The magic of garbage


Last week a friend and I went for breakfast at a cute restaurant in the east Plateau. As we were walking back to the car I looked up the street and saw an intriguing (if only to me) pile of trash maybe 40 meters away.

Trash picking can feel magical sometimes. There’s something exhilarating about pulling treasures from garbage bags, especially considering they’re pretty much the symbol for valueless filth. It’s a lot like that old magic trick of pulling a rabbit from a hat, except better because everyone assumes the hat is full of kitchen scraps.

We walked over to the pile. I kicked a few bags, and one of them sounded great.


Inside I found three large ziplock bags filled with coins! As you can imagine it was pretty fun to pull these from the bags, particularly since I had company and was able to show off my unusual talent. As you can imagine she was impressed, and also a bit depressed that someone would throw these away.


There was about 16$ in Canadian and American coins, at least the types the coin machine would take. There were also a few silver dollars (but not the ones that were actually made of silver); six American half-dollars; several tokens, two of which are from the Quebec Carnaval; about 10$ worth of Euro coins; and three American Sacagawea dollars.

There were a few older coins as well. In this bunch, you can see a 1931 British half-penny and two 1940s French coins. The contrast between the two French coins is interesting. One was made in 1946 and features the longtime motto of the French Republic: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity). The other was made in 1942 by the Vichy France regime that was subservient to the Nazis during WWII. Their motto was “Travail, famille, patrie” (Labor, family, fatherland). The other side of that coin features an image of an axe, which you can see in the link above.


A few of the best coins were silver, including a 1967 Canadian quarter, a Canadian dime from the same year, and a 1963 American half dollar. I also saved four American 1$ bills and an 1871 Prince Edward Island penny, which was by far the oldest coin of the bunch. It looks to be in pretty nice condition for its age.

On top of all this, I have about one bag’s worth of miscellaneous foreign coins. None of them are too exciting, but I’ve sold similar collections before on Kijiji for a modest profit.


Otherwise, I saved an iPhone 4S that appears to work fine. Unfortunately it’s permanently locked to its previous user, but I should still be able to sell it for about 40$ for it given its fine cosmetic condition. Someone will want it for parts.

Easy money, right? My eye for garbage ended up paying for breakfast, and several other future breakfasts!

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The muck pt.3


For me, trash picking involves returning to the same spots over and over again, stopping only when it’s clear that there’s nothing left to be found. If someone’s moving or clearing out a house they’ll often throw things out for weeks or sometimes months on end, and it’s good to keep an eye on their progress.

I’ve been checking back on a spot (part one, part two) in Ahuntsic once a week for over a month. Sometimes there’s stuff out and sometimes there isn’t. Regardless, when I do find things they’re always interesting, if not often valuable.

It seems that whoever is doing the tossing is saving the obviously good items. For example, I’ve seen a lot of empty vintage jewelry boxes, many of which are by Birks, and little fine jewelry. However, they do seem to occasionally make mistakes (ie: the nice 10k gold chain I found in part two), don’t have much of an eye for historical value (ie: the Henri Bourassa election pin), and don’t have much interest in scrappy gold. All in all, I’m finding more that enough to justify continuing my weekly visits.

I can’t help but wonder who the previous owner was. I imagine they were a collector, because the range of of items is pretty wide and I doubt they all originated from the same person. They certainly had an interest in small baubles, doodads, and the like. Maybe they picked up these things at yard sales, or who knows, maybe they were a scavenger as well!


I saved these items a few weeks ago. As is usual for this spot I had to sort out a lot of junk to get to the good stuff. None of these items are particularly valuable, but they make great yard sale junk box material. The bow-tie brooch above the Doyle Motors keychain is marked “U.S.A Sterling,” and is also stamped with a symbol that looks like two lions high-fiving each other. The earring to its right looks to be gold and is stamped 800, which might be an old Portuguese gold mark. It only weighs about .2 grams, but is still worth about 8$ for scrap.


I visited again last week and found this box inside a black trash bag. I knew it was going to be good right away, as it made a pleasant sound (that of many small things moving at once) when I picked it up. As expected, when I opened the box I was greeted with a plethora of intriguing objects. Of less interest was the paper coffee cup and some other recently used crap, which I deposited in a nearby trash can.


Let’s be clear, the vast majority of this stuff was junk. Still, I loved looking through it! The jewelry boxes largely held single fake pearls, miscellaneous costume jewelry parts, and the occasional medallion.


Most of the things at the bottom of the box were of the same caliber. While it’s junk, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to make something cool. Some of the jewelry bits might still be useful, and a lot of the other stuff could be used to create a neat mosaic.

I just noticed the Expo 67 pin in the plastic container on the far right side of the photo. It might be an old hostesses’ pin, as seen in this photograph that I found last fall. Perhaps it was produced for the general public too but I’m not sure. If you know anything about it, share your thoughts in the comments!


As usual, I picked out the things I found most interesting. I could tell you what all is here, but it might be more fun if you look for yourself! Just click on the picture and zoom in for a better view. I’ll just note here that those wishbones are real, and look to have been painted gold.


These were the items that I thought were coolest, for one reason or another. The file at the top and the elephant pendant are likely made from bone. I think the bracelet in the middle, featuring what I presume are carved Chinese letters is made from bone as well. The item at the top right looks to be a small arrowhead. It measures about an inch long. I love old tokens and dog tags, so I included a couple of those at the bottom left. The flowery brooches on the right are made from some kind of vintage plastic that isn’t bakelite. They’re marked as being made in Japan.

If anyone has any idea what that little pin to the right of the dog tag is made to represent, let us know in the comments! It looks like two crossed arms, both with nails in the hands. But it doesn’t look like your typical Catholic symbol.


This old metal Studebaker stamp (or printing block?) was one of my favourite finds. It reads “Authorized Studebaker Service,” and I’d guess that it would have belonged to a repair shop at some point. Studebaker has been out of business for about 50 years now but was once known for its quality and reliability, at least according to Wikipedia. I was unable to find anything similar to this stamp during my brief search on Google. I’d guess that it’s from the 1940s, mostly based on the font. It measures about one inch tall and wide.


This pin / brooch is sort of unusual. The initials on the front are written in a “western” font, and the metal they are somehow attached to looks rough and is rusty in places. My guess is that it’s somehow related to mining, or is maybe an old souvenir from some kind of Frontier Town-like tourist destination.


I have one last mystery item for y’all. This looks a bit like a watch band, but it has a mechanism that opens and closes the arms on the front. There’s also a little chain and clasp hanging from the side. It’s marked “Plaqué Or” (gold plated), and there’s another symbol of some kind stamped on the metal.

My friend Sarah made this GIF that shows how it works. Just click the image to get it going. I feel like a broken record at this point, but let us know if you have any ideas as to what this might be!

That’s all for now. But here’s hoping this place keeps producing! I enjoy its unique brand of stuff.

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Reading material


A couple of weeks back I stopped at an intriguing trash pile in Westmount. I quickly noticed that two of the boxes at the bottom of the pile were filled with old magazines. I started moving away the junk on top when a young boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, who was playing with a soccer ball nearby walked over and asked what I was doing. I said I was trying to get the magazines at the bottom. In response, he told me (in an attempt to be helpful) that the magazines weren’t actually very good because the “stories weren’t interesting.” I told him that I actually wanted them more for the pictures, because my collage artist friend (who I mentioned in my last post) would love to have them. He seemed to appreciate that, and he actually helped me bring the magazines to the car. All in all it was a fun interaction!


I originally figured I’d be selling these magazines to my collage artist friend. I did sell her several of them, including the magazines that were in poor condition or were simply less known. But it turns out a lot of these vintage magazines are worth decent coin.

Most of the magazines (maybe 30-40 in total) are Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and the majority are issues from the 1950s and 1960s. The going rate for a run-of-the-mill issue is about 20$ on eBay, but some are worth a fair bit more than that because of their covers or contents. For example, I sold the Harper’s Bazaar magazine at bottom left to a reader for 50$, which was actually a good deal! That issue contained some product drawings by Andy Warhol, which I unfortunately forgot to photograph. I have the Audrey Hepburn issue (bottom middle) listed for 85$, and I expect it to go for around that. All in all I expect to make around 500-600$ from the collection. Not bad!


Otherwise, I stopped at this pile alongside one of Montreal’s major arterial roads. There was a mound of bags on the curb, most of which contained books.


The recycling bin was also stuffed to the brim with books. I mainly saved the ones I thought could be easily sold or appeared somehow unique. The car was already loaded with finds (some of which I may share in a future post), so taking all the books simply wasn’t an option.


There were a few older books dating back to the turn of the century. Most of these were Polish, and I suspect their previous owner was of that heritage.


Most of the books though were related to science, and the previous owner was apparently a big fan of Science fiction. I’m not super familiar with sci-fi but I did spot some names I recognized, including: Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, Piers Anthony (who I learned about through this great episode of This American Life), Frank Herbert, and Robert Heinlein. There were also a few books by Carlos Castaneda, which when combined with some of the other titles indicate a general interest in mystical experiences.


It’s a great collection. None are valuable enough to bother selling on eBay, but they make for great yard sale material!

On that note, I plan on doing my next sale this Saturday at 4100 Coloniale. I’ll probably be out from noon to six or so. These books will be there, as will lots of other stuff! I feel bogged down by “things” at the moment and want to unload as much as possible, so prices will be even better than usual.

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