Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Past's Trash = Today's TREASURE!

I am going to admit right away that the title of this post is a little misleading...but it does hold true in some circumstances.

I'm getting ahead of myself, so I will just start from the beginning...

Yesterday I "picked" a building that a friend owns...again.

I've "picked" the building several times over the last 20 years, and have found some cool stuff pretty much each time, and bought some of the items from the owners of the building each time, with the exception of the first time I picked it. However, those picks are other blog postings entirely.

Anyway, this building is circa 1880, and one of the earlier structures in the town. The basement walls are built of field stone, which add to it's ancient appearance.  Despite the large footprint of this building, the basement does not utilize the entire size of the property. The building is 2 storefronts wide, and originally was only one store front wide. Within a short time after the first half was built, a matching addition was built, making it into the 2 storefront wide structure it still is today.

The addition, however, seemed to have a full basement dug for it, where the original structure was more hurriedly constructed, with only small put type basement located in the middle of the space occupied by the building. It is also possible that there had been a structure using the small basement that was demolished, and the larger building just built over top. This sort of thing is not all that unusual on the Canadian prairies (or elsewhere, I suspect). It is a simple result of the builders/business people wanting to get their structures up fast.  The population influx into some settlements/areas the building of the railways, and migration/immigration resulted in building booms in 1000s of what were, at the time, merely "whistlestops"...or in tiny villages, small towns, etc. Entrepreneurs, companies, etc, wanted  to get their businesses going/expanded ASAP to capitalize on the increased population, so corners got cut, steps were skipped, requirements for things like basements (etc) were minimized in importance.

So, this "basement" is essentially a dug out cellar, with a long field stone wall shared by the larger section of the basement of the "newer" (only by a couple years) addition. The "outside" wall is a short run of mortared field stone, and the front and back of the basement is merely poles/posts/etc with planks nailed across them, to keep the soil from caving into the space. 

It is behind these sorts of structures that I tend to check out.  


"Out of sight, out of mind."

You look confused...let me explain.

Most employees of businesses, even the owners themselves, tend to look for "shortcuts" in disposing of the floor sweepings, garbage, unwanted items, etc when they are in a business building's basement.  Who wants to ditch half a  bucket of trash outside when the January wind will freeze your skins in seconds, or the July sun and humidity causes you to be dripping in sweat in mere seconds?

Much easier to dump it in the voids behind the wall of boards.

Jump forward 100 years and some of that "trash" is of value.

So, I have been meaning to check this building's vintage trash hoards, though I suspected anything that was easily accessible/visible, and looked interesting and/or of obvious potential value, had been long since removed.

 I was right on that point, unfortunately.

But, I dug around awhile, anyway. You never know, sometimes you can find a stash of forgotten cash/valuables, discarded advertising items, lost items ranging from new/old stock to personal items, liquor bottles, condoms, old letter, and just discarded "vintage" trash.  I have found more vintage (and not so vintage!) porno magazines than I care to count over the years! 99 times out of 100 they are SO trashed they are not worth salvaging. Usually they are plain trashed; wrinkled, torn, written on, water stained, and whatever-stained (eeeewwwwwww!!!!!) and/or of a too recent vintage to have any value....other than perhaps to the person who stashed them in the first place.  Never found a Dec 1953 Playboy stashed in that sort of situation YET. (BTW, that is the year Marilyn Monroe appeared on the cover in a swimsuit, which was a recent photo, and a nude pic of her appeared as the centerfold...which had actually been taken in 1949.).

But, the stuff I dug out of the various spots where "trash" was dumped, dates mostly from 1900 to the late teens. It wasn't a highly profitable "pick", but you never know what you will find. The more you do these things, the better the odds get that you will trip across something great! Plus, it is good practice!

 Every time you work in these situations, you are learning, and training your eyes to spot things in what otherwise appears to be a jumble of junk. All of it may appear to be just various shades of bland colors on the brown-black end of the color list, but after awhile you will start realizing that some of those shapes, crumpled balls of nondescript appearing paper, chunks of wood, rusty bits, etc are not the same as the rest of the similar things around them.

Here are some pictures of my afternoon "adventure"...

View from over top of one of the wood plank retaining walls.
 Diggin' in the dust, dirt, and cobwebs...

Another view under the floor of the un-excavated portion of the basement.

As for what I found, well, there was no long lost cache of cash, gold, etc. Treasure can be disguised as trash, so be careful to take more than a passing glance at each piece of "trash" is what I found, as for trash, but what could have been treasure....and why:

-Scraps of tin of various shapes and sizes stuck at the bottom of the wall, just beneath the floor above. Obviously a tinsmith's bench was located on the floor above....means potential for some old tools! I also checked out both sides of each piece of tin. Why? You never know when a little, old tin sign might appear amongst the scraps. Tin signs were reused often...upcycling and recycling are far from new concepts! Plus, they (signs) were discarded in these sorts of spots!

- Crumpled balls of paper - You never know when one of those balls of paper is a rare flyer, brochure, poster, etc. Some of those crumpled/balled-up paper bags, and within those bags could be currency, brochures, letters, stamps, etc, etc.  Odds are not always in your favour, but you have already touched the thing, so why not go a bit further and be thorough, and check it out? It may pay off!

- Folded up pieces of newspaper - These can help you date the possible age of the "trash" you are sifting through. There is a chance they may contain hidden/lost cash. Personally, I also tend to hang on to the early chunks of newspapers for for cutting out old ads, articles, columns, be used later in art projects, crafts, framing for decor, etc.  They can also be great resources for leads to other potential picks! 
Generally, despite many members of the values-of-vintage-items-ignorant-general-public thinking otherwise, most old  newspapers are not highly valuable cash wise. They are interesting, useful, etc, but there are few that could be deemed as "valuable"
- I uncovered a buried coffee-pot!!! Normally I do not get excited over such thing, but, admittedly, I did have a twinge of excitement...but only because lately I have been reading some 1950s/60s/70s books on  treasure hunting. They detail rancher's lost fortunes, outlaws' ill gotten booty, miners' gold dust caches, miser's stashes of cash, business owners' lost hoards, etc, etc, etc.

 Yes, cash and other "treasures" could be buried in such vessels.
And would you believe it? That's right, the one I uncovered was....


Full of dust, debris, and mainly air, that is.

It will still make a good planter. Besides, I have already sold it....

....for a grand total of $5.00

Seeing as it sold to a friend of ours, I washed it for her, too. Now I am in the hole, if I calculate my time into it!
Even when the "trash" I come across is of negligible value, it still can be of value to me as clues in "detective work", of sorts. 

Knowing the history of a building, its previous uses, location of certain rooms/work areas/storage areas, staircases, fixtures, utilities, etc; can help you be aware of other potential "hidden" or less obvious elements/objects that could be of value. 

For example, if there is a modern furnace in place, I like to figure out where the old furnace/boiler was originally located. The reuse of discarded/surplus tin & steel signs as a barrier between hot pipes, as parts of vents, patches, etc is not uncommon. If you concentrate your inspection around the new/modernish furnace and it is no where near where the old one was, you are likely going on a wild goose chase.

I even pull out the old candy wrappers, peanut bags, popcorn bags, etc....Have you ever seen what  Coca-Cola chewing gum wrapper is worth? They can be worth hundreds of dollars! One wrapped stick reportedly sold at one auction in the $8000 range!  The odds are that most of you reading this will not find one of the $8000 variety, (or any of the varieties out there.) However, the point is you never know what has value. Planter's Peanut related items are highly collectible, so early items pertaining to them, which are unknown/are uncommon can sometimes bring serious money. The list is long of "potential" valuable antique/vintage just never know. 
 This was a little more "modern" than most of the items from the pick:
A Canadian (Walter M Lowney of Canada) OH HENRY!  bar wrapper


You bottle diggers out there may recognize the bottle shown on this flyer....Yep, a cork top 3-in-One Oil!

This Carreras Ltd "CRAVEN MIXTURE" cigarette pack is trashed, but it is circa 1910. Recognize the cat? Yes, he also graced another Crarreras Ltd cigarette package, which was debuted in late 1904; BLACK CAT CIGARETTES.

 Yes, it was a Marshall Well Store for many years.
Early Lowney's Nut Milk Chocolate Bar Wrapper  

I've said it a million times, and I really need to listen to my own preaching...WEAR A RESPIRATOR. Yes, I had it, but did not put it on right away. It was only after I started what could have become a coughing firt, and ejection of a lung or two that I figured it was about time to put it on. Problem is, I had a face full of whiskers...and the masks do not seal on your face when you have facial hair between the part that is supposed to rest against your skin.  Granted, it looks like my premature grey beard is somewhat darker than normal, but it is not excatly a safe subsitute for Grecian Formula!   The moustache is a continuation of the Movember thing, and in the winter the facial hair makes my face a little warmer! Come summer, and times when I am picking a fair bit, and require the mask in the places I am picking, I go with the small goatee. It is part style/part necessity. As long as there is no facial hair between the mask and my skin (no LONG goatees!) all is good! 

 If you want to see me "in action" at this particular pick, we do have a video up on Youtube, HERE.

Happy pickin',  folks!

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