Thursday, June 24, 2010

Treasure hunting: the thrill of the chase

I recently upgraded my cable from Peasantvision to Lower-Middle-Classvision. The upgrade was necessary, because our Comcastic cable company eliminated a few of the stations we actually watch, and the upgrade, which is costing just a dollar a month more, means we now have a few additional stations! So now we have Comedy Central, the Food Network, and the History Channel.

I watched American Pickers the other day on the History Channel. If you have yet to see this show, it features two men who travel across the country in a huge vehicle looking for thrifting treasures.

The men are in daily communication with a woman who seems to be one of the men's woman. The woman digs up tips about thrifters and hoarders and collectors who may want to sell some of their treasures.

I'm not sure how this woman gets her tips, but she does seem to locate folks with crap-tons of antiques and oddities stored away in crowded old barns and garages.

The men pick through the items, and the taller, lankier of the two men invariably falls hopelessly in love with one particular item that the owner doesn't want to part with, therein creating the episode's drama.

The end of the show culminates with a wrap-up of how much the men paid for each item and what it's actually worth.

This last part of the show is so interesting. Generally, the men pay more than they should, and their treasures are actually worth less than you'd think. I'm left feeling like I'd feel if I'd watched a show that spent a half an hour getting me all psyched about the Best Singer in the World only to find they're somewhat tone deaf during the big musical finale.

Then you have to factor in how much is costs these guys to roam around the country in an SUV. And we have to assume the gal back at the ranch is getting paid. And they have to cart their crap back to Home Base and find a seller.

I understand these men are probably more focused on generating good tee vee than their profit and loss. Both gentlemen seem genuinely attached to the items they find, and they do have a nice store of knowledge when they're treasure hunting all across this great land. On a smaller scale, their enthusiam completely resonates.

I've been actively chasing my brand of thrifting thrill for a few years now, and I know all about the thrill of the chase. I love walking into a store, an estate sale or garage sale armed with a growing knowledge of Old Stuff, knowing that it's highly likely I'll find a diamond in the rough.

Sometimes I feel like I'm stealing when someone willingly sells me something valuable for almost nothing. Sometimes I get attached to something I really really love, and I Must Have It. Sometimes I'm duped, I spend too much and don't realize the ROI I expected.

Treasure hunting is just like life, really.

And, hopefully just like life, I've learned a lot during my treasure hunts. I've become fairly skilled in a few choice thrifty specialties, and it's an education I've truly enjoyed pursuing. The thrills I've experienced during my chasing are too numerous to mention. And in my pursuit of bits of history, unrecognized worth or a prurient desire to score an odd little find, I've realized there's a quiet underground army of people just like me.

One such person is the brother of a friend of mine, and I recently asked him if he'd give me a glimpse of his treasure hunting map. This man is a very successful hunter, and he's skilled in niches I wish I knew more about. Here's part of an email he recently sent me that got me much more excited about the chase than any episode of American Pickers:

If there's anything I like more than treasure hunting, it's reading about other people's adventures doing the same!
The key thing for me is knowledge. The more you know the more things turn up, because you are seeing the value in things, or know they have value, even though they might look like junk. Knowledge is like a pair of magic glasses that allow you to see money where other people don't!

I have too many stories, but this past weekend I went to a couple of library book sales. One sale was in its second day, which is usually the kiss of death, as several hundred people had already scoured the room for good books, but I found an old "Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam" hardcover, illustrated by a woman illustrator I am familiar with, in a great art deco fashion.  Why no one picked this up for $1.50, I have no idea, but I sent an email to a customer and promptly sold it for $200. I also sold a Frank Lloyd Wright book for $50 (cost $3) and still have two boxes of great books to sell, including an 1877 Lewis Carroll "Through the Looking Glass ($4) and an 1862 Civil War book ($4), all from one library sale.

I've diversified over the years as my base of knowledge has increased and now buy in many categories. For example, did you know that old mens' razors like Schick and Gillette (from the 1920s-40s), in the boxes, can sell for $20-$250? Don't ask me why, but they do! You can pick these up anywhere for a buck or or two. I know you are a Goodwill hound, so you must look though the old t-shirts for old rock t-shirts which can sell from $20-300 apiece. 1970s are the best and they don't have to be in great shape. I recently sold a Bob Dylan t-shirt that I picked up for $1 for $90, and it wasn't in great shape..

Thanks and I'll continue to follow your blog!

It's great to find kindred spirits. No need for an SUV, a Base Camp or a History Channel bankroll. Sometimes the greatest treasure is realizing there are other people who share the simple love of the chase.

And note to self: put t-shirts on the list of things to look for....

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