Fabulous Finds and Life Lessons from an Estate Sale

The Sale

My mom came to visit this weekend as a belated birthday present. Sewing/antique junkies that we are, we decided yesterday morning to head over to an antique store the next town over. As we were driving down the highway, we passed an estate sale sign — naturally, we made a U-turn. Lo and behold, it was the last day of the sale, and they were starting an auction in fifteen minutes to get rid of every last bit. A quick detour turned into an estate shopping marathon.  All the cheapskates were there, having grand fun. I was the youngest person present, and became somewhat popular. According to one man I was chatting with as I collected my finds, no one seriously bid against me on certain items because they all thought I was cute. Apparently they also all thought I was about seventeen years old (I’m 26).

As is usually the case, the estate sale was a paradoxical event — happy and sad, simultaneously. You can’t help but be thrilled that you’re getting some amazing buys, but sad when you see the boxes of 1940s pictures of their friends, unlabeled and going for three dollars; the hand-painted oil portrait of the daughter with no takers at ten dollars; the musty books in the basement — ALL OF THEM — for $7.50. The c. 1970s Viking sewing machine for $2 (which killed me, but I just can’t buy another sewing machine. And I couldn’t buy it for resale either, because — let’s face it — I would never actually part with it).

The Finds

My finds? I bought three big boxes of fabric for $6. I almost didn’t, because I hadn’t looked through them beforehand — I flipped through it in the middle of bidding, spotted a brocade, and then HAD to have it.  I bought an early 1900s book for a quarter, off the guy who had bought the entire bookcase for $7.50.  My mom bought a bed for the guest room — $5 — a pile of wool blankets, also $5. Then it moved upstairs — I bought eight hatpins for $5. The ENTIRE CLOSET — shoe rack, TV stand, dozens of scarves and belts, all the clothes, shoes, and purses — for $8.  And the treasure of all of it — a 1942 wedding dress, a veil, an 1890s yellow silk baby dress, a 1950s silk shirtwaist dress with belt, and a modern beaded formal dress — ALL FOR FIVE DOLLARS FOR THE LOT.  I think the auctioneer almost had a conniption.

In addition to all this, a sweet lady named Kristin, who found out that I’m a fashion student, gave me a three-ring notebook full of clippings from 1950s magazines from a bundle of books she had bought — she refused to take a penny for it. Another lady gave me a 1903 fashion magazine — she had bought the entire table of stuff in the bedroom.

Moomer and I loaded up all the finds (wonderful mother that she is, she loaded up most of it while I was having my drama over the $5 wedding dress lot, and also made sure I had lunch).  We sorted all the clothes — a big box for the Project Safe thrift store, another big box to try to sell to a local vintage store, and a pile for me.  We sorted all the fabric — threw some away because it was too mildewed, put a lot in a box to donate, and kept some — and then started doing multiple loads of laundry, because everything (except for the $5 wedding dress lot) was musty and icky.

The Surprise

When we got home, we went through the fabric, and lo and behold! The brocade I had spotted was genuine silk. And not just one piece — there were four pieces, all beautifully woven with different designs. They’re each about 5 yards long. Online, this type of fabric sells for between $20 and $100 per yard. If we calculate $20 per yard, then I have about $400 worth of fabric here, just counting that silk and not any of the rest. And I bought it all for $6.  The unfortunate thing is that it has some irreversible stains from the mildew damage (thankfully, only over parts of it).

The Truth

Let’s look at this again. Mrs. [Smith] passed away last month, leaving behind over $400 worth of silk brocade, untouched, mildewing in her basement. I bought it for $6.

When you have something nice, something fabulous, don’t save it for “later.” That “later” is a myth. “Later” is after you forget it’s even there. “Later” is after it’s become a nest for mice. “Later” is when that $400 item sells for $6, six weeks after your funeral.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have nice things. I think you SHOULD have nice things. I think life is so much more fun when you feel good about your clothes, when you have fun hobbies, when you look at the ceiling and see that 1925 chandelier so many times every day.

So, your good china? Use it. If you lose a couple pieces in the using, so what — at least you’ve enjoyed it. Your silk that you bought in New York in 2008? Cut it and stitch it already (I’m looking at you, Charity Everett). For cryin’ out loud, even Christmas candles — don’t pack them away year after year until they’re dusty and warped! Light them.

Because even if you live to be 93 like Mrs. Smith — later will always catch up to you.

Leaving you with this supremely cheerful thought, I’m going to examine my musty silk scarves again and try to figure out how to air them out so I can wear some of them next week.  While I’m on the subject, any suggestions for those? I know I can’t hand wash them, since even the damp made some of the colors run, and heaven knows I can’t afford dry cleaning for that many scarves right now.

About Charity

I have an inexcusable number of cookbooks (and like to experiment with them), have worked in architectural antiques, and have been sewing most of my life. I recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Apparel, Merchandising, & Design from Iowa State University. Doing household things (except for cleaning!) and hunting for antiques are my favorite pastimes.
This entry was posted in Antiquing Adventures, Ruminating, Reminiscing, & Rambling. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fabulous Finds and Life Lessons from an Estate Sale

  1. Jade says:

    Regarding the scarves: wait for a nice sunny day and “line dry” them, maybe after a bit of fabreeze for the smell. Since entering the world of cloth diapers, I’ve found that sunlight and fresh air do wonders for ickified fabrics. It can actually help kill off whatever is making the smell, depending. One day shouldn’t risk too much fading and will likely do a lot of good.

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