I was watching an “Antiques Road Show” segment from Boston last month. I discovered that the Japanese pot I bought on a whim at a Greenwich garage sale in 1980 for $10 could be a Meiji Era vase by Makuzu Kozan (1842-1916). If so, it’s earned a much better rate of return over the years than the stocks and bonds in my IRA (though that may not be as difficult as I’ve tried to make it sound).
Living in the Midwest and on the East Coast in my younger years, I often went to garage and estate sales during the summer season. I picked up the habit from my mother. She and about twenty friends started an antique store as sort of a hobby, and they managed to find most of their inventory at these sales. Of course, it helped that homes in those areas have attics and basements where people could toss no-longer-needed household goods and forget about them for forty years. In other words, there were treasures to be unearthed. It was not unheard of for erstwhile collectors to camp out at a really promising sale the night before.
When we moved to Corona del Mar in 1983, we found California tag sales were pretty disappointing. Most of our neighbors were young. They hadn’t been squirreling things away for decades, and there wasn’t any place to put things if they’d wanted to. The one thing that kept us going for awhile was the opportunity to stock up on toys and athletic equipment for the kids. Legos are, after all, just little plastic things that you can clean up quickly in a sink of warm water, and a used soccer ball works about the same as a new one, plus you don’t miss it as much when it gets lost. Then the kids grew up, and we got out of the habit.
Recently we started giving these sales another shot. It was the arrival of grandkids that got us out and exploring again. Seems babies show up more often where there are cribs, rockers, car seats, and highchairs to accommodate them, so we now have complete sets both here and at a place we share in Florida with some other families. Ditto toys, games, and children’s books. My wife and daughter both had a field day at the annual multi-family tag sale in Harbor View Homes the first weekend in April. For my part, I am in awe at the variety of Fisher-Price stuff that’s made its way back into our lives.
The other reality, of course, is that there are now plenty of neighbors in this area who have been cramming things into their homes for four or five decades. When they move on, there’s just that much more to get rid of at moving sales or estate sales. Somewhere, in all that stuff, you too might be able to find a Makuzu Kozan vase for $10. But get there early, because this time, I actually know what one looks like.
P.S. “Antiques Road Show” is coming to Anaheim this June.