Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pickin' Story Around a Globe

Long ago, when I first started picking for a living, I was driving down a road, just off a main highway, but still a well traveled, paved road. I spotted a 1950s gas bowser (electric gas pump) in a guy's farm yard with a sign still on it. This was/is unusual for being on such a well traveled route...usually in such cases, the stuff turns out to rarely ever be for sale.

I pulled in, and the owner came out of the house right away. I leaned out the window of my truck, and asked him if he would sell the sign off the gas pump. I figured he'd probably been asked 1000 times before, but I might as well make it 1001.

 He said "I don't think so." I asked if I could just take a look at it, and I' then make him an offer, and he could say yes or no.

He agreed.

I jumped out of my truck, took a look at the pump. It had two porcelain signs on it,  both Texaco Sky Chief, as well as two "This Pump Contains Leaded Fuel" (common $8 - $15 retail at the time..and only still as much). The Sky Chiefs were selling retail for about $85 each at the time. I told him I'd give him $85 for all 4 signs (a fair offer in any picker's book). He had a surprised look on his face when I made my offer, and I got the immediate impression that people had been hassling him for years to sell them...but for next to nothing.

He said he'd go and grab me a screwdriver, and I told him it was ok, I had one in the truck. While I was taking them off, he stood there, watching me work. He seemed to have a somewhat thoughtful look on his face, and after I had two of the signs off, he said,

"You know, I think I have the glass thing for the top of that".

My thought was "Ok, cool." He might have meant he had the flat glass inserts at the top front sides (maybe $15 retail for a Sky Chief one) or if I was very lucky, he had the globe that would go on the top of the pump.(a plain Sky Chief gas globe was worth about $300 - $350 retail at the time).

 The pump did have a factory insert covering the hole on the top, but no evidence that it had ever been off and a globe mounted over it. I wasn't overly optimistic he'd drag out anything other than a flat glass plate or 2.
So, I kept working away while he sauntered back to his garage. Almost done, taking off the final 2 small signs, I looked up, and.....

he was carrying a gas globe as he was walking towards me.....

but not a Sky Chief globe! It was a North Star ENERGY Globe (North Star was a Canadian company later bought out by Shell). The ENERGY globe happens to be far scarcer than Texaco Sky Chief globes.


SO, at the time, I had never had one before, and had no idea what it was worth. There were no reference books on Canadian globes (still really isn't), and most collectors were always pretty tight lipped about values.

I figured it had to be worth $400, so I told him that I figured it was worth $400 retail, and I'd pay him $200, and, because I wasn't 100% sure I was accurate on my thought of value, if I ended up selling it for significantly more I'd come back with half the difference.

 He agreed, and a deal was made.

Those were the days when I was picking with my grocery money, essentially, and trying to triple it to also cover my rent. Times were tough. Picking to pay the rent and eat. Picking was my income and entertainment. Forget being able to go to the movies. It went on like that for 2 years.

I managed to eventually sell the globe for $600 to a straight up, honest collector I was dealing with at that time. But, rent, groceries and the necessities of life gobbled it all up before I knew it. Life has a way of throwing you curves, especially when cash is in short supply.

I didn't forget. As far as I was concerned, I had an outstanding debt to pay. About two years later, I had some spare cash, and went back to that farmhouse with a $100 bill, and knocked on the door.

The farmer answered, and soon he remembered me, and the transaction. I then told him I had sold the globe for $600, and thus, I owed him $100, as per the deal we had made.

He was dumbfounded. He said that he didn't think I'd ever be back.

 I told him simply that I had made a deal, and I don't back out on my deals.

He graciously took the $100.

Then he said, "I'm retiring, and in the shed there are two trailers of stuff...the auctioneer told me not to sell anything before the auction, but you go in there, and pick out what ever you'd like to buy."

I picked out some cool stuff,including a steel Exide Batteries advertising tool holder, then ended up in his house's basement, where I bought a stack of McColl Frontenac letterheads.

McColl Frontenac is also commonly known as "Red Indian" - their logo was an Indian in full headdress - They were later bought by Texaco - and as a result of the great graphic image they used, and the fact they were Texaco's start into the Canadian market, their advertising is very sought after stuff.

 The letterheads had some goop on the top, bundling them together like a note pad, which made me hedge on price. The stuff was black and nearly rock-hard...some sort of tar. I told him I knew they were good, but the goop might just make them a tough sell, but I thought I may be able to remove it. I offered him $15, and told him the same thing I'd told him on the globe....If I got significantly more than $30 or $40, I'd be back with half the difference.

He smiled and said if I did do far better on them to just keep the extra cash.

It was a pick that I came away feeling very good from. And, yes, I happened to do very well on the letterheads in the end...and didn't even have to clean the goop off.

I know, some of you will say I am nuts, but it is just the way I roll. I believe in Karma.

Trust me, following that sort of method for many things is a good policy, and always works out well in the end, I assure you.
On a picking trip, pickers do buy more than a few things at some stops. Personally, like to fill my van if there is enough decent stuff there, and really make the stop worthwhile. Due to sheer bulk, their low price quotes, high price quotes, bulk purchases (IE: Box of interesting small junk you don't have time to go through right then, but drop an offer for on spec), you do over-pay for some things and you under-pay for some things. It comes out in the wash most of the time in those cases. If the piece is darn good, don't risk screwing up the deal by low balling on the price so you are "safe."  If they quote the price, and it is a good price, don't dicker...just buy it.
If it is insanely cheap, offer them a little more. That kind of gesture will come back to help you in the end...and possibly even within a few minutes or even seconds of putting it out there.

Some people figure that regardless of the price, they need to get it for less. If it is $10 they want it for $6. If it is a buck they want it for 50 cents....if it is 25 cents they want it for 10 cents...even when  the item is easily worth $50. I sometimes see these fools operating and think that if the item was marked FREE they'd tell the seller they wanted to be paid to take it away. I just glide in to the sale, scoop up the bargains and pay for them, while that kind of fool is making faces at the seller, poo-pooing the merchandise, trying to weasel the price down another dime.

Really, why would you waste your time like that?

I figure my time is worth more than those few cents or dollars. 

Plus, you need to have some class.

 So, while they are dickering their 25 cent purchase down to 10 cents at that estate sale, just keep picking up the $100 & $200 items priced at $2 each and thank the "greed gods" that person obviously happens to worship! 
Those sorts of people waste lots of time, and manage to make more enemies in a year than you will ever make by being honest and decent. 

Plus, the time they waste can end up becoming your advantage. 

So, with that, I tip my hat in thanks to all those people who low-balled the farmer with their offers on his Sky Chief signs!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Been awhile, hasn't it?

Been awhile since I have blogged..almost 2 months, so I guess it is about time I posted something. Been a stressful number of weeks, with some family health issues, vehicle mechanical problems, and trying to sell, sell, sell on eBay and elsewhere to catch up on bills. Add to that a week of cleaning out an old building, then getting ill right after, and a variety of other garden variety stresses that life tosses into your path. Lots of stuff going on, some of which are still "in progress", so I can't really blog about those things.

The building I cleaned out was a 125 year old, 2 story, brick structure which, up until the summer of 2010, contained a printing company/newspaper publisher. The paper had been printed there for pretty much the entire 125 years. The company also published materials for a WW2 pilot training center adjacent to the community. You can imagine the things the place potentially held. Sadly, the new owners of our local paper, a large company out of Vancouver, moved the operation, with the set-up, design, etc now essentially computerized, with the actual printing outsourced. They tucked the formerly large operation in smaller, rented space, and put the old building up for sale. So, when the move of the operation was made, back in the summer, the employees hauled 18 truckloads to the landfill! Despite previously expressing interest (multiple times) in assisting and/or buying any vintage items and recycling any unwanted items, I wasn't called. A friend had also expressed this same sort of interest and offer of assistance, and he also was not called.

I shudder to think what was in those loads! You see, what should have been in the building was just no longer there when I walked through it...especially the basement, which I had been dreaming about for years.

What I did find was evidence that items of historical interest and intrinsic value had been there not so long ago. Large items had been left, with a smattering of what I call "residue"....just enough evidence of what had been there to make you grit your teeth and cringe when you imagination conjours up the images.

At least I was called to do the final clean-out. Unfortunately, the real estate transaction, only gave us a grand total of 7 days to have the entire place cleared out...including 3 printing presses, weighing a total of at least 4 tons. The deal was negotiated by the parent company, who, of course, had no consideration for the stress they would cause the manager when she was told she essentially had to clear our 125 years of accumulation in 7 days...and they wanted 3 price quotes before doing so. I suspect she politely told them the equivalent of "go to hell" as far as getting quotes went!

One of the printing press was in the basement...all 1200 lbs of it. It was an antique Chandler & Price letterpress, circa 1905. Yes, I did manage to rescue it! It is a story all on its own, and is actually still playing out at this time. I will tell you the whole story of the trials and tribulations at a later date, once the story has an "end." A 1960s era Heidelberg printing press, still functioning, though in need of some reconditioning, with a $4000 - $8000 value, did end up in the local scrap dealer's possession, however. I managed to quickly salvage some pieces from it, but the 7 day time limit was just not enough time to market the it, sell it, and give enough time for a serious buyer to come and remove it properly.

I also did get 4 oak "stacking bookcase" units, which each consisted of four, 2" high drawers. They needed some re-gluing, some refinishing, and other bits of TLC, but were a bonus, and did net $300 from a furniture dealer. A "printer's cabinet" or letterpress storage cabinet also came with the deal, though was missing 2 or 3 drawers. It was still a quick flip to a fellow picker for $200. There were some other small bonuses, but such a small smattering it all is just enough to make you wonder what stuff was destroyed only months before.

That is also a bit of a tip....this whole posting, actually, is a tip. Doing clean-outs of buildings, properties, etc, is a method you can use to get vintage items for free, or even be paid to haul them away. However, you can't be afraid of working hard, and dealing with other issues that doing a "clean-up" entails, including dealing with hazardous materials properly, protecting yourself from illness due to exposure to a host of things, from black mold to industrial chemical contamination. If you do pick or clean out a building formerly owed by an old printing company, make sure you wear a decent respirator.

Why? Well, that dust is not regular ol' basement is heavy with lead. Yep, potential for lead poisoning. If you buy old typesetter's cabinets (those cabinets with narrow drawers, that usually divided into small compartments for storing Linotype) make sure they are clean, or you handle them with rubber gloves as you are cleaning them. The dust in them is most certainly lead dust left from the Linotype, for which the cabinets were made to hold. I have bought and sold hundreds of the drawers on their own. The later ones (1950s/60s) came in steel cabinets, which tend to have little value to most buyers, though with a resurgence in interest in letterpress printing, there is a growing market for them. All of those that I have sold to the public, I cleaned prior to their sale. Took them to my favourite cleaning facility...a carwash! Cleaning them that way takes some care, by the way. The bottoms of the old ones are usually a thin plywood/veneer type board, like some 1900 - 1930's crate sides. If you focus the spray on them too long, the board becomes saturated or partially saturated with water. Then they will start to warp, bubble and the layers of veneer-thin board separate...and you end up with a drawer that is pretty much firewood. You will have some extra fun if they are the type that have a paper lining on the bottom...which is sandwiched between the plywood and the dividers. You will be picking bits of dirty, wet bits of paper out of your hair & those stuck to your vehicle for days. No one said dealing in this stuff was a clean job!

Here's a few teasers of some of the "treasures" we pulled out of the place...nothing that I thought was stupendous, but then again, I'm getting jaded in my old age!  But, I guess there was roughly another $1000 or so made on the job by selling these and other things out of the place, so it wasn't a bad deal, really. My back was not happy when we were done, however.

Hopefully this will hold ya for a day or two, so I will leave it at that. Well, considering how long it has been, I will pop on another quick posting, about one of my past picking experiences, soon after this posting.