Television programs like “Pawn Stars,” “Storage Wars,” “American Pickers,” and “Antiques Roadshow,” are red hot at the moment…but there is nothing new about any of it. Wheeling, dealing and treasure hunting have been going on since caveman days, and always will. It’s in our DNA.
That glimmering hope in the back of our brain of nabbing the original copy of The Declaration of Independence at a yard sale for a quarter is the same inner urge that drives people to feed coin after coin into a slot machine at a casino hoping to score that elusive multimillion dollar jackpot.
Money for nothing! Chicks for free! Somebody has to win the lottery every week, don’t they? Why not us? I can’t think of a more insidious lie…with the possible exception of, ‘the stripper really likes me. She was just coddling all my buddies to get their money…but she liked me.’ Uh huh.
A watered down but still enticing version of the jackpot idea is stumbling upon a rare bauble or trinket for a ridiculously low price, and being smart enough to pick it up and immediately turn it around for a whopping profit. Urban legends abound with all kinds of stories like this to keep us going.
There’s the elderly widow who lost her son in Vietnam that finally decides to put his old car up for sale after years of it sitting in the garage. It always happens to be a super rare classic Corvette in mint condition with all the rare options, but she knows nothing about cars and prices it at $500.
Someone’s distant third generation step uncle or adopted brother-in-law always gets it for even less than that, even though we never actually see the car. The story had to start somewhere, and it may or may not have been true. I’m sure it was true to a certain degree. That stuff does happen.
My brother tells a story – and he has no reason to lie – about a guy he works with that needed a suit for his daughter’s wedding. He wasn’t a suit kind of guy, and on top of that was a notorious skinflint. He wasn’t about to spend several hundred buck-o’s on stylish threads, so off to the thrift store he went. He ended up finding a suit that fit along with a dress shirt, tie and shoes for $17.
As the story goes, his daughter’s wedding was a hit, and after it was over the guy was lying in bed and asked his wife to fetch his wallet that he had left in the inner inside pocket of the jacket of the suit. The wife brought it to him, and he told her it wasn’t his wallet. They were perplexed.
The guy got out of bed and went to check the suit pocket and sure enough there was his wallet where he had left it. His wife had checked another pocket and found the other wallet. They were stunned to find $8000 in old style $100 bills in the wallet, and there wasn’t any identification.
The couple took the suit back to the thrift store, and were told it was an anonymous donation and they couldn’t find who brought it in if they wanted to. The guy and his wife got to keep the money, and according to my brother he hasn’t spent a dime of it to date. But it really happened.
I have been going to thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales from coast to coast my entire adult life. There are deals out there, depending on what one is looking to do. I have done pretty well over the years, but haven’t taken it seriously. Up until now, it’s been mostly a way to kill time.
Now I’m going to take it a bit further. With some calculated planning and a little hustle, I think there is a lot of opportunity in this tight economy. There are people willing to sell collections that weren’t willing to sell before. Most want a quick and easy payout and are not willing to invest the time and effort it takes to bring back the top payout. I’ve decided I’m willing to do exactly that.
The trick is going to be finding a way to put some showbiz into it. The last thing I’m looking to do is become a slave to Ebay, even though I know that’s probably part of my future. I don’t mind having somebody else list my stuff for a fair fee, but I have to pick it all up at rock bottom prices.
Fortunately, there is plenty of stuff out there. The other day I went to a tiny little out of the way country thrift store and found an enormous bag of toy cars for $5. It was loaded to the brim with brand name Matchbox and Hot Wheels, almost all in like new condition. I counted them as soon as I got home and there were 77! That comes out to about .06 a car. It cost more to make them.
Even if I sold them at a quarter each that’s a healthy profit. But I won’t. I looked on Ebay, and a lot of them were listed from anywhere between $1 and $20. I can afford to hang on to them for as long as I need to to squeeze out the most profit possible. I have suddenly become a car dealer, but my “lot” can be a kitchen table and I don’t have to worry about oil changes or hail damage.
A couple of days later I was at another thrift store and ran across two baseballs autographed by former Chicago Cubs players. One was Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, and the balls had a price tag of $1.21 each. Lucky for me, the people who worked there were born and raised in India and did not know anything about baseball. To them it was just two items to put in the children’s section.
Am I going to get rich on a bag of toy cars and two baseballs? Of course not. But if I keep it up I’ll keep finding stuff that I can resell for two, five, ten or even a hundred times more than I paid. The thrill of the hunt is tremendous, and it breathes new life into each and every day I am alive.
And the best part is if my competition is the majority of the public, I will absolutely win. Most people tend to be ignorant or lazy. Far too many are both. If I take the time to educate myself in several areas and be willing to hustle even a little, I will come out ahead of most everyone else.
I see myself as a cross between Fred Sanford and Rick Harrison from “Pawn Stars.” I will test the waters to see what I can find for the lowest amount of money and spin it for a profit. My initial investment is going to be $100. So far I gambled $5 on toy cars and $2.50 on baseballs. Plus tax. I have to believe I can double my money with these items alone, even if it takes a while to do it.
So that’s my plan. I am officially in business as a modern day treasure hunter. I am looking for anything and everything including antiques, collectibles, knickknacks, tchotchkes, thingamajigs, baubles, trinkets, do-dads, bric-a-brac, keepsakes, mementos and unique souvenirs. I officially claim the title “American Antique Pawn Storage Picker” – Mr. Haney of the 21st Century. I may or may not get rich, but I sure will have fun trying. The world is my rummage sale. Here I come!
Dobie Maxwell is a stand up comedian and writer. Find where he’s playing his next hell-gig at dobiemaxwell.com