Friday, March 30, 2012

Good Luck at Goodwill

I love shopping at Goodwill, but sometimes their pricing scheme puzzles me. 

A few weeks ago, Doug and I made a trip to a Goodwill store about 20 miles from our house.  We were actually on our way to an "estate" sale, but we changed our minds about that after a quick drive-by of the advertised site. It was a dilapidated house, with a tattered American flag hanging from the sagging screen porch and broken plastic toys in the yard, in a not-so-great 40-year-old neighborhood.  We never made it inside, but we could picture dirty dishes in the sink and cigarette burns on the furniture.

OK, so it was on to GW.  Doug got all excited when he found a brand-new turkey fryer still in the box. He already has one, but he does so much cooking that he figured an extra gas burner wouldn't be a bad thing to have--at a Goodwill price.  He looked at the tag...and then looked again. $70.

Are you kidding me?  You can buy them at Amazon for that price.

On another trip to GW, I spotted a vintage Redmon picnic basket.  They were asking $20 for it, and it was broken and stained.

I paid $10 for this one at an estate sale, and it's in great condition:

But then there are the times when you can get real bargains like this Glasbake loaf pan, which I got for $2:

Or this Glasbake casserole for $1:

And a woman in front of me got a yellow Pyrex bowl like this one for $2:

That was the same day Doug and I found this beautiful wood cutting board with an over-the-counter lip for $4:

Boards like this sell for $75 to $150 online, and all ours needed was a good scrubbing and a coat of mineral oil to bring it back to life.

Anyway, back to the turkey fryer day. Needless to say, we passed up the fryer and were in line with just a couple of books when a customer in front of us seemed to have the same issue as we did with GW pricing.

The woman was about 75 years old, hair in two little braided pigtails with pink bows, and she was dressed in a ruffled tank top, capri pants, and pink sneakers. Her lined face suggested that she had been a two-pack-a-day smoker for decades.

She put a purse up on the counter and told the cashier it was 50 cents. I was ready for things to get interesting--the Goodwills in Delaware stopped selling anything for less than $1 several years ago.

The cashier called a manager over for a price check.

"It's $4," he said.

The woman was appalled and looked to all of the customers behind her for support.

"They want for $4 for this?" she said. "I can get it at Walmart for $4."

Maybe she can check out the turkey fryers while she's there.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Picture This

Doug has 47 cameras.  And that doesn't count the ones he actually takes pictures with.

This 8x10 view camera from the1870s is his favorite. He repurposed a surveyor's tripod to display it in our living room:

And we have lots of smaller ones on assorted shelves on one side of the living room:

And more on the other side:

And even more in odd corners of the house.

I keep telling him that he can't buy any more because we're out of space to display them, but he can't help himself. He just figures there's always room for one more.

A couple of weeks ago, when he was reorganizing the garage, I noticed an old door stuck back in a dark corner next to our extra fridge.

I had an idea, which of course meant a project.

Some of his cameras have neck straps, and I thought they would look great hanging on the old door.

I dragged the door out and vacuumed off all the chipped paint and dust.  Then I went online to look for some hooks. I found the perfect ones at, of course, Renovators Supply (how can a free door turn into a $100 project so quickly?).

The hardware came yesterday, so today we measured everything out and installed the hooks. And it wouldn't be a project without a last-minute trip to Home Depot--we realized at the last minute that we were out of large-link chain to hang the door.

Even worse, this was not a straightforward installation job--the only wall space big enough to hang it was over an open stairway. When we renovated our attic a couple of years ago, Doug built himself a little platform to go across the opening for when he needs to work up there, but I get new grey hairs every time he stands on that little 2-foot scaffolding.

As always, though, I think it was worth all the effort:

But Doug, we really are just about out of space for more cameras.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Speed Pick

One day last week, Doug and I had a joint writing and photography assignment downstate, so we took the opportunity to stop at a few Goodwill stores that we don't get to very often.  We found a few things (in addition to the box of thread I wrote about a couple of posts ago), including a blue glass Pyrex bowl ($2) to go with a green one that we already had:

A "peel" ($5) for when we make pizzas on the grill:

And a nice all-cotton flannel sheet ($3) that I can use in one of my recycled T-shirt or jeans quilts:

When we had just 45 minutes left before our appointment, which was at a local middle school, we decided just to go and wait there--Doug needed to change his shoes, check his camera equipment, etc.

As we drove into town, we saw an antiques and collectibles place that we didn't know about. Do we have time to stop?


A quick U-turn, into the parking lot, and we were both out of the car within seconds.

The place was amazing, but we had just about 20 minutes before we absolutely had to be at the checkout counter paying for whatever we wanted to buy.

We sped through the booths--definitely not our usual style, but we did what we had to do.

With about 20 picnic tins and baskets in my collection, I now have a wish list of specific ones I want.  I turned a corner and stopped short--there was one of a them, a Nesco Picnic Ryte in yellow and black plaid:

I snapped it up, while Doug was off looking at cameras and tools.  He found two cameras--an old movie camera and a little souvenir camera from the 1964 New York World's Fair.  $49 later, and we were in the car on our way to the school.

But we will definitely go back, and the next time it won't be on fast forward.

And don't worry, Doug, I will soon have an entry (or two) on your camera collection.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Treasures Within a Treasure

You never know what you're going to find inside the items that you buy at places like Goodwill, thrift stores, and junk shops. I've found dollar bills in coat pockets along with much less desirable things like balled-up power towels, dusty Q-tips, wrinkled Post-it notes, and broken hairclips in bags and furniture drawers.

When I first saw this picnic basket (now housing yarn in my sewing room) in an antiques barn, I was surprised at how heavy it was when I picked it up.

I opened the lid and found that it was stuffed with an assortment of serving items, including some that were just junk--milkshake spoons from Dairy Queen, ugly plastic plates in shades of pink and beige that reminded me of Band-aids, and little plastic skewers for eating corn on the cob.

But mixed in with these destined-for-Goodwill things were two keepers--a set of vintage plastic picnic plates made by Lusterware:

And a set of eight plastic forks, two each of the same colors as the plates, still in the original cardboard package with a cellophane window:

Made by Imperial Plastics in Newark, N.J., the forks originally sold for 10 cents.

The box told me that the forks were not only handy but also washable.  That got me wondering about their history. Was the box brand-new, just sitting on someone's pantry shelf--or in someone's picnic basket--waiting to be used?  Or were the forks used, over and over, and then carefully washed and dried by a 1950s housewife before being returned to their cute little box?

I was also fascinated by the idea that you could actually buy just 8 forks, 2 in each color.  Today, plastic cutlery seems to come mostly in gigantic plastic bags, sold at places like BJs and Sam's Club. And if you want assorted colors, you have to order the items online in individual colors and make your own assortment.

As for the original 10-cent price tag, I tracked down a similar package made by another company on an antiques website for $3. Having them in the original package carries a lot of weight.

I also found some similar plates at a shop last week, selling for $2 each.

That makes my $10 purchase of the picnic basket a really good deal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

And Sew It Goes

Exploring antiques stores and junk shops always incites regret.

People wander around saying things like, "My mom had one of those--I wonder what happened to it?" and "I used to have a whole bunch of those--I wish I'd kept them."

I recently noticed batches of old thread spools in a junk shop and realized that I had thrown many similar ones away over the years.  All of the thread I use now is wound on plastic spools, but I love vintage sewing stuff. I sew on a 1970s Kenmore portable machine that Doug found for me at Goodwill for $8 several years ago. The machine sits on a 1950s linoleum-topped table that I got for free after student move-out last June.

Yesterday in a Goodwill store, I noticed a hideous, filthy, green plastic storage box filled with thread--30 or 40 spools, about half of which were wooden.

The box was marked $5. Sold.

When I got home, I sorted the wooden spools from the plastic ones, snipped off the dangling threads, and put the vintage spools in an old Mason jar. 

Then I decided to do a little research.  I learned that Coats & Clark, the maker of most of the older spools of thread, is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2012. I don't know when they stopped marketing their thread on wooden spools and switched to plastic, but one of my finds was marked 15 cents. Since I now pay about $5 for a spool of good thread, I'm guessing that a 15-cent price tag places these spools back at least a few decades.

Further research took me to a website where someone is selling random spools of vintage thread at $9.97 for 10.

That makes my purchase of that junky green box even better.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Candle in the Window

I guess there are worse things to be addicted to than old stained glass windows--they're not harmful to your health like drugs and cigarettes, and they don't make you fat like too many TastyKakes.

But they don't just slide into the decor like another vintage camera or ice cream scoop.  They are a direct line to a new project.

Doug and I already had four stained glass windows in our house before this Saturday's trip to Strasburg, Penn. We were NOT in the market for another one. A new picnic tin? Sure.

A cute little syrup container with a green top? Why not?

But somehow, another window, caked with dust and leaning against a stone wall in one of our favorite antique barns, called to us as we shopped on Saturday. We both fell in love with the design--a simple candle in the middle of a multi-paned assembly:

We really didn't know where we would put it, and we spent the next 10 minutes trying to talk each other into and out of buying it. It was priced at $175, but when our offer of $130 was accepted, we walked out with a new treasure.

And a new project.

Doug suggested that we could move the wooden blinds on the double window over the couch in our living room and hang it there. That seemed like a good idea, so he crafted some metal brackets while I got out my always-ready can of white paint.

We took down the blinds, hung the window, and stood back.

It really wasn't working. There was too much open glass exposed without the blinds, but we knew the blinds wouldn't work with the stained glass.

When I suggested we try some valances to break up the open space, Doug went off to Home Depot for some rods while I headed for the sewing room.

Round 2. It still wasn't working.  The valances didn't really do the job, and now Doug pointed out that because the stained glass window was hung spanning a double regular window, the design was kind of lost because of the wood frame behind it.


Round 3.  Let's attach it to the front door, which has a large glass opening halfway up.

Doug went back to Home Depot to return the rods and buy some different brackets while I rehung the wooden blinds and put the couch back.  By now, the cat was giving us dirty looks--it's tough to nap when people are drilling, banging, and moving the couch you're sleeping on.

When Doug got back, we attached the window to the front door and were really happy with the effect inside. But outside, the glossy white frame screamed out at us. It looked like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the door.

Round 4.  We removed the window again and took it downstairs to paint the back to match the front door and outside trim of the house.

Two hours later, when the paint was dry, we hung the window again. Then we noticed that a bit of white paint from the brackets had migrated to the back of the window. Doug loosened the screws while I went downstairs and got a little cup of the khaki outdoor trim paint and a cheap little brush to touch it up.

By then it was 8:00 p.m. on a day when we had already lost an hour due to Daylight Savings Time. We were so exhausted, we watched one mindless TV show and went to bed.
Window: $130 plus tax
Brackets: $11.94
Trips to Home Depot: 2
Number of times we hung window: 4
Sun shining through window in morning: Priceless

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If Doug Had a Hammer

Several years ago, I picked up an old "secretary" at Goodwill. It was solid maple but kind of beat up--the drawers were water-stained inside, the hardware was a mishmash, the drop-down section didn't stay in place, and the cubbies inside were broken. It sat in our basement for 4 years, its drawers filled with rags and old towels, its top spilling over with onions and potatoes.

One day about a week ago, I walked past it and all of a sudden "saw" it painted glossy white with cobalt-blue glass knobs. It would be perfect to store my fabric.

Doug suggested that we simply get rid of the cubbies if I wasn't going to use the piece as a desk. "Let's go down and take a look at it," he said.

As a side note, I just want to say that we have passed up way too many opportunities for before-and-after pictures of treasures and renovations.  Recently, we vowed that from now on, we would be more diligent about documenting our work.

So we went downstairs to "take a look" at the secretary, and the next thing I knew, Doug was wielding a hammer, and wood was flying around the basement and hardware was bouncing off the concrete floor.

Hmmm, so much for a before picture....

Anyway, here is an intermediate shot with the dividers knocked out:
And here is all the scrap:

Doug also got a little over-zealous with the hammer and knocked out the trim piece that goes in front of the top drawer.  But we salvaged the parts, and he managed to glue them back together and reinstall the strip.

I found a great website that sold repro antique hardware and ordered the knobs.

Then I set to work with a can of glossy white paint. Five coats later (I should have started by using Kilz--lesson learned), I was satisfied. The knobs were making their way across the country from Portland, Oregon, to Newark, Del., but we moved the dresser into place, and Doug used all new hardware to reinstall the drop-down piece.

Uh oh.... His repair had made the fit too tight, and the section wouldn't close.

He went to the garage for a plane to shave it off, but progress was too slow. Now I had a pile of wood shavings on the rug.

Uh oh again. Out came the belt sander. Dust flew all over the room, but he finally got everything to fit. Then we realized that the sander had rubbed against my gorgeous paint job.  So I got my paint can and brush out again and repaired that problem.

The knobs finally arrived, and I think all of the fuss was worth it.

The open cubby  is perfect for larger pieces of fabric:

And the drawers hold smaller pieces:

Overall, Doug did an awesome job of helping me give new life to an old piece of furniture.  I just have to watch out for him and hammers.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fleeing the Flea

Doug and I are always looking for new treasure-hunting sites. A web search on Friday turned up a flea market just over the state line from us in Pennsylvania, about 15 miles away. We went to bed that night with visions of picnic tins dancing in my head, antique cameras and ice cream scoops in Doug's.

The place looked promising online.  Located in a big white barn with an American flag draped across the front, it boasted 20,000 square feet of tools, collectibles, and furniture. But maybe we should have paid more attention to the part in the description about mattresses....

When we got there on Saturday morning, the building still looked promising, but the parking lot didn't.  There was only one car there, and the market had already been open for 2 hours.

Still excited about what we might find, we walked in. It was freezing--the barn had no heat. We realized we wouldn't be doing too much idle browsing. A quick tour through the aisles told me there was nothing there I wanted. I saw one Pyrex casserole in 1970s avocado like this one:
But it was marked $5. That's a Goodwill price, and Goodwill at least offers heated shopping.

Doug found a toolbox that he thought would be perfect for his staple guns, but it was marked $10, so he put it back.

But we soon realized we wouldn't be leaving empty-handed or story-less. A friendly little man in his 60s, who seemed to be the owner, told Doug the price was negotiable. Doug offered $5, and the case was his.

Then we found out that political commentary was free with the haggling. "I don't mind bargaining with you," the little guy said. "You're not one of them $2 people."


I walked away, but he proceeded to tell Doug that the $2 people are "those Mexicans who are trying to take over our country."

As we left, he reminded us that his market has the best prices around on quality mattresses.

We smiled politely and told him we didn't need any bedding right now.

Doug will probably go back sometime.  He left behind dozens of unexplored boxes and racks of old tools--screwdrivers, pliers, measuring tapes, planes, and hardware. He's pretty sure there is a treasure or two buried in their midst.

If he's lucky, he might even get another dose of mushroom-country philosophy.