Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Different Perspective.

A few days ago, I went through a building that I had been through thoroughly 3 times before over the past 20 years...

And STILL found a treasure!

You never know what else you will find in a place you have already been through, as long as you keep looking at it with fresh eyes, fresh knowledge, and more experience.

The first time I had been through the place was when it was owned by a classmate's father.

From them I heard about what had been there..something pickers are familiar with & hear a fair bit....all the stuff that was tossed out, destroyed, cut-up, burned, etc, etc....

In this particular case, they had purchased what was an old hardware store, which had a double store front and is two stories tall. The upper floor was storage for inventory, fixtures, etc....and it was HUGE for a small town hardware store.

I had also heard the previous owner had held an auction , in the 1970s, and that was when the gravity gas pump and such items were sold. The previous owner also tended to not throw anything away, from my understanding, and judging from the "
remnants" I saw, neither did the owner(s) previous to him....all the way back to the early 1900s.

In any case, when my high school classmate's family acquired the building & hardware business, they inherited all the old stuff that was left behind. The two pics below show the spaces the stuff had occupied....just to give you an idea of the quantity of stuff potentially involved. Yes, those are large, 1970s kid's wading pools in the second photo. Consider their size, and compare them to the size of the space. This place is not tiny.

So, what they did was clean out the, study the photo below, just to get a better idea of the quantity of old stuff they tossed out.....literally....right out the windows.

Now, judge the distance from the bottoms of the 3 windows you see in the first photo. They had a pile of stuff that reached from the bottoms of the windows to the, with a hill of stuff, you can imagine the quantity that was tossed out. Measurement wise, for sake of argument, lets say it was a pile about 20 feet high x 25 wide x 15 feet out, in a 90 degree triangle-wedge shape.

Sadly, despite living in the town as a teen at the time, I somehow missed that event...

Anyway, I had gone back to visit family, and decided to see what they still had kicking around.

I was allowed to check out the upstairs, where I made what really amounted to a fairly small pile; maybe half a pickup truck box load.

I made an offer, and my former classmate's father declined, saying something to the effect to come back when I "knew more."

A little insulting, don't you think? Even at that point, only 3 or 4 years into buying and selling antiques for a living (but being into old stuff since I was 7) I already knew far more than this fellow, who really had zero background in antiques & collectibles. You meet all sorts of people, and this kind of attitude pops up more often than picker's would like. You work around it, and if you really don't care if you buy the items or not, it is no loss. You try to not let it bother you, and the longer you are in the business, the less those sorts of things bother you. In this case, I was still somewhat "green" and was a bit ticked-off at his rejection of what I thought was a darn fair offer.

The stuff stayed upstairs.

About 4 years later, I went back to the store again, as I had heard my classmate had taken over the business.

Went upstairs again, and there was my pile, just as I had left it those years before.

I looked at the stuff again, through eyes that had a few years of experience behind them, and made an offer......

HALF of what I had offered his father the first time.

Now, I hadn't offered half out of spite. What I saw in that pile simply was not worth what I had originally thought it was those 4 years previous.

Yes, I had learned more.

He should have taken my original offer....'cause his son gladly (& smartly) took my offer.

I also got to go through areas that I was not allowed in the first time. I bought a few other things, and loaded my truck, full.

So, several years later, I hear the hardware business had been sold, and was being moved. A liquidation/moving auction was going to be held.

The current owner was dumping lots of dead inventory, displays, etc into the sale, and I was also operating a salvage & surplus business as well as the antiques business, so it was worth the trip to get inventory for both, plus I got the visit family.

I went to the auction, bought a van load of various stuff, and was able to go through most of the nooks and crannies, as well as hauled some unsold old lumber (including old moldings and such for repairing furniture and the like) and such out of the basement. This extra bit of salvage of the lumber also gave me some extra legitimate time in the building to look around, as things were taken out, cleared out, and "hidden" areas revealed.

It is amazing the things that can be revealed when things that have been in one spot for many years are moved out of a storage area. Things fall behind other things, get lost, forgotten, or even purposely hidden....I have found more old porn magazine stashes than I can count, especially in old drug store basements!

Plus, when you can see the walls, get closer to the hard to reach nooks and crannies, you will notice things that you hadn't seen before. Light shines into what had been a dark corner for the last 50 years. You can reach things that you had just decided weren't worth the trouble, and those items may turn out to be treasure in the end.

I got a few goodies, nothing fantastic. The pressed tin ceiling in the building was also available for sale from the new owner, but he wanted an astronomical price for it, essentially one that was full bore retail...and it all STILL had to all carefully be taken down off of the ceiling. That is not a fun, nor clean, task. Years of dust & dirt accumulate under those tiles, especially when there is another floor above them. When you pull one down you may well end up with a garden's worth of dirt in your face.

And this guy wasn't budging on his price...he was firmly affixed on his fantasy price.

So, I left, van full of assorted junk.

Yes, I had a van by this point. The truck was written off in an accident...a heck of a picking story on its own.

So, many more years pass.....can you hear the time ticking by?

Tick, tock.... tick, tock....tick, tock....

Ok, that's enough....I don't want to be up all night.

So, now I end up living back near my home town. Odd, seeing as when I was 18 and moved to Winnipeg, I swore I'd never go back to live there. I guess I am not living there, anyway...just near-by...

So, I find out the building was let go for taxes, and sold, for $3000.....then later re-sold for $8000....

Then the buyer of it sold it for $12,000.

Then the fellow who bought it for $12,000 stripped out the tin ceiling.....yes, the original guy who was asking the astronomical price for the tin LEFT the tin!
The fellow who stripped out the tin then sold the building once again, for a profit on his original purchase price.

My wife & I have since become friends with the current owner.

She and other business partner have renovated once half of the building, and turned it into a women's upscale clothing boutique...and also has a small section of the front of the other side set up as a shabby chic/antiques "flea market" store. Now you can see why we became friends....that love of old stuff.
So, anyways, I have been given pretty much free reign to wander through the place...well, not the change rooms, obviously!

I look at things with fresh eyes, and more knowledge.

And that tin ceiling? It was removed, remember?

When I wandered into the back half of the other section I saw something interesting....something that was PART of the ceiling....hidden for many years by the tin tiles...

Check it out:

Yep, an early wooden store sign, made of planks.

Here is a closeup of the paint:

This "little" beauty dates from about 1885...and is about 7 feet long. It is from the front of a butcher, possibly from the storefront it was in. Will have to do more research to know that for sure. It is also worth more than ANYTHING I had bought from the building the first few times. I'm selling it for our friend, of course.

So, depending on the situation, changes, renovations, demolition, clean-outs, changes of owners, etc, etc, etc; rechecking somewhere you have already been through can be worth your while.

There are little things that change, also.
What does this photo of a floor say to you?

Yeah, the composition of the photo sucks, it is boring, ugly, the floor is dirty...I know, forget all that...what does the image say to you as a picker?


Why would I bother looking under the floor?
The building dates from the late 1800s. Despite being built so early, the drinking habits of construction workers have not changed in well over a couple hundred years.
Yes, the bottles, cans, etc of their beverages get left do a multitude of other items..both purposely and you may find cigarette packs, gum packs, tools, hats, shirts, hardware, register grates, books, etc.
Plus, coins, jewellery, and other small items get dropped between the cracks, through register grates, through cracks and holes in the walls, etc.
Getting the picture? Might want to pick up one of those little rectangular inspection mirrors, and attach a tiny, but bright, LED flashlight to it and add it to your equipment.
One story I heard years ago, was of a major find of cone top beer cans. Many (or all) were of what was a very rare can, and a valuable one. The building was being demolished, and when the workers took the wall down, a flood of cans came pouring out!
If you love old junk, and have been involved in this area in some shape or form, I am sure you have heard stories of cash, jewellery, guns, and all sorts of stuff being found in the walls, floors & ceilings of old buildings.
So, what does that loose floorboard say to you now?
Attics are the same thing. Not high enough, or enough space to store anything when you open the trap door?
WAIT....look around...
In one old 4 story warehouse building, an attic trap door of the 4th story that I poked my head into barely had a foot of space between the ceiling and the roof...and it was in a ceiling that was 15 feet up.
But, I found 2, mint condition, late 1800s/early 1900s Copenhagen chewing tobacco cans that the guys who installed the pressed tin ceiling had left behind. Was worth the climb up the ladder.
Oh, and while you are up there, or down there on the floor, as the case may be, take a look may be surprised what you will notice when you are looking at the place from a different perspective. From up on a ladder you can see the tops of shelves, maybe even behind shelves, false walls, etc.

Also, consider that when buildings are about to be renovated, things like the old doors, hardware, light fixtures, etc may well be earmarked for replacement, thus, they may well be available to purchase, if not right away, in the near future.
If the grain painted door pictured below was being replaced, or walled over, it, the hardware and the moldings around it might be available for purchase.

This photo brings me to another point....

Here is a better angle:

A door that leads to nowhere..or possibly to a broken leg or two...

Yes, it opens onto the open stairwell....wide open space.

So, the stairwell has been moved...which means the floor plan has been changed somewhat, and there could potentially be a "lost" space somewhere. In this particular location, that is not the case, but, I have found semi-accessible closed off "dead" which I found old "junk", which had been lost, accumulated, or forgotten.

Well, should let that all sink in...and sign off for now.


  1. What a great story. It makes me thing of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

  2. I've been in several places with doors that go nowhere, or open up, but have no stairs to the ground, ones nailed shut, open but have a concrete wall behind them, etc...interesting, for sure! But, most will be like "Al Capone's Vault" that Geraldo featured several years ago....