Category Archives: estate sales

Green glasses.

I write about the uncommon aspects of common things. I write about gratitude and beauty. I write about awareness of the imperceptible in the cacophony of daily life. I write about how we change, and shift in our perceptions based upon experience – and by experience I mean wisdom earned.

Hannah sea glass

My girlfriend Hannah’s sea glass from Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

It is the creation, by hand, of something long lasting that inspires me most, and even the remnants of those long ago hand-crafted items which wash ashore as bits of sea glass, or are found in archeological digs (which sounds so much more impressive than rubbish tips or garbage dumps of our distant ancestors).  The shift I want to write about today is more than 30 years in the making (for myself).  Humankind has drunk from glass vessels for some 3500 years, the first known examples coming from ancient Mesopotamia – now Syria; let the sadness of the destruction of their civil war and ISIS and so forth spill forth just as wine spilt from a broken stem of your grandmothers.

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Waterford Tyrone

In my twenties, I aspired to own a suite of full lead, hand-cut crystal in a pattern called Tyrone from Waterford. My mother made it plain that no one in our family would purchase it for my wedding (though later she had to have their Lismore pattern), but my mother-in-law, Marcia, was of a different mindset. At the time, in the early 1980s, the stems were $31 – $33 and not only did my ex-husband and I receive some for wedding gifts but for Christmas and birthdays thereafter Marcia made sure this was my gift. Ultimately the cupboard held 6 each of Champagne flutes, red wines, and water goblets. I loved everything about them – including that they were special order only and had to wait at least six months for each to arrive. They are still gorgeous, and perfect, and have held some very memorable beverages and experiences.

On an entirely different end of the drinking vessel spectrum, I also love (Great) Depression Era 20150311_105805petroleum glass – the green. At a time when the world economy was reeling from the stock market crash, drought, and massive unemployment, and the global social malaise that would propel all of us into World War II, movie theatres (and others) in the United States of my parents youth gave out premiums in the form of this glassware – pitchers, cake plates, dishes, cups, vases and drinking glasses. I can’t recall when I first became aware of the glasses, though both grandmothers had cake plates with the sunflower (or daisy) embossed on them. But, about the same time as the Waterford was trickling into my consciousness and then my life so too, optic swirled green glasses. At less than a $1 a piece at estate sales and antique shops and with a history of 50+ years of service behind them I was enchanted – and they came home to be used, not just admired.  Yesterday morning I opened a box recently arrived from eBay with 11 of the largest of these I have ever acquired, and delighted would be an 20150311_110111understatement as with the shipping each hand-blown beauty cost less than $2.75. I washed them. I took a picture. I put them next to the other odd green glasses in the kitchen cupboard and truth be told I was RIDICULOUSLY happy. I discovered that the short ones hold the same volume as the Waterford Tyrone water goblets, at which point I did an online search and discovered that these now sell for $200 a piece which prompted my listing them on eBay. A Martini will taste just as lovely in the short versions of my new, very old, glasses as they did in my Waterford goblets. Wisdom doesn’t preclude an appreciation for the rare and exquisitely crafted, but it certainly embraces when it is time to let go and buy some good gin with the proceeds. 😉

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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No expectations. Realising two, for less than one

The life philosophy that is so perfectly captured in an ancient Scots expression of “what’s meant for you will not pass you by” is how I have always chosen to live. Everything either is, or, it is not. NothingThere might be a desire but there is not expectation – expectations carry the potential for disappointment. No one likes disappointment. No, I would rather live in a place of delight when something wonderful happens than be disappointed by people, events or life itself. In such a mindset the glass always is at least 1/2 full, if it isn’t overflowing! Within this is also the deeply rooted principle that there is nothing that I have to have. Absolutely, NOTHING.

As a six year old child my beloved, adopted, Aunt Dorothy had a price tag on every single thing in her home (and in the log cabin behind it) – she had an antiques business. I recall being allowed to pick up luminescent carved jade Buddhas only to discover a (shocking amount) tag on the base. Such embeds in a child’s mindset that all possessions are transient and that we are only their temporary guardians – this carries you through life with a certain ease of not holding the bouquet of life too tightly about anything.  Of not trying to control or worrying, of rarely angering and not certainly screaming when I do, of living in each precious moment, of being able to let go of things (and sometimes people, and definitely jobs) rather than have resentment consume me. Doing this ensures that nothing becomes a burden, or impedes my personal journey toward enlightenment. In life there are many things that will ‘no longer serve’ and in releasing, while painful, is (eventually) liberating. That is not meant to read as being heartless but I truly (also) believe in the profound words of Ecclesiastes 3:1 as found in the 1967 song by The Byrds – to everything there is a season.

I love estate sales. I am sure the idea of poking through the possessions of the dead will creep some out, but for me (and quite of few like me) it is a source of unlimited potential of discovered (often inexpensive) material happiness. Last week my girlfriend Kanikaa and I went to two estate sales. Having over the course of the last year sold off ALL of my various chairs I wanted but one thing at the first one – the armchair frame in the French Louis XVI style (to cover – at least the front of it – in this totally DSCN9828wild 1940s vintage Chinese silk brocade that was once a long, full skirt).  Assuming I was lucky enough to get it, I had set a budget of $65 for it.  The chair frame was anomaly – the rest of the house was decidedly Mid-Century Modern. Even arriving by 7:30 AM for a sale that started at 9, Kanikaa and I wound up with temporary numbers 14 and 15. I believe in ‘putting it out there’ if there is something I would like to manifest. Thankfully I will talk to anyone. At 8:30 I approached the vehicle with the two women who had given out the temporary numbers with Kanikaa. It turns out that Arielle and Amanda have a shop, they had arrived at 5 AM to be the first two in the door, and they were only interested in Mid-Century Modern. Also thankfully they were more than happy to put a sold tag on the chair frame ‘for me’. You can imagine my delight, Chairswhen we were let in in the second group, to discover that it wasn’t simply one chair, but a matching pair! And, AND, each chair was priced at a mere TWENTY-DOLLARS! So, while I might have been delighted with one, to get a pair for less than what I had budgeted for one? WooHoo! would be putting it mildly. But here’s where it gets even better – ultimately the frames became FREE. How Etegereyou say? Within hours of arriving home I discovered that an étagère that I had listed on eBay would definitely sell – recovering of what I had spent on it in the first place after five years of enjoyment and a modest profit which completely covered the $43.20 expended on the chairs. 😀 These are not fine French antiques, rather they are vintage hardwood frames from a now defunct furniture company in Grand Rapids, Michigan – the original paper labels are on them – I don’t believe they have ever actually been upholstered.

My girlfriend Doris, who also spent many years with a bona fide antiques business, offered her congratulations and expressed “Sometimes I wonder about you and how everything always works out.” (For other examples of these minor victories over material things please see the posts Pursuit and An utterly incongruent story of six lamps.)

Kanikaa asked as we returned home – me flying higher than a kite with happiness – how I would have gotten to the sale if she hadn’t driven, and I said I wouldn’t. But, she said, but you wanted the chair. Yes, I replied, but there is absolutely nothing I have to have, and there will always be another chair. Still, I am thrilled with the gift of the universe saying yes – once again – and everything working out for me – without expectations. The bonus is the ridiculously happy memory shared with my girlfriend.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book ‘all that I need, or live life like a dog with its head stuck out the car window’ below, thank you! 

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There will be light! An utterly incongruent story of six lamps.

As my dear friend Ken Herron said when I told him the story, “You can’t make this stuff up!” and while the following may provide evidence to the contrary I am not (as he said) a “crazy lamp lady”.

I will admit, I live on the edge of outright financial disaster, but surrounded by beauty (which makes up for a lot) and always in a state of gratitude. I have very little in terms of expectation, and I am ridiculously happy for my version of normal which for anyone else would likely bring about bleeding ulcers, nocturnal teeth grinding and require serious pharmaceuticals to abate sitting in the corner of the room rocking back and forth and drooling on myself.  I trace this ‘cause and effect’ back to the willful folly of a 17 or 18 year old me desiring something denied by my father who said no more times than not to me while rarely denying my brother a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, and my intuitive sense of navigation to find a way around an ‘in trust for’ passbook bank account and to the desired financial assets. (Whereupon my father announced that he was “washing his hands of me” – c’est la vie.)  I recall years later my mother saying something sarcastic about the fact that I always buy myself what I want by way of explanation for not receiving anything for my birthday, yet again. Sigh. I learned self sufficiency (for need and want) in an environment of disproportion; I am unapologetic.

intentionThat expressed, nice things happen to me. Frequently. Specialness that you could only put at the threshold of a universe that demands equilibrium.  A universe where intention manifests, despite the totally illogical, circuitous path traveled and where I find myself with (undeserved?) abundance. This is a true story about such. About how I “shouldn’t have, but did” and how in the end it worked out better than any rational human being assigning risk management theories could predict or that common sense would dictate. This story is about the universe saying yes when it should have denied me, and didn’t. This is the utterly incongruous story of six lamps and the unexpected, but very happy ending on my path to reinvention and relocation.

In 1992 I bought a pair of antique Famille Verte Chinese covered urns with mud decorations and battle scenes with carved rosewood stands for $99 (inclusive) in a junk cum antique DSCN9916shop in Buffalo, NY’s Allentown district.  I then took them to renowned antique dealer Dana Tillou (I have also been a customer of his nephew Jeffrey) to ‘see what I had scored’ only to have Dana gently suggest that given their value (at the time about $1100) I not drill them and turn them into lamps; which of course is precisely why I bought them and what I did. Elmwood Lighting (now out of business) did the honors and with the custom ecru silk lampshades the bill came to $161 and change (I had the receipt until fairly recently) all in $260.

Fast forward to 2013.

When I decided to uproot my life (to at the time destination unknown) last year I decided that I would start selling off my possessions to make the move easier, and with a new life would come a complete redo of my living-room decoration.  So I listed them on eBay, they had a buyer, who turned out to be one of those eBayers that give the company a bad reputation with sellers, for the $260 I had ‘invested’ after enjoying them for 20 years.  Alas, she opened a case and claimed “not as represented” (and then as broken) and eBay in their wisdom offered her a complete refund because I had insurance on the two boxes even while she had not returned the lamps.  I filed a claim with USPS, asked her to make them available to an inspector, to return them and hoped for at least the $200. Months dragged on, but eventually USPS issued a check for the $200 and a couple weeks later the lamps came back – not a total loss but time and money would have to be spent to find a replacement carved rosewood base and have the repairs done.  Eventually these would happily sell a second time for the same $260; net gain was about $170. Another lamp uneventfully sold for $260 putting my cash flow in the $430 range.

Obviously if you are selling lamps there is still the need for lighting to see after dark.  And my longest, dearest held girlfriend Doris (an age peer of my parents) once had a pair of reticulated Blanc de Chine ginger jars that had been wired and sat on her mantle that I loved.  The man that ran her downsizing household sale was having an estate sale in my DSCN0001neighborhood and I managed to score a reticulated Blanc de Chine vase, the base already drilled, from him for $18 (picture at right). I found an antique hand carved Chinese wooden display stand that fit on eBay (actually, eventually, two) for $60 and had my lovely local lamp repair guy Brian handle the wiring for me – $79 (brass fittings and labor, tax).  I shipped the new lamp to NYC for a custom silk lampshade as no local business to my current home does such work at a cost of about $50. If you are doing the math along with me here that meant that I was still ‘up’ $233 after using my other lamps for roughly 20 years, not a bad ROI.

After massive grief and delays (three months) in having the custom turquoise blue silk pagoda lampshade made the lamp arrived back in one box and the lampshade in another – fully insured thank God – bill $640 (I know, I know, I am insane but I beg you not to look at me that way) for the lampshade and the shipping back. Technically speaking the whole gorgeous lamp with the shade came at an end cost $417.) BUT, the lamp base arrived back to me shattered! (argh), receipts forwarded to FedEx, more grief, partial refund requested, more dialogue, more emails, more receipts, waiver on claim, still broken lamp and an expensive lampshade and no lamp and then finally, nearly miraculously, a check arrives from FedEx – not a partial refund but a check that covered the shipping, the lampshade that wasn’t damaged, and the lamp – for $825 and some change!  Now the net cost of the new gorgeous lamp is actually nothing, and I have “made” $408 in the process.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.  I was looking for a lamp finial for the Blanc de Chine vase lamp – so off to eBay and that’s where I found the dragon porcelain lamp (see the Pinterest story by clicking here, start at the bottom to see what it looked like on eBay) and finiala lamp finial ultimately paying $215 (including the shipping). Alas, it had a serious ugly lamp cap and an eBay source sold me a solid brass one that is PERFECT for $3. The accounting? Still ahead by $190!  The finial turned out to be really big (for either lamp) at 3” in diameter and a bunch of research turns out that it is actually an antique carved Mutton Fat (white) jade plaque from China (quite valuable) turned into a finial likely late 1800s so I listed it on eBay (more on this in a bit).

My lamp guy charged me $30 to rewire (what turned out to be gilt ormolu mounted) the porcelain lamp, and I am still ahead by $160. My 2nd new lamp now needs a lampshade.  DSCN9991There is no way I can justify another custom silk shade so I try the blue one on this lamp and decide it looks perfect but the Blanc de Chine, now devoid of its custom pagoda shade, needs one. Back online to do research for something “in stock” and I settle upon a black silk shade with gilt lining DSCN9999but I am not spending $89 plus shipping. So back to eBay where, to my utter amazement, I find the perfect size, brand new, unused, oval, black silk with gilt paper lining shade originally sold in a town that I lived in out on Long Island’s North Shore – and I auction snipe it (bidding at the 30 second mark before the auction ended) and score it for $19 (including the shipping)! It looks amazing and despite all the energy expended my two new lamps have a total cost of nothing and I have made $141!!!

That is not the end of this story. Remember the carved jade plaque as a lamp finial? I sold it on eBay for $800. (Not factoring in eBay and PayPal fees) the universe has netted me two breathtaking lamps and I wound up making $940 – which, if I am truthful, should have been used to pay my rent in the first place instead of messing around buying lamps and that is where the money eventually went.

Both lamps have “cousins” on the 1stDibs website – the Blanc de Chine at $2250 and the gilt mounted porcelain 19th century French oil lamp that had been converted at $3000. A 60 watt bare bulb would ‘do’ for reading and no one actually needs a pair of lamps worth $5200 but I do love how the universe conspires to let me live with beauty – which is exactly what I ‘need’.

I still have this antique Paris porcelain one to sell with its custom silk shade – if you are interested. 😉

P.S. September 2014 – the Paris Porcelain one sold – $325 – bringing my grand total net gain $1265.

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Pursuit

I have butterflies.

Much with the same fervor that people stand outside in all kinds of weather to get first dibs on tickets to rock concerts I rose very early this morning to simply have a chance to purchase a chair at an estate sale.

The sale opens at 10 AM, permanent numbers replace our temporary ones at 9.  As I write this I have been sitting on my yoga mat on the front steps of this house since 7 AM – a pad of pink Post-it notes (provided by a neighbor) and a magic marker beside me.  An Asian man just walked up the sidewalk to hand me #4 – as I was about to give him #2 – even as I had #1 in my own hand. This terrifies me. The fact that this man (previously unknown from any other estate sale I have attended locally in the last five years) has just appeared somehow validates my research as there is no other Oriental (anything) being offered in the sale; he has been here since 5 AM.

ImageLet me just say that initially this was not about scoring a precious antique.  At first sighting for the sale online my thought was ‘PERFECTLY scaled for Cliff’ – my soon to be divorced neighbor and his three daughters for whom I have been decorating over the last year – with a cushion to be made of yellow silk fabric scored at another estate sale over the summer.  I have spent four days doing research on this chair simply wanting to establish that the $250 asking price was reasonable (in case Cliff didn’t agree with my oeuvre and I had to sell it on eBay to recover my outlay).

Starting with Google Images and the search words “antique Chinese chairs” I drilled down through the plethora of results.  But with this research I started discovering anomalies, eventually narrowing the pool of chairs down to just two similar pieces to the one that sits just out of my reach on the other side of that massive entry door. (At least stylistically) the chair is consistent to an 18th century, humpback low rail, southern Chinese Official’s Chair in yellow pear wood – known amongst the cognoscenti as HUANGHUALI.  Chairs sold at Bonham’s and Christie’s Hong Kong auction houses for just over $15,000 and $251,000 respectively (the images below link back to their websites)!!  I don’t ‘know’ what the chair ‘waiting for me’ actually is – yet.

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7:20AM a second Asian man – most likely also Chinese – has just arrived. OHGAWD.  I have a cheerleading squad of course, and I am hopeful that my intention and their collective karmic energy help me prevail but, still…

Once I narrowed the design aesthetic down I sent emails off to Christie’s, Bonham’s, Sotheby’s, Doyle, Leigh Keno (of PBS Antiques Road Show fame), and two others with the original hyperlinks to the auction pieces asking how I might consign a similar piece with them. Nearly all have responded (some within twenty minutes of my email) asking for exhaustive images.  So, at least as you read this, you start to understand why my stomach feels like I am going to throw up!

8:09 AM, an Asian woman has just shown up and joined the conversation with the two men. More butterflies.

I decide to go for a walk around the back of the house as there is supposed to be a charming garden.  I take solace that with this mid-September date the seed heads for the extravagant lilies are in place and as a gardener pluck these to bring home and plant in the garden – taking solace that no matter what happens something good will come of all these hours waiting this morning.

I have taken a woman named Kathy into my confidence – the house is big, I know from the estate sale manager that he has fielded five other calls about the chair, I need help.  She is SO LOVELY and agrees, asks specifically what I would like her to do.  She’s brilliant, interested, keen to learn, hopeful for me – the sincerity of her being is like tiny soap bubbles carried on summer breezes.

Suddenly the sale manager and another gentleman are rearranging cars.  I take a chance and approach the unknown older gentleman, ask him if it is his house. Yes, it is. Ask him if he would mind if I asked him about the Chinese chair.  He’s lovely, tells me the story of how he acquired it – through an antique dealer in Provincetown, MA (hmm, I am pretty sure I have actually been in the shop!). Assures me that it isn’t fragile, certainly functional. Whew… so, no matter what (assuming I am lucky) it is going to be useful. 

9 AM, our temporary numbers are swapped for permanent ones. The person who had #2 is nowhere to be seen. If you have never attended an estate sale, the etiquette is you stay on the premises until permanent numbers are given out, if you don’t the “mass” polices the offender and ensures you do not get ‘your’ number. As a result I have just moved from #4 to #3, and Kathy is now #6. I know that the man who holds #2 (now) is interested in Mid-Century modern furniture and signed artworks from the same period – this leaves me and #1 with the chair.

9:23 AM another Asian man has just arrived. Less polite than the others, he seems even aggressive with them in his dialogue. His number will be 30 and he’s not happy about it. He’s climbed up on the porch ‘railing’ to peer into the living room window. He’s speaking rapid fire Chinese. He jumps down, storms off to his mini-van and drives away.  OH. Dear.

9:50 AM, the door opens, the estate sale manager comes out to address the crowd (interesting contrast in style to all the other sale managers over the years) on where things are, how many will be allowed in, terms of sale and then, he allows the first 15 of us in. In my excitement, and plan with Kathy it is she who actually sits down in the chair to claim it for me!!! The universe smiles, my eyes fill up with tears of gratitude.

I change places with her – it’s a comfortable piece of furniture. The wood feels ‘right’ (like old silk) under my hands but I turn it over, put on my glasses, and examine the construction, the finish, the oxidization and the wear. Some of it is ‘spot on’ – like the wear on the bottom of the feet and the front rail, it’s not soft wood (can’t mark it with my fingernail in a discrete place), the mortise and tenon joints are also ‘right’ and the S shaped back splat is exquisitely carved with what I think are entwined lotus blossoms. The finish doesn’t have the kind of wear on the arms that I expected and the hard caned seat shown in the Bonham’s and Christie’s chairs is missing on “mine” (which I obviously already knew).  What is totally unexpected are tiny old metal brackets surrounding the joints – almost as if holding the chair together.  They aren’t ‘normal’ and are like a silent alarm in my head when I see them.  The first two Asian men find me on the floor, nod, kneel beside me and the chair, they pull out very small flashlights, ask if I am buying it, how much it is, nod again, then start examining it. They don’t think the oxidization is ‘enough’; they shake their heads ‘no’ in unison. DSCN9868“Nice chair, not old.” My intuition has been tottering during my inspection – but the truth is I don’t really know intellectually what level of antique my hands are running over, I am not an expert. I buy it anyway – $271 with tax – seems that after all this effort even if it’s just a ‘nice chair’ this great story is worth every penny. As I leave two people congratulate me on scoring the ‘nice chair’ (I smile).

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