Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Magic of Estate Sales

On Sunday, I had the great opportunity to see one of the best estate sales I've ever been to - it was located in Oostburg, WI (about 10 miles south of Sheboygan and 40 miles north of Milwaukee), a very quaint (read: wealthy) Dutch community that is partially nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The particular house that held the sale had 110' of lakefront and beach.  It was just gorgeous.  It's for sale, if any of you care to shell out $625K (and about another $75K for redecorating)! 

And why does it need to be redecorated?  Because the couple who owned the place built it in 1955, first as their summer cottage and finally as their permanent residence upon retirement (the Gibson Girls - the company hosting the estate sale - were fonts of knowledge!).  The carpets are shag, the cabinets are that awesome pine that you see in older homes, and there's lots of paneling.  But I digress.

Upon entrance to the home, I immediately got that "ephemera high" that you all may have experienced at one time or another - this couple, who I'd guess to be in their late 80s - never threw anything away.  Nothing.  The very spacious garage/workshop was filled to the brim with their collections - pristine full newspapers from the 30s-70s; thousands of maps from their extensive (worldwide) travels; like-new brochures for paint/decorating from the late 50s; any kind of vintage sewing notion (patterns, etc.) you could dream of; tons of vintage cookbooks; antique and vintage Masonic Temple items; lots of United Nations paraphenalia; yearbooks ranging from 1938 (the couple) to 1964 (their kids, I assume); hundreds of books.....well, you get the idea.  And I went on the second-to-last day!  I can't imagine what I missed (and I try not to think about).

But the allure of estate sales goes further than the pure ephemera rush for me - it's also a chance to delve deep into strangers' lives and create a story about them.

I have no idea if this is even remotely correct, and that's not really the point, but here's my story about our couple:

Fred and Agnes Smith (not their real names), born in 1920 and 1922 respectively, met in high school.  They married in 1939, before the war.  Fred didn't enlist, as he was in college.  They had three kids - Johnny, Sally and Linda, born in 1940, 1943 and 1946.  In 1955, Fred was doing well enough at his job as a government worker in Milwaukee that he and Agnes could afford a little place on Lake Michigan and spend their Augusts there.  Agnes would sometimes take the kids herself while Fred was away on business, as he traveled extensively for his job.  He was also a Mason, which took up many nights.
Many happy memories were made at the summer home, which they knew would increase in value, so they decided to make it their permanent residence when Fred retired in 1979.  By then, they had a few grandkids, who also loved to visit Grandma and Grandpa and swim in the frigid lake.
By the late Aughts, however, it was apparent that even the minimal steps were becoming hazardous for Agnes (Fred had died back in '98).  At the age of 88, she decided, along with her children, that perhaps she should make the move to assisted living.  None of the children had much use for all of the "detritus" that their mom and dad kept all these years, so they decided to have an estate sale.

And we paperaholics are all the richer for it.  Thanks Fred and Agnes, for having the wherewithall to hold on to the important stuff that told the story of your life, however we strangers see it.

(Photo above is a small sampling of my estate sale finds - and can you believe I came away from the sale spending only $18??)


  1. Thanks Frank! I am completely in my element at these sales! :D

  2. Oh my goodness, I wish I could have been there. All those vintage paint brochures....

  3. Oh Pam - you would've been in HEAVEN. I got about 7 of the paint brochures - for 13 cents apiece (it was 75% off day at the sale). I'll look for stuff like that for you at the next sale - it's coming up in about 3 weeks! :D

  4. Ooh, it makes me salivate, just thinking about it! I'd have stayed ALL day!! (and I know that because I've spent hours at them in the past- lol!) There are NONE of these kinds of sales out here, and even when there ARE estate sales, they're not that great. I loved going to sales like that when I lived in the NW suburbs. And I love your made-up story about their life, too; you're probably not very far off from the truth.

    okay, what I really want to write is "You suck!!" for coming away with such good stuff, but that's just cause I'm jealous. :D

  5. Hee hee Jennifer - I'm totally surprised that you don't have any of these sales in AZ, since there are so many retirees there! But they probably sold all their stuff by the time they moved, I should make a road trip to WI! :D