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Treasure Hunting

Gold Standard

When I talk to people who don't understand the lure of prowling estate sales, flea markets and antique malls searching for that one special something, I don't try to sell them on the idea by telling sentimental stories.  I don't go all sappy about the appeal of hand-embroidered linens or the pleasure of drinking a cup of tea from a vintage china cup. I don't even try to sway them with the concept of recycling by repurposing old things and creating new uses for castaways.

Instead, I go straight to what I consider to be the gold standard. I show them the little charm I wear on a chain around my neck.

Years ago, I was poking around an estate sale. I picked up a bracelet that had one tiny crystal on one of the links and the little lock as a clasp. The piece was lightweight and made a distinctive "pink" sound when I shook my hand.

"I think this might be a nice piece," I told the woman holding the sale, someone I'd met before. I wanted to be honest. She walked over and looked at the bracelet. "Nah, I don't think so," she told me.

"I don't know," I said again. "I think it might be."

She'd already lost interest and walked away.  I gathered my finds and paid for my purchases, including the bracelet. I don't remember the exact price, but I'm pretty sure it was under $5. I took it home, cleaned it up and let my jeweller look at it.

 Dated 1897, the little charm was gold. As was the bracelet. And the tiny little crystal was a diamond. All worth far more than I paid.

So, when someone asks my why I spend so much time chasing good finds, I have the answer on the tip of my fingers. No need to tell the truth. To say I would go out treasure hunting even if I knew I would never find a real treasure. No need to tell them I love the idea of bringing home something that has had a previous life, perhaps in another woman's home. No need for all that.

I tell them exactly what they want to hear. That sometimes, when you're panning for a good time, you find solid gold.


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Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes about antiques and collectibles and the love of all things vintage. Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement and she is The Spokesman-Review's female automobile reviewer. She is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. Cheryl-Anne is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."