Posts Tagged ‘antiques’

Junk Jackpot

March 8, 2013

Wednesday March 6th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL/? WI

   My idea to start picking antiques wasn’t the worst one I’ve had. I’ve been doing it regularly for a while now, and it’s turning out to be the perfect part time job. I can do it whenever I have a free amount of time from half an hour to a full day. I’ve been making a point to work on my picking eye, and I stop at every thrift store, pawn shop, antique mall and flea market that I happen to see.

Today I had some errands to run, and ended up in a small town in Wisconsin I’ve visited many times before. There are a couple of decent thrift stores there, but I didn’t find anything today as I took my obligatory lap. Sometimes there is all kinds of stuff to buy, other times it’s a total zilch.

There’s also a small antique mall in the town, and I’d never been to it before. I wasn’t really up for any more junk hunting, but that little voice in my head told me to take a lap in there so I went right over. I’m learning to listen to that voice, as whenever I do there’s always a positive payoff.

I walked in the antique mall and immediately knew I was going to find something good. I don’t know how I knew that, but I did. I scoured the place from top to bottom, and there were three full floors to go through to do it. It took about forty minutes, but I wound my way through all three of the floors and found absolutely nothing. I was ready to go home when something caught my eye.

It was in the very last booth of the very last row in the basement, but there hung a small plastic bag. In it was a 1954 Topps Eddie Mathews baseball card, and those are right in the golden years as far as desirable sports collectibles go. They can fetch a hefty shekel when in prime condition.

This one was not. There were a few bits of Scotch tape on the front of the card, and that sucks the value right out from a fanatical collector’s standpoint. Those people are way intense. They’re anal to the point of obsessive, and they all need to lighten up and relax. Life is too short for that.

Still, the card had nice eye appeal and I estimated the resale value to be at $20 – $25. There was a hand written $6 price tag on the plastic bag, so I snapped it up noticing there were two items of interest I’d never seen before. One was a circular patch made of felt with Mathews’ picture on it.

The other was a piece of cardboard with a photograph of Mathews that was designed to be used as a standup display. I’d never seen either of those pieces before, but I knew since I was only out my $6 initial stake I could afford to gamble and if nothing else I wasn’t going to lose any money.

As luck would have it – in my favor for a change – those other items are quite rare and after a couple of calls to sports collector friends I knew I made a nice haul. The standup piece is from a set issued by Milwaukee area dry cleaner Spic and Span circa 1955. There is ONE listed on Ebay at a price of $1200, but that’s in mint condition. Mine isn’t, but it’s not horrible either. Jackpot!

There’s also one listing of the felt patch and it had an asking price of $450. Mine is close to the same condition, and it blew my mind to see such high dollar value on both items. I’m not saying I’ll be able to get full retail asking price for the items, but for six bucks I made a fantastic score.

 

Fred Sanford Revisited

February 12, 2013

Sunday February 10th, 2013 – Lake County, IL

   I’ve been dipping my toe in the water with the antiques picking game, and I think I’m going to do pretty well for several reasons. I’ve been looking for another source of income that’s flexible, and I think this is it. It won’t be easy, but if I play my cards right I’ll be able to turn a fair profit.

Right now I’m mainly practicing my ability to pick items out of thrift stores. That’s not a huge source of guaranteed income, as all those items have to pass in front of a lot of eyes before even making it to the store shelves. Still, there are often trinkets that do and that’s what I want to find.

It becomes a poker game of deciding what I can get at a lower price and spin for more than my initial investment. There will be expenses of time and money if I choose to sell on Ebay or set up at a flea market, so I have to decide what I can do well enough with to make it worth purchasing.

I’ve scored quite a few smaller items already, and that gives me hope there’s a lot more to pick – especially when rummage sales start in the spring. I’m learning what to look for, and it’s a total switch from what I’ve been buying for the past twenty five years when scouring the thrift stores.

It used to be all I’d look for would be books, CDs, DVDs and maybe cassettes depending upon if I had a cassette player in the particular car I happened to be driving at the time. I’d often score great stuff for a very low price, but I discovered the turnover market wasn’t there. I never bought to turn it over, but after moving several times and having to drag it all with me I’ve restructured.

I have enough books to read for the next forty years, should I be lucky enough to live that long. I am now focusing on baubles and trinkets that can be spun for a profit, and that can include a lot of things from jewelry to glassware to furniture to vinyl records just to name a few. There are all kinds of possibilities, and I have a whole lot to learn about all of them. Right now I’m guessing.

For example, I stopped in Goodwill on my way to a gig a few weeks ago and they had a sale on vinyl records. Albums were a quarter and 45s were three for a quarter. It’d been years since I had any records and I don’t own a turntable on which to play them, but I gambled five bucks on some older stuff from the early ‘60s that was in very nice shape. It was a calculated but affordable risk.

One of the albums was a ‘Bat Masterson’ TV show piece that was dated 1960. It’s in excellent shape, and I saw on Ebay that one had sold for $100. Bingo! I’m not saying I’ll get $100, but if it brings even $40-$50 I’ll be ecstatic. Now I have to find someone who is willing to pay me for it.

There were some other albums in the stack that were listed between $25 and $60, but again that in no way means I’ll get that. Still, I think I made a fantastic buy for my $5 and now I’m going to experiment with ways to turn it all for a profit. It’s all a risk, but I’m into the whole pile for a fin.

This kind of stuff is everywhere and always has been, but I wasn’t looking for it until now. It’s certainly not my goal to become a modern day Fred Sanford, and the last thing I want is to waste my time thinking I’m going to get rich quick. I’m not delusional going into this. It’s a transition.

Hopefully it can help me make a few bucks to keep me off the lower end gigs on the road, and when I am on the road it’s something I can do to productively use my time to make contacts that hopefully I can use to move some of the inventory I do get. I’m learning quickly that winning in this game is about knowing where to sell things BEFORE they’re bought. That takes a network.

I’ve got a few comedy contacts that do this kind of thing either for side income or to earn their actual living. Greg Willet is in Appleton, WI and he’s a full time dealer. Greg has been generous with his time in helping me get started, and he informed me of a pick where an old baseball card that was found in a scrap book brought $92,000 at auction. Big ticket scores are still out there.

Someone wins the lottery every week as well, and I’m totally aware this is a long shot. I don’t expect to make a million dollars tomorrow, but with a little effort and smarts applied to what I’m already doing I think I can use it to make a few extra bucks. I’m not looking to cheat anyone and I am going to report every penny of profit to the IRS – but I will take all my legal deductions too.

Today I ventured out to test the waters at a couple of small flea markets that happen to be near where I live. I just wanted to get a feel for what’s out there these days and see if setting up at one might be in my near future. I wasn’t impressed with either one as a whole, but there were dealers at each one that stood out so I’m glad I went. I ended up learning from them all – good and bad.

One ingredient that was painfully missing from the mix was showmanship. Way more than not, most of those who set up just threw everything in a pile and let it sit. A few of the dealers would say hello as I walked into their domain, but most did not. They sat there knitting or reading their book or whatever they were doing, and it was interesting to monitor how each person behaved.

Signage was another thing that caught my eye. A few of the sellers had eye catching signs that let me know how much their merchandise was, but most others had sloppy hand written stuff that was very unappealing to the eye. If I would set up at a show like this I would handle it differently and I bet I’d do well. My entertainment background would set me light years ahead of the pack.

I could see myself dressed up as The King of Uranus at some big flea market, and attract a long line of people to my booth to buy things. I could do some kind of humorous presentation and sell funny items like joke books or farting dolls or something I can pick up cheap and spin for profit.

All of this is all about the show, and I know it going in. It’s not my goal to spend the rest of my life looking for rare Edsel hubcaps or ‘I Like Ike’ buttons. I want to use those things to help turn a buck, but that’s about it. I enjoy the treasure hunt aspect, but the real buzz comes from a show.

I want it all to tie in together, and I think it can. If comedy fans know I wheel and deal antiques they might sell to me before approaching a stranger – especially if I develop an honest reputation as I intend to. If antique customers know I do comedy, they might become fans. It ties together. I am not taking this lightly, and I know there is work involved in addition to a need to get educated in a lot of areas of expertise so I can make smart choices when buying things. I have work to do.

Entrepreneurial Thoughts

January 9, 2013

Monday January 7th, 2013 – Nashville, TN/Chicago, IL

Up early to make the long drive home from Nashville. This used to be a perk of the business in the beginning, but now it’s a painful chore. Eight hours in a car thrills me about as much as eight hours in a gay bath house – maybe less. At least in the bath house I could stretch my legs a little.

In the car, there’s no way to do anything but drive. It’s so many miles to get home, and nothing will change that. I can stop all I want, but that won’t shorten the trip any. I need to get behind the wheel and put those miles behind me – even though I just drove them the other way last Friday.

At least today I had some incentive as I was booked to host the Rising Star Showcase at Zanies in Chicago. Sometimes I can tend to fart around a little too much on my way home from gigs and that wastes even more time than I need to. It’s helpful to have somewhere to be to provide focus.

I did make a few stops on the way though. I’m still sniffing around the whole antiques thing to see if it could possibly be worth my while to make extra money. I’m still not sure if I want to put my time and effort in to invest in something that won’t pay off. There are no shortages of greedy idiots out there trolling for the million dollar mother lode, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur.

I’m looking to build a network of people who specialize in certain fields of collectibles, and try to be a bird dog and find items they can spin and make a decent profit. I will make a few bucks at it myself, and also educate myself as to what makes a profit. I’m not going into it without a clue.

I dabbled in sports cards on the road for several years. I’m still not sure if that was smart or not but it sure was fun to hunt for treasure all over North America. This time I’ll expand my scope to include anything and everything else I can possibly use to turn a buck. I might find I like it or my instincts will tell me to move on and try something else. I want to see how the current vibe feels.

I stopped at a few thrift stores in Louisville and Indianapolis, but didn’t find anything I thought was worth buying. I’m trying to get rid of stuff rather than stockpile, but if I run across a trinket I think I can spin I’m willing to roll the dice on it. I have to pass through those towns anyway, why not take a few minutes to buzz through the thrift stores and scope them out? I could hit a jackpot.

The main thing is, I’m thinking like an entrepreneur. Like it or not, that’s how most Americans need to be thinking these days. Everyone I know could use a few extra bucks, and the job market is shrinking rather than growing no matter what CNN says. We all have to hustle for ourselves.

Unfortunately, being an entrepreneur is not necessarily for everyone. It’s just like owning one’s own home. I for one am not cut out to be a homeowner, and my brief experience trying it has left a horrible taste in my mouth that will not only last a lifetime but also into the next if there is one.

Entrepreneurial endeavors are different. I’m very intrigued by the process of finding a need and filling it, even if I’ve never had any actual success of note at doing it. The choices I have made in life have put me in this position, so I need to put my energy into making the best of the situation.

To Pick Or Not To Pick?

December 30, 2012

Saturday December 29th, 2012 – Reno, NV

   There’s a part of me that absolutely loves the process of treasure hunting. Shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars have made it hot with the masses, but I’ve been around it as long as I can remember. My grandfather loved to visit thrift stores constantly, and my father of all people had a great eye for junk and was an excellent picker himself. He scored regularly with antique deals.

 On my exercise walk today I discovered a really neat antique shop in downtown Reno. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, but the prices were so reasonable and the people were so nice that I did happen to pick up a couple of tiny items to give as gifts for some friends who are also collectors.

I found a patch from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $5 that I’ll send off to my old friend Dave Wilson who lives in Indianapolis and is a huge race fan. Dave is a great guy and he booked me at his comedy club One Liners for years. The least I can do is send a small gift to say thanks.

I also ran across some clean old professional wrestling magazines from the California territory of the mid ‘70s. There were four of them, and they’ve got the great old blood soaked pictures of wrestlers from that era like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson and even Andre the Giant. They’re really cool, and I picked up all four at $10 each. If I can’t at least break even, then I’m a flaming idiot.

Depending on who is asked, there are rather serious doubts as to whether I am an idiot anyway. It’s not gambling rent money, and it’s something I had never ever seen in all my travels. I looked them up on Ebay and there was another issue that I didn’t have that had an asking price of $25.

I was talking to one of the dealers at the shop, a very nice guy probably in his late 50s. He said he’s been wheeling and dealing for decades, and his specialty is pocket watches. He’d purchased a new old one from a walk in customer about an hour before I got there, and he told me he’d paid $50 for it. A pawn shop had offered the guy $25 apparently, but he wanted $50 firm so he bolted.

The guy at the antique shop showed it to me, and said it was worth probably $300 minimum as is, but quite a bit more with just a little cleaning and maintenance work. He said he expected he’d get about $450-$500 depending on how long he chose to sit on it and hold out for the best price.

I had a nice long talk with the guy, and compared notes on how the collectibles game is playing out in the tough economy. He said something that really resonated with me. “There’s a whole lot more junk than people in the world to go through it all. There will ALWAYS be deals around.”

Like anything, there’s work involved and it’s not easy but he seemed to think anyone with any kind of work ethic and drive could turn a fair profit by putting one’s effort in. He suggested there be a field of specialization, only because there’s too much out there to know about everything.

My quandary is, do I slice my time even more and wheel and deal part time to bring in an extra few bucks or blow it off and put every last ounce of energy into comedy? Nothing is ‘stable’, and I’ve had time issues in the past. But I need money and I love the hunt. I’ll have to think carefully.

This really got my mental wheels spinning though. I’m at the point in my life where I am either going to make my mark or fade into obscurity like everyone else in my family. I’m the single nut off our family tree that actually has a chance to do something noteworthy. As much as I love and respect my grandfather, he was a small time hustler. He admitted as much, and he regretted it.

On his death bed he told me a story about how he and a couple of friends of his could have had dibs on early McDonald’s franchises in the Milwaukee area. It would have been risky, and would have involved selling off some rental properties they all owned together. Gramps turned it down, but his buddies didn’t and they ended up doing extremely well. Gramps wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Gramps told me that was his biggest regret in retrospect, but at the time he said it was a matter of stability. He knew for a fact that people needed a place to live, but fast food wasn’t what it is today and he said he just didn’t see the potential of the big picture. He said he’d worked hard for that money, and just wasn’t willing to put it all on the line. It was everything he had in the world.

I can’t say I blame him, and it’s easy to look back on what could have been. I look back at how many things I’ve screwed up in my own life and I have no fingers to point at anyone else. I made more than my share of stupid decisions, but at the time with the information I had, they appeared to be correct. It’s a whole different perspective from the heat of battle than it is from hindsight.

Right now I’m in the heat of my biggest battle. I’ve given everything I’ve got inside me to both comedy and radio, and my results have been extremely disappointing. In hindsight, I should have chosen one or the other, but I didn’t. I kept getting radio opportunities, and then I’d get fired and go back to comedy. Just as that got going, another radio offer came along and it started all over.

It’s too late to go back now, but here I sit with lots of comedy and radio experience – just when both of those industries are sliding down the dumper at a lightning pace. Radio jobs are harder to find than Amish video games, and it’s a struggle to keep myself booked every week in comedy.

It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago, and I’m twenty years older. Nobody thinks of that being a factor, but it always is. Everyone ages, and our needs evolve as it happens. I don’t have the same needs or wants I did twenty years ago. Being a major star was never on my agenda mainly because I was too busy trying to survive month to month. I thought it would all work out.

How wrong and naïve that was. Nothing just ‘works out’ in life. We have to plan in detail, and then follow up and work that plan. IF and only if we do that, then we can hope for luck to put us in the elite class we may dream of being in. I didn’t do the right things it took to get myself there. I did what I had to do to survive, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now – but not anything more.

Am I a small time hustler like my grandfather and father? Unfortunately, I’d have to say yes to that very difficult and humbling question. I aspired to much more, but never achieved it. Now, do I continue to pursue the long shot that gets longer by the day, or change plans and begin to wheel and deal collectibles because I enjoy it and could probably do ok. I really don’t have the answer.