I consider myself an eBay pioneer, with a seller account going back to the e-commerce Stone Age – or January 1997, to be precise. In the beginning, eBay was a fantastic place to sell genuine antiques with provenance and vintage collectibles like footless Pez. In the last decade or so, things have drastically changed as the massive marketplace has become flooded with fake designer purses, huge lots of genuine Gillette blades that fell off a truck (wink-wink), and countless other new merchandise. While vintage and antique merchandise still can sell, it is a spin of the roulette wheel compared to the early days – with more than 700 million items listed on any given day. I have experienced my share of non-paying bidders, kooks, and insults and so have family members – providing amusement and provoking more than a few f-bombs. I have often wondered if people are compulsive bidders in the same way others are compulsive gamblers. My faith in humanity was restored about 11 years ago when I heard from the sister of a buyer who never paid for an antique purse. I’ve heard every story in the book, but this one was heartwarming and true. The buyer had been hit by a car and was in intensive care for two months. She was slowly recovering, and finally cognizant enough to tell her sister about outstanding commitments. It astonished me that despite facing rehab and what had to be horrific hospital bills, she cared enough to tell her sister to pay off eBay sellers!
Jeff and I really got our fill of auctions a month ago when we attended a Pace Auction in Des Plaines – arriving at 10:30 and staying the entire day until every last lot was sold around 4:00 pm. I have been going to Pace Auctions since 1987 when I attended an auction they were conducting for an antique store going out of business on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I still have the pine dresser I purchased at that auction – it was a bit of a fixer upper but has served me well. Once upon a time, Pace held auctions every Monday night, but haven’t done so for years and now periodically have auctions on Saturdays. Jeff’s best Pace Auction tale goes back to 1999 when I took him to an auction and he purchased a huge lot of Star Trek Mego figures for just $45.00 and sold them for nearly $900.00 on eBay! When you are bidding, you have to factor in the 15 percent buyer’s premium and sales tax on top of the winning bid. An odd thing about auctions is that you have to be careful with gestures or the auctioneer will think you are bidding. Inevitably, my allergies kicked in around all that musty stuff and I started to itch. If I lifted my hand to scratch my head, it might be considered a bid, and I nearly did this a few times. This phenomenon has been parodied on a number of TV sitcoms over the years.
As a lifelong antique collector and fine artist, I appreciate objects that once belonged to strangers. I fully embrace the concept of recycling on many levels – environmental, global, financial, practical – and aesthetically. I have frequented estate sales for many years – mining the sales for treasures that I incorporate into my collage necklaces, mixed media works, to resell, and on occasion – to decorate my home. I love antiques for many reasons – they offer a glimpse into the past and sometimes reveal fascinating histories. I also appreciate the workmanship and fine materials employed by skilled craftsman of yesteryear. But I have to admit there is an inherently sad aspect to these sales and now that my elderly parents’ mortality looms on the near horizon, I am seeing possessions in a new light. My mother has been in poor health for a few years – several falls she suffered recently led to cleaning out years of accumulation at my parents’ house. There were a few treasures, but also a lot of junk – the kind of stuff that piles up over the years through entropy – after a dozen or so visits, I have made some progress.
One of the reasons we love going to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few times a year is not to buy cheese, but to browse a wonderful little shop crammed with treasures called Monica’s Thrift Shop. A bit off the beaten path, this unassuming store is loaded from floor to ceiling with an amazing array of new, vintage, and antique goodies with something for everyone’s taste. Our most recent visit was on May 29 and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I would say that there was more merchandise packed into this place than the last time we stopped by. Even the bathroom at this shop is decked out with incredibly cool items.
Amulet: an object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner. Talisman: an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. Fetish: an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency. I have always been fascinated by talismans and good luck charms, but strictly from a visual standpoint. It is hard to believe that anyone would put so much stock in a trinket or charm, but throughout history this has been the case. My obsession with these symbols began as a young child when I bought my first rabbit’s foot. I was entranced with the dyed pink, turquoise, purple, and yellow varieties and the little claws poking out of the fur, as well as the attached solid brass key fob and chain. It is believed that this good luck charm harkens back to 600 B.C. among Celtic people. While I find the origins of this good luck amulet fascinating, as a child I simply liked the way the rabbit’s foot looked. When I was painting figuratively back in the early 1980s, I adorned several of my subjects with a trompe l’oeil rabbit’s foot, attempting to blend a Renaissance look with contemporary punk in my portraits.
I am pleasantly surprised by a new charity-related resale store that opened in Arlington Heights in January and always happy to give a shout out to new and worthy businesses. There isn’t much information on Humanity United Group; no website as of yet and just a couple of articles in TribLocal and the Daily Herald. Proceeds benefit homeless women and children in need in the Northwest suburbs. HUGS was formed to operate the resale store according to the Chicago Tribune article – a bit of an unusual approach, but certainly entrepreneurial. Typically, a charity exists first and a resale store is established later as a venue for fundraising.
Many years ago I donated all of my unsold collectibles, antiques and better household goods to Clearbrook’s Practically Perfect Resale Shop. That is until their prices became too high and many of my donated items never saw the light of day on the sales floor. While it is still possible to score a bargain now and then at this store, it is so cluttered with beat-up furniture and tightly arranged displays that browsing is difficult. I recently had a close call when I nearly impaled myself on a sharp clothing rack end that was in way too close proximity to the shoes. And as far as those shoes – it is refreshing to see that they dropped the price on shoes from $4.00 to $3.50, but the shoes have been disgusting and outdated of late. In the past I actually scored a pair of Finn Comfort shoes, really cool red and black cowboy boots, and several other nice pairs.
Too many thrift stores these days sell merchandise that I would be embarrassed to give away to charity or put out at the curb – dirty stained clothing, broken appliances, chipped/cracked pottery – and often at ridiculously inflated prices. But every so often I am very pleasantly surprised by a hidden gem of a resale/thrift store. Such is the case with Community Threads, a delightfully refreshing store in Buffalo Grove. I say delightful because you won’t find grimy, threadbare, worn-out goods here. Quite the opposite – the selection here is very tasteful and the displays show an enthusiastic commitment to making recycled merchandise enticing to the consumer. A few weeks ago I picked up two pairs of gently used Italian leather loafers for myself at a very reasonable price – I guess I can forgive that there was a wad of gum on the bottom of one sole. Most items here are reasonably priced, with the exception of the furniture and better jewelry sections which have a few pieces priced unrealistically high. The antique furniture and cased collectibles tend to be the priciest, but are very classy and for the most part in impeccable condition. An antique dresser priced at $875 is really out-of-place at a resale store and would even be considered overpriced at an antique store or show. The slightly bruised antique furniture priced in the $150-$275 range is still quite high for a resale store, but may be within the budget of the upscale shopper. Some of these pieces need a little bit of loving care such as minor retouching and a coat of fresh Watco Oil.
Since losing my job, I have patronized resale and thrift shops with more frequency – not for clothes for myself but for new housewares or vintage items to resell on eBay. I have also been on a mission to purge our house of unworn clothing and bric-a-brac purchased on a whim or left over from my days as an antique mall merchant. If we ever want to move, this activity is essential. Goodwill has been my thrift store charity of choice over the last six months. Goodwill has a good mission and their prices are generally reasonable, although some of their Chicagoland stores suffer from the same illogical pricing as other thrift stores we have blogged about. The store in Carpentersville near Woodman’s has deteriorated – both in cleanliness and prices, while the two stores in Arlington Heights and the West Loop are for the most part reasonable.
I count my blessings that I have a lifelong antique collection to fall back on for a bit of extra income. A PR and communications professional, I found myself unemployed in mid-June for the first time in 20 years. I could write a 5,000-word blog just about my last employer, but I know that diplomacy will serve me better than spite as I strive to land a new position. So back to the matter at hand – a few of the high points in my hunt for treasure over the years. For this blog, I am posting an eclectic sampling of some of my most memorable finds – not necessarily because of the resulting sale, but for the memories associated with the acquisition. My mom bought this complete set of Hartland Plastics musical cupids in 1976 at a fantastic store that sold new old store stock from dime stores. Our close friend Bebe turned us onto this treasure trove of a shop called Mary’s. It was located near Yoshi’s Cafe, in the 3200 block of North Halsted – long before it became a hip neighborhood. In any case, Mary decided to pack up shop and move to Michigan while I was away at RISD, so my mom visited the shop and bought a few things at close-out prices. Mind you, Mary’s prices were fantastic to start, so this was quite a deal. I held onto this wonderful set until a few years ago, at which time I sold it to a lucky collector.