Have you been hunting from here to Hagerstown to complete your Shirley Temple cup and saucer collection? Have you give up trying to match that kitschy find de siecle lamp Grandma gave you? Are you tired of waiting for Aunt Mildred to die so you can claim her Queen Anne sideboard, her tea cozies, her fire dogs? Are you running short of wooden spoons, bug spray, paper plates, kitty litter, antifreeze?
Say no more. There's a fabulous movable market that offers such items and more -- much more -- for the price of a little patience, a little planning and far less of your hard-earned, inflated money than you have any right to expect.
It's called as estate sale, and the followers begin lining up early on Friday mornings throughout the area. Read the ads in the newspapers, look for signs posted in neighborhoods, get to know someone who frequents sales, and then pick a sale, any sale, and start hunting. Complete your collection, start a collection, stock up on everyday supplies, indulge yourself with that priceless antique you never imagined owning -- in other words, satisfy your whims and desires -- and save money in the process.
The tales of legendary bargains found at estate sales attract the newcomers and keep the faithful followers faithful. There's the one about the antique dealer who bought the turquoise-and-pearl pin for $50 and later discovered it to be worth $350. Or the one about the gold-mounted black opal priced at $75, but actually worth $3,000. Or the buyer who found a $10 goldpiece inside the antique doll shoe he had brought home from a sale.
Or the set of Fostoria Royal depression-glass dishes worth $500 purchased for $100 because the seller did not realize their worth. Estate sale agent Helen May of Associated Sale Agents, Ltd., in Chevy Chase tells of a hugh broken-down overstuffed sofa she sold for $35. As the buyers were carrying the monstrosity out the front door, the fabric on its back tore on the door jamb. From inside the sofa came fluttering $10 and $20 dollar bills. tAnd the sharp-eyed buyer who bought the $25 broken amp that no one paid attention to at the sale later discovered that the figurine on the stem of the lamp was an 18th-century procelain. Sometimes even the most knowledgeable buyers don't realize how great a bargain they've picked up -- or missed. A dealer bought a $75 Oriental piece at a sale and sole it in her shop for a standard porfit. She later learned that the piece had been appraised at $15,000 and sold to a museum.
Before all these tantalizing tales of quick wealth go to your head, the buyer must be forewarned. Estate sale agents, dealers and collectors warn that following the circuit is no easy task. The spectacular bargains are rare -- it's more likely you'll leave your first sale with a used -- buy greatly reduced -- can of silver polish. And that's after waiting for three hours. House sales generally start at 10 on a Friday morning, but the customers start lining up between 6:30 and 7 to get a number to secure a place in line. A prospective housesale-goer must be able to rise early in the morning, brave the weather, spend the gas, wait in line for three hours and shrug it off on realizing that the sale offers nothing of interest. Substantial bargains are usually won by the persistent and knowledgeable dealers and collectors who frequent the sales. If you just want in picking up a spatula for your kitchen, do you relly think the cents you'll save will justify the hours of waiting and the time you missed from work?
That is, even if there was a spatula for sale. In other words, if you're interested in seeing what a house sale is like but not feverish about any special item, go later in the afternoon or on the weekend, when the fervor has died down.
But for all of the long waits and sales ofering slim pickings, the devoted followers feel that the bounty and the occasional bargain are worth the effort. The sales do offer a variety of goods from rare pre-Revolutionary Russian silver to the 25-cent can of used Wright's silver polish. Sale followers reason that not only would they like to find a good price on the Russian silver they've been looking for, but would also like to see a good price on the polish they'll need to keep their silver shining. A can of the polish sells for a few dollars at Woodies, so 25 cents is a buy even if it is slightly used. The Friday-morning regulars, "a floating subculture in their own right," as agent Helen May calls them, look forward to the weekly sales to meet, trade notes and tidbits and once the sale starts, get lucky. Long-time sale-goer Helen Chazin explains, "You get hooked on it, like a habit." Agent May has a different comparison; the regulars, she says, are "almost like somebody who goes to the horse races."