Saturday, February 13, 2010

Visit to an Estate Sale and Toys

       In this blog article I have juxtapositioned my interesting visit to a very unusual local estate sales that made the local and national news  versus  photos of my own antique toy collection to which I wanted to add by visiting this estate sale. Comtemplation of this sale and its scenario allows me to discuss some life issues, a favorite pastime of mine. Click Read More to see this whole article and photos.

    This was not just any old estate sale. This estate sale notice made the local news and I was told even the national news. A gentleman in his 50s had made a decision that after an early retirement he wanted to open and operate a gift shop. With this goal in mind, he had purchased an estimated million dollars worth of merchandise. But then he got cancer and he died. Now all that merchandise was for sale. Thousands of unopened boxes of stuff. The news showed  a few opened boxes of Barbie dolls, Lionel train cars, Star Wars figures and all sorts of diecast vehicles, Matchbox and Hot Wheel cars on the cards, and spectator sports items.
     This scenario raises a couple issues. Let's deal with the weighiest issue first. Actually this is an issue which consists of mostly questions. It regards retirement and dealing with what you are going to do after retirement, when to retire, and how long should one wait to do the thing one loves and wants to do. Here this poor gentleman planned and prepared to open a shop that he no doubt would love to manage. He made these plans for at least 8 years if not longer (I know because one of the things I bought was a Duke University Blue Devils logo diecast metal motorcoach in commemoration of the 2001 NCAA Basketball Championship.) He sacrificed his house to store all these items. After seeing the house, I really don't know how he lived there with all these boxes of stuff. But fate dealt him a losing hand and he never made it to operate his store. As a physician I had the occasional patient who looked forward to retiring when he could travel and do other things that he had been looking forward to, only to retire and become ill, seriously ill within the first year, and never get to do those things. The recent movie, The Bucket List, also considers these issues. In the movie, these two guys both know they have limited time left and decide to do a list of adventurous things before they die. The story is funny, poignant, and sad in the end because they both do die. But it is also fulfilling because they did accomplish their list, or at least most of it. I think the answer is to live each day as though there was no time left. Then there will be no reason to be sad. You will have lived each day and done your list of adventurous things, and you will not have left an estate full of thousands of items to be pawed over by the masses of people coming to a sale, all of them wondering why such a thing could have happened.

Above to the left is a cast iron horse drawn dumpwagon circa 1920s that belonged to my father. Below and to the right is Hubley-like cast iron tractor that also belonged to my father, from 1920s also.

     I am a collector of many things, but foremost is my antique toy collection. Well, the various items mentioned in the news report attracted me. We knew there was a snowstorm coming, to start in the evening of the first day of the sale. My husband at first didn't want me to drive out to the sale, about a 45 minute drive. He told me I could go if I walked. Right! But then, the sun came out and he relented. It was not hard to find the place, among the hills of the Kettle Morraine area. I was not familiar with estate sales; I had not attended any except my mother's which was an auction. Well, with the news advertisement, there was a line of people waiting on the driveway to get in. A man from the estate sales staff was taking names and then calling numbers for people to enter. Some people had given their name and then gone home to wait. I didn't have that option. Some people in the line had been waiting for 3 hours. But it was getting to be mid afternoon by the time I came so my hope was that they would just have to let the whole line in because the sale closed on this day at 5 pm. That is exactly what happened. After conjecturing with my colleagues of the moment in the line about this poor man and about what we would find inside, we were allowed passage.

The cast iron circus wagon above was not owned in my family. I picked it up at a second hand store.  It has been repainted as you can tell from the photo. Though this makes for an attractive item, for collectability and maximum monetary value, a toy should not be restored in such a way unless it is in very very rusty and bad    condition. If restoration is done, it should be done by a professional. In that case, the cast iron toy will be taken apart and each part will be painted separately as was done when the toy was made. It then will be put back together

The toy in the photo below is a pressed steel steam shovel like that made by Buddy L. I was owned also by my father and is circa 1920s. It needs some repair but is otherwise in very good shape.               .                                                                                                                        

     Inside the house at the estate sale, what we found was amazing. The basement garage, basement proper, and every room of the house had stacks of boxes of stuff  as tall as we shoppers with aisles wide enough for only one person between the aisles. Many boxes had already been emptied and were lying among the partially emptied and other closed boxes. There were many many commemorative die cast metal vehicle models, bobble head sports figures, walking sticks, junk keychains, childrens' Mickey Mouse caps, decorative what-nots of all kinds, paper products by the boxfull, CD cases,  various framed prints of little value, and many more items too numerous to describe. There were people there buying up stuff that they would later sell at the flea market booth that they operated. The Lionel train cars for $20 a piece were gone. The Sham-Wow cleaning clothes were gone. Someone was buying up all the inexpensive framed prints, box by box. I didn't see any Barbie dolls, nor any Star Wars figures. But someone said 6 truckloads of boxes had been taken out of the house to allow room to display the goods. They would be brought back and added to the sale as goods were cleared. Maybe those items  I was interested in would be brought back in on another day, but I didn't intend to trek back out here on another day particularly with a snowstorm on the way. There was no furniture in the house. Maybe that had been cleared out ahead of time also. The sale was scheduled for 3 days, but due to the snowstorm in the middle, some thought it would be extended at least another day.

The above three photos show my sons' collection of Matchbox and HotWheel cars They are in "played with" conditon. True collectors want these more modern day collectibles to be "mint on the card".

     At the sale, I managed to put together 8 large commemorative sports diecast vehicles, about a dozen Hotwheels and Matchbox vehicles on the card, 3 childrens' Mickey Mouse caps,  and a pink baseball cap U Wisconsin, with the logo W on it all for a little over $40. I lugged these through the long and slow check out line, establishing very brief camaraderie friendships with those near me in line. These are all really not antique toys; they are new in the box. So no doubt they will be left for my children to decide what to do with as much of my toy collection will be. I have oft pondered what will happen to all my toys that I love so much. I have a catalog of most of my collection with possible value, obtained from researching ebay. Only a few of my toys are worth values in the double digits, but I love them all, even the little Pokey and Gumby rubber figures. In my catalog, toys that belonged to family members are identified as having high levels of sentimental values. But I know that when something happens to me, my children will only have time to get an estate sale company in here and these antigue toys that I so love will be stacked up and pawed over by lines of people , just as I saw in the Kettle Morraine ranch house and my toys will be distributed far and wide. I have contemplated putting little red sticker dots on the toys that do have sentimental value so that my children can identify them in case they do want to keep those toys that have been in the family for 3 or 4 generations--at least they could make this choice. I have even comtemplated opening a toy museum where all these toys would be kept together. It is interesting that I may find myself in the same position as this gentleman out in Mukwonago. I just hope that the people waiting in the line to get in and the people pawing through all the stuff form some short friendships while they discuss the owner of all this stuff -- me.

     These model vehicles above are modern collectibles tht I have owned for some years. The historic Coca Cola truck was purchased. The other two were gifts from pharmaceutical companies before it was politically incorrect to accept such gifts.

     And here is a photo of one the more lovable toys in my collection, flexable rubber figures, Gumby and Pokey, circa 1960s. These characters were featured in TV series for 35 years. The original videos were made with animated clay figures of the star characters.


  1. Mom and I have just read through your tale. We are all collectors of sorts - things, memories, friends. It's what makes us so unique as humans who cherish everything that touches our lives. Sometimes that means having boxes to hold our collections. And you know what we say - "it's in the genes"!

  2. Yes, I know what we say. I often say that gene is at HLA locus PRMMM. PR stands for Pack Rat and the MMM signifies thousands of things ie stuff stored away in our private space.