Estate Sale – An Orgy of Greed, Voyeurism, and Necrophilia

Candy and I have picked up a new activity/obsession – going to estate sales. I’ve always had a strange enjoyment in poking around garage sales or maybe stopping by a thrift store on my way to somewhere important, but now I’m mainlining it.

I still keep an episode of Hoarders on my DVR and watch it before going to make sure I don’t buy too much stuff. Actually, I’m not that interested in buying anything – it’s the going that’s important. You see, a true estate sale, where the owner of the house and contents is recently deceased, is a summary of a person’s entire life translated into the language of junk. You can walk through the house looking at the piles of dishes, mounds of mementos and knickknacks, and especially, stacks of books – and read the life of the owner. There, spread out on tables with little pieces of tape bearing prices is the history, values, and taste of humans beings – a life… decades of hopes and dreams, successes and failures, prizes and gifts, laid bare for hundreds of casual shoppers to see.

An estate sale is an officially sanctioned orgy of greed, voyeurism, and necrophilia, disguised as bargain hunting.

Today, you don’t have to go cruising around the hood looking for “Estate Sale” signs taped to telephone poles or stapled to stop signs. You don’t have to get out your reading glasses to squint at the classifieds. The Internet will bring you the cornucopia of an estate sale buffet right to your cathode ray tube. There are sites that list the upcoming sales, complete with glorious descriptions and often pages of photographs. There are instant messages to your smartphone, email list servers, and even Twitter accounts all poised to keep you informed about homes full of old crap for sale. So I can sit there with a website, a handful of emails, and Googlemaps and plot out a route to cruise the most interesting looking sales.

One of the unfortunate things that happened was that I hit a gusher on one of the first sales I attended. It’s sort of like getting a big win on a trip to Vegas – you keep thinking this will happen every time. You get a feeling about a person from seeing their possessions and this was a person with too much in common with me. Right off the bat, in the living room, I found a Sheaffer Snorkle Fountain Pen Desk pen on a table… twelve dollars. I scooped it up and carried it around until I bought it. Then, back in the home office room, I found bottles of ink, piles of blank journals, and a stack of calligraphy instruction books. These were priced a bit higher than I wanted to pay.

I told Candy, “This guy had a lot of ink and stuff, I’m surprised he doesn’t have more pens.” She answered, “Didn’t you see the case of pens up at the front.”

Sure enough, the mother lode. There were a handful of European school pens, some Pelikan Piston fillers, a Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Point, a Lamy 2000, and a big, beautiful Montblanc. I picked them up and looked them over – great pens. Unfortunately, the prices were a bit too rich for me so I put them all back.

The Woman running the sale said, “You know, tomorrow at noon, the prices will be cut in half.”

So that gave me a day to think about it. At 12:05, I showed up again and went straight for the case. All the pens were still there. The Montblanc was a great bargain – but that pen is for show and not the sort of thing I’m into. That left the Lamy 2000 and the Vanishing Point. It was a tough choice, I’ve always wanted a Vanishing Point, but I bought the Lamy.

The woman said, “Tomorrow, at four, for the last hour, the prices go to twenty five percent.”

So you know where I was at 4:05 the next day. The pens were all gone. That’s not a surprise – they were a bit overpriced at first, but at fifty percent they were, if not a steal, at least a good value – so they all sold. The place was getting empty – everyone was hauling out everything that wasn’t nailed down. I ventured back into the office room and discovered all the ink and paper were still there. So I scooped up four bottles of Waterman ink, six boxes of various cartridges, some blank writing journals, a metal tin of sketching pencils and accessories and a Lamy leather pen case for ten dollars.

Oh, I love the Lamy 2000. I’m working on my macro photography, I’ll see if I can put some pictures of it up here soon.

Finally, I’d like to talk about a house Candy and I visited this last weekend. It was in a nice area of North Dallas – an established upper-crust area of winding streets and big trees. It was built out in about 1974 – which is actually pretty old for Dallas standards. The house was amazing – not so much for its size, but for its unique floorplan and astonishing flair. The place had over a thousand square feet of “porches.” Every bedroom had its own little private outdoor garden – now all overgrown and rundown, but with echoes of elegance and luxury still clinging from the salad days. The kitchen was piled with setting after setting of beautiful china, crystal, and servingware – there must have been a long series of elegant dinner parties. The whole house was set up for entertaining – thick shag carpets or hand-cut stone tiles. The living room held a monstrous pipe organ – the largest and most elaborate I’ve ever seen outside a church.

The master bedroom was the size of a generous living room and painted a bright lavender. A huge headboard covered in gold leaf leaped from the bed, growing across the wall like the crown of a golden tree. Across the rest of the walls, gilt angels peered from behind gold clouds. The attached bathroom was done in deep dark purple with a gigantic tub rising on a carpeted column in the middle of the room. In every room were piles of statuary, mostly of nude women, and on the walls were hundreds of pieces of art – oddly mixed from obviously valuable originals to tacky 1970-s era hippie posters, framed and under glass.

The house was too big to show in one setting. It will be open again next weekend, with the furnishings on the outside and in the garage for sale. I’ll probably go back for another dose.

I seldom wish I was wealthy, but I’d love to drop a half-million or so for that house, then spend another couple hundred grand bringing it back to its former elegance – while updating it into the proper century.

Such dreams.

We did buy something from amid all that faded opulence… a two dollar microwave omelet pan for Lee to take back to school with him.

3 responses to “Estate Sale – An Orgy of Greed, Voyeurism, and Necrophilia

  1. Who’d have ever thought that the iconic Mont Blanc pen would be relegated to history by keyboards and touch-screens? But the line I most loved in this piece is “An estate sale is an officially sanctioned orgy of greed, voyeurism, and necrophilia, disguised as bargain hunting.”

  2. We were browsing a sale. I picked up some really nifty thing from a table and held it up for my friend, across the room, to see. She nodded and said “yes, it is nice” and challenged me , “Do you love it?”

    No, I didn’t really “love” it. And I left it for someone else to find. A pen or two would, for a while, reignite my enjoyment writing longhand. Your Lamy sounds great. Congratulations!

  3. Fun take on estate sales. As an estate sale professional with a background in psychology and writing, I’ve always approached every sale with a keen interest in the stories I find within. I love exploring the history of the person who has dies. Thanks for sharing.

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