which I cleaned up to put in my booth at a nearby group antique shop.

That’s how I justify my obsessive collecting— I say that it’s merchandise for the store.

So after I got back from the yard sales, I cleaned up my treasures and put price tags on them and took them to North Main Street Antiques—at least the ones I couldn’t fit into my own décor (like the apple-themed bathroom with its red lion-footed cast iron tub or the wall in my kitchen that’s filled with heart-shaped cookie cutters and other objects featuring hearts.)

At least I got to play with my treasures before carting them off to the store. And tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll hit the road early, trolling for that One Big Find.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

We've done it a couple of times-- and I think it's a blast-- I've found a couple of really GREAT items, and usually for a buck. It's the hunt that makes it great.

Trouble is, we don't NEED anything.

lactmama said...

whaa,wanna go, yard sales are so American and the ones in your area sound wonderful. I want the horsie in the photo. I can indentify with what your girls say. Our kids do not want any of our stuff - I just remind them not to dump without really taking a look at what I have accumulated.