That blog

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The car has been unavailable so this week I’ve been doing my trash runs by bike. It’s been a nice change of pace, biking is much more meditative and often more efficient than driving. I’ve neglected the bike too often this summer and hope to find a happy medium between both means of transportation going forward.

My Wednesday morning trash run was productive and also a lot of fun. I went with my friend Luke to Mount Royal and stopped at a house that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a little while now. I opened the recycling bin and noticed a bunch of old books and papers. Two sisters working together to clear out the house noticed me and were quite happy to see me taking some things.

Another woman was there to buy some furniture for her vintage shop in Hochelaga. While loading a piece into her van she asked me if I was the guy from “that blog.” She said she recognized me but I forgot to ask from where. She looked through the things I pulled out of the bin and bought a few vintage recipe pamphlets while playfully chiding the sisters for not offering them to her in the first place. We all ended up talking a bit and it was a great time, definitely one of the most positive and entertaining social interactions I’ve ever had out on “the hunt.”

The sisters saw me saving some books and offered me these 1920s Ontario school readers. They were in an old suitcase and wrapped with care in paper. They’re in exceptional condition, especially the covers which still look fresh after all these years. I put the lot on Ebay for 75$ (with free shipping), a very competitive price considering the others I’m seeing online.

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I found this old 1920s CCM bike ad in the pages of one of the schoolbooks. It’s not particularly valuable but definitely makes for a cool yard sale piece!

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Here are two 1950 “Ward Lock’s” travel guides for London and Glasgow. Some people like collecting these guides, I put them on Ebay for 50$ with free shipping.

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There were also guides for the 1950 Holy Year celebration in Rome. It looks like a couple went on a long European trip that year.

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This pamphlet for the Huronia region of Ontario (north of Toronto) stuck out from a small collection of travel brochures. It looks to be from the 1950s and has a very colonial feel, at one point touting how Huronia was “where white civilization began” and speaking of “stone-age Huron Indians.”

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I also saved a collection of vintage recipe booklets. These are great .50 items for yard sales.

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My best finds though came from the house where I found the Expo 67 papers a few weeks back. It had been quiet since then but came back strong this week.

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On the curb was this strange carrying case. The top is clear plastic and there’s a series of holes on each side. If anyone knows what it’s made for let us know! I strapped it onto the back of my bike and used it to carry my finds.

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In the recycling were a series of newspapers from the days of the October Crisis. They’re unfortunately incomplete, mostly front pages or specific sections, but they’re still cool and will look interesting at a yard sale.

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A 1960s-era world map was popping out of one of the bags. The map was cool in itself but wrapped up inside were these two 1950s Snoopy posters. They’re quite large (28×20″) and in amazing condition for their age. They look brand new.

I figured they’d have some value given their iconic subject matter. I did a look through Ebay completed listings and found a pair that sold at auction for 61$. I figured though that these would be best sold as a “Buy it Now” listing and found evidence – a single Snoopy posted that sold for about 120$ US – that supported this notion. I listed mine for 150$ each but with free shipping, you can see them here and here.

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Also inside a black garbage bag was this folded up British 5 Pound note. This is worth around 9$ Canadian if I can find a place to exchange it.

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My favourite find though was this old wool cap.

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It’s a WWII Royal Canadian Air Force hat. Hidden inside one of the folds was a piece of paper bearing the name of the airman who wore it. It’s in really amazing condition for its age and a great piece of history. It should make me some money as well: there was one just like it on a military collectibles website that sold for 210$.

That’s all for now! I hope to have similar good luck next week.

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A lesson in selling silver and gold

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Last night I biked out to Ville St Laurent for their heavy garbage pickup. I don’t do late-night runs very often these days but heavy rain was forecasted for the morning and I felt motivated to see what I could find.

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The giant pile above looked to be the result of an eviction. Most was pure junk but I noticed a few pieces of gold and silver jewellery at the bottom of two clear garbage bags. The top three pieces – two sterling silver earrings and a 10 karat gold ring – went into my pile of gold and silver scrap. The necklace, also 10k gold is actually very nice. It should go for around 80-100$ depending on the weight.

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This is all the scrap that I saved since I last sold my collection in January. It’s composed mostly of single earrings, broken chains and jewellery too worn or ugly to bother trying to sell otherwise. I had been planning on selling it off regardless (I need the cash!) so finding a few extra pieces last night was a bit of a bonus.

I decided around noon to get on my bike and pay a visit to the coin and antique dealer I sold to last time around. However, the rain came pouring down as soon as I left and I ended up getting soaking wet. I went home to change and think things over. I had seen a posting by a generic pawn shop on Kijiji (basically Canadian Craigslist) offering “best prices” for silver and gold. While I knew I’d get a good deal at my usual place this other option was a lot closer, just a five minute walk as compared to a fifteen minute bike ride in the pouring rain. I chose to check out the new place and see if I could get myself a deal.

I walked in and asked what they were paying for gold. I usually ask for 85% of the melt value, a percentage I think is fair for both buyer and seller. The attendant mostly dismissed the question and instead offered to take closer look and weigh things out. I agreed and he spent the next 15 minutes acid testing my metals.

Here’s the thing: when you’re selling gold and silver you really have to shop around. Some places will pay more than others and some will outright rip you off. There’s no law that prohibits offering someone a bad deal – it’s up to the seller to know what their product is worth and ensure they receive a fair price.

I knew I wasn’t going to get a good deal when the attendant placed all the gold he tested into a single pile. My usual guy tests every piece and makes different piles for 9k, 10k, 14k, and 18k. 18k is worth a lot more than 10k, 34$ per gram vs 19$ per gram respectively, so you definitely want your 18k to be recognized as such. He was just mixing them all together.

The offer came in after a few phone calls to the boss in a language I couldn’t understand: 150$ for the gold, about 17 grams worth. I knew this was a pretty bad deal – about 50% of melt value assuming everything was only 10k. He also offered 30c a gram for my silver, a little less than 50% of its 62c melt value and about 70$ in total. I told him I was going to shop around and pretended I might return later in the day. It’s not worth negotiating when the starting point is so bad.

The rain had died down. I got on my bike and headed off to meet my regular gold guy. He recognized me and gave me the 85% that I asked for.

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All in all I came away with 553$, more than twice as much as I would have made if I had sold it at the other place. It’s an awesome payday, basically next month’s rent and a little extra. It just goes the importance of shopping around and knowing the value of your product.

Last weeks sales (June 30 – July 6)
-Backgammon set: to a friend for 5$.
-Audio mixer: to a friend for 20$.
Total: 25$, 1315$ since May 18. If not for a couple of friends I would have totally struck out. I had no Ebay sales but apparently those tend to lag a bit in the summer months. Regardless, this week should be better: my scrap sale will be included and I should (knock on wood) finally be able to have a yard sale, this time with my sister in Verdun.

Another note: I did an interview with Jay and Ryanne at Scavenger Life, a really cool blog and community focused around making a living off Ebay. I haven’t listened to it yet but it was a lot of fun to do – check it out here.

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Moving Day Madness

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The first of July is a legendary moving day here in Montreal. In 1973 a law was passed that ended all leases on the first of that month to ensure tenants didn’t have to move during the winter. More than forty years later, the majority – around 70 thousand people province-wide – still move on this day. There’s always tonnes of trash out on the curb as a result.

The day is a trash picker’s paradise, for most people at least. The casual and opportunistic diver can easily find new furniture, clothing, kitchenwares and decorations for their homes. The scrap metal collectors receive an easy bumper crop of appliances and electronics. Even the can pickers have a good day – Having a cold beer during the moving process is a moving day tradition, especially when it’s as sweltering out as it was yesterday (around 40 degrees Celsius with humidity).

For me, however, it’s not really that great. There’s a lot more competition, and most things put out on the curb around moving day aren’t particularly interesting, at least from my treasure hunting perspective. Most things are well worn and don’t have much resale value. The main issue is my lack of storage space though. If I had storage space (or a store, perhaps) I could gather up lots of dishes, utensils, decorations and so on and have a nice sale with it all.

Still, moving day is a big event. A phenomenon. A good story if you’re a reporter. I was contacted on June 30 for an interview with CBC Radio One’s “Daybreak” and an interview for an article with the Canadian Press. Not long after my 7:15AM appearance on live radio (my first time by the way, I was nervous but it went alright) another CBC reporter called me and asked if I wanted to appear on a video segment for the 6 O’clock news.

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The video segment was fun to do (it starts around the five-minute mark), and they chose to include a funny clip of a toy Hannibal mask I found. I was pretty exhausted by the time the interview happened, but it went well. The Canadian Press article was a little disappointing. The reporter wrote that my blog was called “Stuff I found the trash” (blasphemy!), but I realize he was in a hurry and it still appeared in the Toronto Star and other Canadian news sources. All the media attention was an interesting experience. It gave me some insight into how journalism works, particularly the commodification of a story and the person (me, in this case) who might happen to provide it.

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I decided in advance to take the whole day very casually. I had planned to bike around mostly aimlessly and see what luck would bring me but a Saturday night one-man-and-a-pothole bike accident left me with nasty scrapes on my hands, stomach, and left knee. My wounds made it impossible to hold onto my bike handles for any length of time and made more difficult the bag-opening and sorting process. I ended up cruising around the city in my friend’s car which was quite nice given the air conditioning and the lack of traffic.

After my early-morning radio interview downtown, I looked around the Plateau a bit before deciding to check out greener (richer) pastures in Ville St Laurent, Cartierville and Laval.

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I didn’t really find much. There was a silver shoe pendant and a few pieces of gold scrap in Laval but I expect I would have found those regardless of it being moving day. The gold at least paid for my day’s coffee, snacks and gas. Two of the pieces are 18k making the melt value around 35-45$. I found plenty of knick-knacks but having mostly maxed out my storage space, I left them for others to scavenge. I really need to have a yard sale soon. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done given the circumstances.

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I was tired after a busy day but got up this morning to check out TMR, a wealthy neighbourhood mostly unaffected by the moving day phenomenon. I found a few cool things in these bags before the owner of the house came out and offered me a few extra boxes of stuff.

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The boxes were mostly full of different hardware-related items. I didn’t really have any interest in them but I usually take what people offer me – it makes the person feel good and at the very least I can put the items where other scavengers are more likely to find them. As it happens I was in St-Henri later in the day and dropped off the hardware at the ReStore, a Habitat for Humanity-operated thrift shop. It’s a good cause and an excellent place to donate your old tools, nails and so on. Montrealer’s can find it at 4399 rue Notre-Dame Ouest.

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My best find was waiting for me in the trash. I like old technology and loved finding this vintage taxi meter. It looks to have been made in France sometime in the 60s and is totally analog. A sticker on the top tells of a Montreal police inspection in 1972. It was a little bit grungy – normal age-related stuff – but I cleaned it up and it looks great. I asked the owner, a man in his late 60s if he used to drive cab and he told me he had owned a taxi company. Makes sense, most taxi drivers don’t live in TMR.

I think this piece could have some value, I’ll have to do a bit more research to find out.

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Inside the bags was this label-maker. It’s not super exciting or anything but I’ve been looking for one for a while!

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I also found this canteen. It features some nice leather work and looks to have barely been used.

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The original label is still attached to the side. It features an image of a small child holding up a sign, a few words in a foreign script and the name Debrecan which appears to be a city in Hungary. I’ll try to see if it has Ebay value but at the very least I’m sure someone would buy it at a yard sale.

Last weeks sales (June 23 – June 29)
-Collection of paper ephemera: to a local archive for 45$. I love finding old papers – pamphlets, posters, business cards, zines newspapers, whatever. People think this kind of stuff is cool but it’s not a big seller at yard sales and generally not valuable enough to bother trying to sell on Ebay. I’m glad I made the connection with Archive Montreal, a small Rosemont-based organization because it makes finding these things profitable but also because they’re genuinely interested in what I find. If you have old papers, music or whatever that was made in Montreal this is a great place to bring it, preferably for donation as they are a non-profit.
-Old leather bags: to a friend for 10$. I found these way back in March and they’ve been sitting in my friend’s shed ever since. They need some love but could be quite beautiful in the right hands.
-1972 Summit Series preview book: Ebay for 45$. I found this with the Expo 67-related ephemera a few weeks back.
-Chinese propaganda records: Ebay for 200$. This is a nice sale, funny considering I actually tried giving them away at one point before doing the proper research. That would have been a massive brain fart. I found them around a month ago in a low-income, immigrant part of Ville St Laurent.
Total: 300$, 1290$ since May 18. If I made this much every week I’d be set. I’ve been a lot more active on Ebay in the last month or so and it’s paying dividends.

I feel like the finds have been a little dry lately. Hopefully they pick up soon. Tomorrow I’m thinking of doing a run in St-Leonard – I have to go there either way to bring my friend’s tires to a storage facility.

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Accidental workaholic

A very rough draft

A very rough draft

“Have you considered getting a regular job?”

This was a question asked by my therapist during what will likely be my last session for a while. Getting a “normal” (a word she is sure never to use) job is tempting sometimes. A normal job would provide more financial stability, that’s for sure. However, the most attractive aspect of traditional work for me is the set schedule. You get up, go to work, do whatever it is you’re supposed to do, and then go home and think about something other than work (though this is getting harder in the age of smartphones). By working you give up a bit of freedom but you gain comfort, a fair trade-off in many cases if you ask me.

As a full-time, self-employed scavenger I have all kinds of freedom. I can take days off whenever I want and I don’t have to report to a boss. I enjoy most of the tasks related to my work and choose to do them completely from my own free will.

The only problem is that I’m really bad at turning “off.” My brain has always tended toward over-analyzing and self-doubt and it (especially recently) results in constant internal questioning. Should I go on a hunt in the morning or should I spend the day getting things on Ebay? Should I be on Ebay right now or should I try to relax? Should I be relaxing right now or should I be researching my finds? The constant internal dialogue is exhausting and often leads to a state of analysis paralysis where I achieve none of my desired goals. I think of myself as an accidental workaholic, one who satisfies the definition not through a compulsion to work but instead the sheer power of neuroticism.

This all takes energy away from other aspects of my life. Cooking, for example used to be something I enjoyed doing but now rarely get around to. It feels overwhelming to think about planning a meal, buying groceries, and then cooking that meal while other work waits. As a result I rely too much on eating out which isn’t good for my health. I also feel too busy to commit to classes, workshops or cultural events that might help me learn new skills or discover new ways of thinking.

I think the solution is to better schedule my life. I’ve spent a lot of time with my therapist and friends discussing various strategies, the most recent of which is the quite strict but also very freeing. It’s characterized by how it delineates “free time,” forcing me to take a break around lunch and be done with work entirely – no Ebay, no research, no hunting, no nothing! – at 5pm. I also have Saturday completely off.

Having this free time scheduled is both exciting and terrifying. What will I do with all this extra time? Is “turning off” something I’m even capable of? While these thoughts pop up I’m mostly optimistic that this schedule will help make life a little less chaotic.

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On Thursday I did a run through Westmount and Verdun. It was a grungy day where it felt like everything I looked at was oily, grimy or smelled like cigarettes. The pile above smelled like cigarettes. Everything was inside those really cheap black garbage bags that will rip at the slightest touch.

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There were some interesting old things and I proceeded in spite of the smell. These are two old publications by the Sedbergh School, a private senior school in Montebello (a cute town an hour from Montreal) that was open from 1939 to 2010. On the left is a promotional pamphlet from early 1939 trying to encourage people to visit and enrol their children.

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On the right is a “Sedburgh News” student publication from June 1950. It seems to have doubled for a yearbook as whoever owned this got his classmates to sign the back.

I thought it would be a good idea to do some research and see if any of these signatures belonged to anyone famous. This process turned out to be fairly easy – Wikipedia has a section of “notable alumni” in their Sedburgh School Wikipedia page. It turns out that two of these people are notable enough to have their own Wikipedia page. One is Pete Kirby (signature at top left) who won a gold medal in Bobsleigh at the 1964 Olympics before becoming a geologist. The other is Michael Pitfield, a long-time Clerk of the Privy Council (highest level civil servant) and Canadian Senator from 1982-2010.

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Deeper in the pile were two old photos from the late 1800s – early 1900s. I find it a bit odd that I would find these but no other photos.

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I also saved a few old tins. The one in the shape of a book contained a well-worn bible.

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I went with my friend Sarah on Friday to a spot in CDN that has been producing for months. While we were looking through the bags a woman came out and aggressively asked us what we were doing. She accused us of making a mess but it was in fact someone else – I think a can picker had tore a hole in a bag earlier in the day. Regardless, Sarah did some smooth talking, diffused the situation and fostered a working if tense relationship with the woman. She ended up offering us two garbage bags full of stuff on the condition that we took them as they were. In the end we saved about four bags from the landfill.

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For her efforts Sarah received a bunch of kitchen stuff, most notably a decent set of silverware and a working food processor. She was pumped.

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I left what neither of us wanted in a box on the curb but kept a lot of nicer, yard saleable trinkets. I could have had a decent yard sale with all the stuff we found – the items in the picture above are just a few of many.

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There was a plastic shopping bag full of vintage, if not particularly valuable costume jewellery. Jewellery is always a great seller.

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I also brought home a nice little rug. I’ve been looking for one for a while now, though it remains to be seen if it matches my current room. It’s hard to find good, bedbug free rugs so this is a nice get regardless. I think it’ll look great after a go-over with my friend’s carpet shampooer.

To the sales:

Last weeks sales (June 16 – June 22)
-Sterling silver pillbox: to a reader for 60$. I posted this just a few weeks ago and someone emailed me right away to buy it.
-Silver sports “medals” from pre-war Germany: Ebay for 90$. I found these alongside the Nazi German passport. I did some research and found that they were made from re-purposed silver coins. I’ve already made nearly 400$ from this spot alone – I sold that 1824 Jewish prayer book for 150$, the freak show signatures for 154$ and these medals for 90$.
-Tea cup and miniature Eiffel Tower: to a reader for 3$. They told me to keep the change on a 20. Thanks!
-Mr Fuji action figure: Ebay for 10$. I’ve had this since September and am glad to see it go.
Total: 180$, 990$ since May 18.

A decent week if unspectacular week for sales. I need to have a yard sale soon, hopefully this weekend.

I’ve come up empty so far this week but hopefully tomorrow’s run through TMR will provide some nice finds. As always I’ll let you know.

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