Who can pass up a garage sale? I know I can’t. Mostly they’re just tangled heaps of useless junk which no one without serious mental problems would want. Yet, everything I have was purchased or stolen at garage sales. It used to be that only gypsies or Scotsmen would dare to be seen picking through piles of rags and button boxes. Nowadays, even the very rich will pick diligently through piles of rags and button boxes, pausing only to raise a monocle and inquire, “Is this Scotsman really for sale?”
The garage sale is a tradition which goes back to long before the invention of the garage. In the Elizabethan Age, noblemen and peasants alike would gather under brightly colored tents to barter:
“I will give you this fine goose for that old Gutenberg Bible.”
“Nay, this is a signed original, the only one of its kind. I will not part with it for less than two fine geese.”
“‘Tis a pity I have but one goose. But take a gander at yon maiden. I offer you the hand of my daughter, if such be fair trade.”
“What? My Gutenberg Bible for that? Surely you jest!”
“Nay, do her looks startle you? ‘Tis but the pox, which soon will pass. Let us bandy no more. Take my offer, oh merchant of Venice.”
“Oh, fudge! Behold, while we have haggled your goose has laid waste to my wares. Begone with your goose and your geek daughter! I don’t know what came over me, wanting to sell this rare first edition for a couple of smelly birds.”
Truly, Gutenberg would have rolled over in his grave. Except for a few plague years, the Renaissance fairs were so successful that they soon surpassed in popularity other social gatherings such as witch burnings and hangings.
After the invention of the garage, some aspects of the sales changed. It became harder to find a rare first edition and it became harder to get the owner to part with it at an absurdly low price. But bargains can still be found today. A friend of mine recently bought an antique milk pail for five dollars. Unknown to the previous owner, inside the pail were five long-lost copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls made a unique decoupage covering for the outside of the pail, with enough left over to do a suitcase and a lunch box.
A number of art objects are rediscovered at garage sales. If it hasn’t been used as a dart board or a place mat for too many years, an old master can go for millions at auction. I once finagled a painting away from widow woman in Missouri. I thought it was a Rembrandt. She thought it was a Van Dyke. In fact, she did have a genuine Van Dyke, but that was on her chin (and not for sale). I told her, “You know, I like this old Schickelgruber. I’ll give you a few bucks for it. What do you say?”
The old lady parted with it very reluctantly and only on the condition that I call her once a week to tell her how it was doing. I called her a week later and said, “Hey, I just sold your painting for ten million bucks. How about that?”
She’s probably still standing there in Missouri with the telephone glued to her ear. I was only joking at the time, but the real joke was on me because the painting was a Rockwell, not a Rembrandt. I couldn’t get more than four million for it.
Garage sales mean very many things to very many people and very few things to a few other people. Even a couple of other people that I forgot to mention before have some kind of opinion about sales in general. But don’t let them boggle you. Follow my example. Wherever there’s a stack of old newspapers, a bushelful of chipped procelain or a lampstand made out of petrified French bread, that’s where I’ll be. Unless I’m somewhere else.