I find a peculiar excitement when purchasing a box of items that has been sitting in storage for years. On one hand, it could contain some real treasures. On the other hand, the box could be filled with nothing more than the previous owner's old undies. *True story when I purchased a fixer-upper house.* Online auctions provide an added layer of unknown because I don't go to the preview day, so I rely solely on posted pictures to determine the condition, style, and size of items I bid on.
Bidding on Nearly Everything Offered
Recently, I participated in an auction and won a good number of items. It was an estate auction and the items offered were, quite honestly, incredibly beautiful and most definitely my style. I ended up with nearly 200 pieces of Pink Depression glass, quite a bit of vaseline and clear glass, a giant outdoor water fountain, a sewing bench with supplies inside, and other items. I bid on a box known to contain at least one piece of glassware but the rest of its contents were wrapped in old newspaper and the box was in really bad condition.
Auction Pick-up Day
As I often do, I took my son with me to pick up the items. Because we were picking up what I thought was a normal-sized water fountain, we took our small trailer with us. Upon arriving, we met the auctioneer. He smiled at us and told us to let him know when we were ready to move what he thought was the bird bath. He said he would help us out. Thinking nothing of it, we located our items and started boxing and loading them into our vehicle. While gathering boxes for the glassware, my son started searching for the water fountain. He finally found it hiding behind bushes that were well over 6 feet tall. That's when I heard: "Uh . . . Mom?"
Before I continue, let me just say that it was now raining, we were well over 100 miles away from home, and armed with a handcart and a 4x6 trailer. I took one look at the 'bird bath' and my son and I started laughing. The auction description said 'around 5 feet tall'. Nope. More like 6 and the basin was wider than our trailer.
It seemed to me that the water fountain had been moved to it’s previous location probably around the time the house was built and had not been moved since.
While we were laughing in the bushes, 4 men working for the auction seemed to appear out of nowhere and started to help. As I pulled the trailer closer, they (and my son) began moving it. I wish I had taken pictures because it was incredible how much effort it took. They could not pick up the basin, so the consensus was to roll it through the front of the shrubs. These men really had a great sense of humor and were so kind, despite getting soaked and muddy in the rain.
I was concerned for the trailer but we made it back home just fine. Of course, we then had to figure out how to unload it. We used an engine hoist and decided to set it up so we could clean it and take pictures. (My sons are now trying to talk me into keeping it.)
What's in the Box?
Most of the day's focus involved moving the water fountain, so the box of unknown items was placed to the side. The following day, I started to unwrap the items and found many pieces of beautiful glassware. Many pieces were rare finds (such as the bow and button tumblers).
Taking Care and Getting Personal
It is important to note that whenever we pick-up from an estate sale house, we try our hardest to be extremely respectful. We are there to gather well-loved items because, many times, the previous owner is no longer able to enjoy them. I consider it a great honor to give these treasures a new purpose and create a way for the next owner to enjoy them. After all, who says a 60 year old vase doesn’t have at least another 60 years of function and beauty left?
There is a process I have once new items arrive in my workshop. I unbox, assess condition, clean, make repairs, refresh or restore, take pictures, inventory, research, price, and finally place each item up for sale. Sometimes, I find personal items during this process, especially when cleaning out furniture drawers, and provides a tiny glimpse into the items' previous use.
A Closer Look
After unwrapping everything, I noticed the newspaper protecting the glassware was from The Huntsville Times, March 3, 1991. Many of the headlines had to do with the Gulf War, returning soldiers, and those lost. I then remembered a letter I found inside a sewing bench that was part of the same estate purchase. It was postmarked from Fayetteville, TN, April 7, 1964. It was marked with Pray for Peace and at that moment I realized it had been written during the middle point of the Vietnam War.
Then, while washing the glassware, I noticed a piece of tape on the back of a plate noting who gave the pieces to the previous owner. This is family glassware, handed down over generations. After giving it much thought, I am grateful this collection was not discarded in the trash and am proud to offer the pieces to our customers to function as they were created: Provide joy to their owners for many years to come.
It is a great reminder that, when acquiring or purchasing vintage items, they have a history that is oftentimes older than our own. Oh, and don't tell my husband but I'm going to keep the water fountain. It just feels like the right thing to do.