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Treasure Hunting

Posts tagged: estate sales

Mid-century modern comes home

With a few minutes to spare, I stopped by an estate sale on my way to pick up my daughter from school. The bungalow, located on a street that links the regal Rockwood neighborhood and the up-and-coming Perry District, was full of people and not a lot else. I could tell most of the finds had already been found. And, that's ok with me. I'm not a get-there-an-hour-early-and-stand-in-line kind of treasure hunter. I hate the pushing and shoving when the door opens and, besides, I'm not afraid of leaving empty-handed. If something there is meant to go home with me, it will wait for me to find it.

After walking through the house, I went around to the basement. There were the usual things - garden tools, Christmas decorations and clay flower pots - but a chair caught my eye. It was a 1960s office chair. I loved the clean lines of the piece; the mid-century modern look to the slim strips of finished wood for arm rests, green nubby upholstery fabric and a wide roller base. I asked for the price of the unmarked chair. The man in charge of the basement sales asked me what I would pay. I asked what he had in mind. Neither of us said anything else for a minute.

Finally, the man said he would like to get $15 for it. I sat in the chair and liked the way it fit me. There was a good feel to the structure. It rolled easily and tipped back just enough to keep one from feeling like they were sitting in an upright kitchen chair. The fabric seat and naugahyde back were in excellent condition.

A woman walked into the basement and noticed the chair, and my attention to it. “I'll give you $5 for that chair,” she said. I glanced up at her and then at the man as he refused. She walked on.

I didn't really need a new chair, but I haven't been happy with the chair in my office. I thought I might have found a better option. I offered the man $10 and he accepted cheerfully.

When I got it home and turned it over to do wipe away the basement dust, I noticed the United Chair Company tag on the bottom of the chair and smiled. I have a friend who spent many years as an administrator  at United Chair in Leeds, Alabama before she left to go to work at the new Nissan factory.

So, my 1946 Spokane Cape Cod got a $10 dose of Southern-made, comfortable, mid-century modern style with a dash of nostalgia. Not bad for a 10-minute stop at an estate sale.

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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About this blog

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."

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