Friday, August 31, 2007

IX. Non-dug treasures 2

Auctions and estate sales here in Vicksburg and in other locations have been a great source of treasure for me. One thing that I’ve found (and never really mastered) is that knowledge is key to grabbing bargains. I try to do my homework by visiting the site prior to the auction or sale, taking along a pad and pencil, a loupe, and maybe a tape measure and a camera, so I can list and photograph the items that I find interesting. That way, I can research their value prior to the action. I have a library for that purpose, but the most useful tool of all is eBay. eBay is a remarkable research site. Once I’ve come up with a value, I decide how high I’ll bid (taking into account the damnable “buyer’s premium”).
I also learned that sales that feature the estates of ethnic groups, especially Native American or African-American, can yield some exciting finds. Several years ago at the auction of the estate of a locally-prominent African-American I purchased for $20.00 a small bookcase filled with books. Among the treasures it yielded was a signed copy of Alice Walker’s scarce title, “Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems.” Walker, you might remember, also wrote “The Color Purple,” a book on which a film of the same name was produced. “Revolutionary Petunias” alone produced a profit of 3,000 % on the total purchase. And that wasn’t the only rare book in the lot.
Vicksburg has several thrift shops and pawnshops, and all have good sources of treasure for me. I visit them often, as the merchandise is in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, in recent years the managers of most of these shops have become more aware of the value of certain collectibles and as such have begun to skim off the better items before placing them out for public sale. For example, I visited a local thrift shop a while back and found that someone had dropped off a large stack of vintage LP albums. The shop manager, I learned, had removed all the Elvis Presley records and had sold them for a good profit on eBay. But, I figured, everybody knows that the records of Elvis Presley sell at a premium. What else was in the stack? Among the LPs I bought for 25 cents each were several early rock and roll discs, including Gene Vincent’s “Bluejean Bop.” I sold it for over $100, and then sold several of the others for twenty to thirty dollars each.
EBay’s usefulness for research into the value of collectibles is unequalled; however, there are times when nothing comparable can be found either on eBay or in reference books by which a value can be established for a particular item. When that happens, I’ll usually place it for sale on eBay just to see what develops. I can think of two sales in particular where that practice paid off. In one case, I’d bought three WWII helmets at a garage sale. They looked like junk to me, but on a hunch I paid $50 for the three. A little investigation proved they were German helmets, and I knew from checking eBay that there was a ready collectors’ market for them. But there are many different types of Germen helmets, and I didn’t know much about any of them. So I placed the three on eBay with plenty of photos and a description of the numbers, letters, etc., with which the helmets were marked. To my surprise, one of the helmets turned out to be a “Camo” – a helmet that has been painted for camouflage. It sold for over $800.00. The other two sold for enough to more than cover my original investment.
The second item was a token I’d found somewhere earlier, perhaps dug some years earlier while relic hunting, perhaps from some other source. It was octagonal in shape and had “Navasota, Texas” engraved upon it. There was no information anywhere regarding such a token, so I placed it on eBay. It surprised me by selling for $350.00 to a collector in Texas.
I have bought or traded for thousands of such small treasures over the years; Vicksburg is a remarkable source for treasure of many different kinds.

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