Friday, August 31, 2007

VII. Non-dug treasures 1

One of the most-read parts of the Vicksburg Post is the classified ads section, and of that, the “Garage and Yard Sale” category probably ranks in the top three categories. These ads bring out hundreds of shoppers looking for bargains, or better yet, that overlooked treasure that can be worth thousands. I must admit, I’m one of those early-morning nuts who rush from sale to sale on Friday and Saturday mornings, always trying to “get there first.”
A few weeks ago, early on a Saturday morning, after having bolted from one sale to another without finding a thing of interest, I spied an ad for a sale that had a 9AM starting time. 9AM is a strange time to begin a yard sale, since most begin at 6AM or 7AM, but, it being only 8:30AM now, and my just happening to be only a few blocks from the address listed in the Post, I decided to drive by and check it out.
I arrived at the house just as another vehicle pulled into its carport. When the driver, a lady, opened her trunk and began removing boxes, I, of course, offered to help. It took about ten minutes to relocate her yard-sale items from trunk to living room, which circumstance allowed me to take a look at everything she had to sell. In conversation with her I learned that the house belonged to a friend, for whom she was holding the sale, and that she’d brought along some things that had belonged to her son when he was a young man. Naturally, though 9 AM had not arrived, I asked if I might browse. Happily for me, she consented. I found a few small items that I set aside, but most interesting was a box of old 45RPM records – I could see that they were early labels - on which she had attached a slip of paper that read “twenty-five cents each.” Other treasure hunters were arriving by now, some of whom seemed quite interested in the records as well, so I hastily cornered the lady and asked what she would take for the whole box. “Oh, I guess five dollars,” she replied. “Done,” I told her, and I gathered my box of records from the arms of an unhappy competitor, paid for my booty, and left.
Back at my home I carefully unpacked the records and, one by one, examined them. To my delight I found that not only were they in great condition, but they were of the early rock and roll era. There were songs by The Big Bopper, Chuck Berry, The Coasters, The Everly Brothers, and the prize: An Elvis Presley song on the original “Sun Records” label. If you’re not familiar with the value collectors place on these records, take a look on eBay. I eventually sold the Presley record for a huge profit (several hundred dollars) and several of the others for $25.00 - $35.00 each.
A while back at another yard sale I picked up an item I’d never seen before – a small cigar of metal that had a band labeled “Non Plus Ultra” and which came apart to reveal a cork screw. I guessed it was an advertising item from the 30s or 40s, so I decided to buy it. With a little research I found it to be very collectible; I sold it on eBay for ninety times what I paid for it.
Years ago the yard sales and flea markets seemed to offer more good collectibles and rare finds than they do nowadays, but I attribute that to China and eBay, to wit: Americans buy Chinese junk by the tons/millions, they and their children tire of it quickly, and it goes on the yard-sale auction block. More junk, less value. And eBay. EBay has changed everything in the collectibles arena, and has even affected the type and price of goods offered in yard sales.
But collectibles related to Vicksburg are always valuable to collectors here (and elsewhere, due to our history), so I always buy anything related to our town that is oldish and reasonably priced. One Saturday morning I made my first stop at a mid-twentieth-century house only a few blocks from my own. The occupants were still in the process of moving boxes of items from inside the house onto the lawn. I saw nothing of interest to me there, but since this is Vicksburg, and you never know what might turn up, I asked the owner if he had anything “old” – like old records, photos, military relics, bottles, dolls, etc. He thought for a minute, then replied, “Yeah, we do have a box of old pictures. We don’t want them. Maybe you can do something with them.”
After a few minutes inside the owner returned with a box containing some thirty glossy 8 X 10 black and white photographs. When I saw that the top photo was of a steamboat at Vicksburg’s waterfront, I asked the price. “How about twenty bucks?” he answered. I paid him without hesitation; now I could hardly wait to finish my rounds so that I could examine the photographs more closely.
Back at home, I found that the photos were original prints of many different 1890 era steamboats, not only taken and developed by famous local photographer J. Mack Moore, but individually signed by Mr. Moore as well. For some months afterwards I considered the photographs too dear to part with. Eventually, though, I had the best mounted and framed; they now occupy a prominent spot on the wall of my apartment. The rest were sold in one lot to a collector - for a lot more than twenty bucks.
Another Saturday morning when I was faced with the miserable fact that the day’s hunt would yield no great treasure, the lesson was driven home to me once again: never give up! I made a final stop at a small house whose owner had sold nearly everything she’d put out – I mean, her driveway was practically bare. She’d even retired inside, content with what had apparently been quite an enriching Saturday morning. I browsed through what little junk was left, then spotted a lone book resting atop a retaining wall alongside her driveway. One lousy book, I thought. However, when I inspected it, I found it was a Hemingway, and its copyright date looked singularly interesting. I roused the lady from her contented lair, asked the price, and paid her ten-cents. Yep. It turned out to be a first edition, second state of one of Hemingway’s first novels. I’m not a collector of fiction, so I sold the book for a very tidy profit of approximately 150,000.00 %.
Another morning a lady in one of the older sections of town insisted that I buy two old trunks she had had for some years. I did. One was a leather-wrapped Jenny Lind trunk labeled with the name “Rebecca” – a packet boat that ran between Vicksburg and Memphis during and after the Civil War. Talk about happy! I collect artifacts from Vicksburg and its war, so that one went into my collection.
I love yard sales.

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