I’ve been a full-time trash picker for four years now, though only in the last two has the endeavor been reasonably profitable.
2016 started off with a bang, but my luck turned sour starting around June and an encounter with the police made things even worse. I’m now reflecting on my future and considering what to do next. Still, I’ll always trash pick even if I change professions or focus on a new project, I just won’t do it quite as often. “Things I find in the garbage” will likely continue to be the most frequently updated trash picking blog out there in 2017.
Otherwise, 2016 saw me continue to improve my selling skills. I professionalized my business by finding a decent laser printer, allowing me to finally start printing my eBay labels, by buying a light box which makes photography much easier, and by generally continuing to fine-tune the listing process. These tools and skills should come in handy going forward.
Top three useful finds
#3. Furniture for storing my crap.
Early in the year someone clearing out a house allowed me into their home to check out some free furniture. He seemed like a nice guy who just wanted to be done with it all. I ended up taking this credenza, which turned out to be a mid-century piece made by Drexel. While it’s not in perfect condition the credenza is still very nice and quite useful, as the top middle drawer is great for holding various garbage-related tools. More recently I found a dresser and a filing cabinet, both of which also had a mid-century look. These pieces are now loaded with eBay junk.
#2. Bluetooth speaker.
I’ve been wanting one of these for a while! I don’t have much space to work with so I like how it doesn’t clutter up my room with wires. These go for around 100$, making it a pretty nice get. I found it not long ago while biking around the Mile End.
#1. Laser printer.
I have a long standing hatred of printers, but I took a chance on this one and it’s worked pretty well thus far. I rate it as the most useful find of the year in large part because I didn’t realize how much better shipping rates were through Paypal. I always figured it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but now I feel silly that I spent so many years writing out labels. It’s sometimes a dollar or more cheaper, and that’s just extra money in my pocket. On top of that, laser printers are just a lot more cost effective as compared to inkjets.
#1. Shell chandelier.
After years of trash picking I’m pretty much set for home decor stuff. However, this chandelier made from circular bits of shell was a great find. It was in pieces when I found it, but I spent a few hours putting it back together and now it looks awesome. It really brings the room together.
Top four oddities
#4. Cutout of some guy
Who is he? I have no idea. I even asked Reddit but they didn’t know either. If you happen to know who this guy is, let me know in the comments! He’s currently a decoration in my room.
#3. Vintage Valium
Valium doesn’t exist anymore, at least by that name, so this was a neat find. The drug was at its peak popularity during the Carter administration, and definitely had an impact on the culture of the time.
#2. Collection of vintage UFO literature
I enjoy finding things related to niche interests or fringe beliefs, and this year I made first contact with the UFO / conspiracy subculture. Many of the pieces were book lists from the 60s and 70s published by Gray Barker, the guy who pretty much invented the concept of the “Men in Black” but looks to have been a skeptic in his private life. I sold this lot for 55$, but in retrospect I think I might have been able to get a bit more for it. There’s a very healthy market for old UFO stuff. I found this collection in Rosemont back in July.
#1. Collection of far-right / fascist / racist / skinhead literature
Speaking of fringe beliefs, 2016 saw the first time I ever came across anything that was overtly and unapologetically racist. This stuff came from the same house as the UFO lit; that guy was into definitely into some next ideas. Most of the literature dated from between the early 80s and late 90s and was distributed by different organizations in Quebec, France, and Belgium. I listed it on eBay hoping to find a buyer who was interested in researching the different movements but I haven’t had any luck thus far. I found a lot more besides this first haul, but I figured I’d shared enough already.
2016 was a great year for finding Apple products. I made hundreds of dollars selling several iPods, three iPads, and a mostly functional MacBook Pro. I hope the trend continues in 2017!
Junk from “The Muck”
One of my favourite spots of the year was actually in Ahunstic, where I happened upon an intriguing pile (post one, post two, post three) on my way home from Ville St Laurent. I went back to the same spot for several weeks and collected many, mostly small items, including a bit of gold and one of my favourite finds of the year. However, sorting through the stuff on the curb was challenging at times because for every cool thing there were ten that were ruined or just plain junk. Let’s just say I’m glad I got my tetanus booster not long before stopping there. I thought of the spot as “The Muck,” in reference to the c.1920s union application card that I found there that first time. The part of Ahuntsic that produced this stuff was distinctly lower middle class, so this is a good reminder that cool trash can come from just about anywhere.
Vintage postcard collection
I saved about 2-300 postcards from a recycling bin way back in May. Most dated from between the 1930s and 1950s. None were particularly valuable on their own (I think the most valuable were a pair of old Chinese postcards that went for 40$) but altogether they made me a couple hundred bucks. I learned a lot about the postcard market by selling them, and maybe that knowledge will come in handy in the future.
Robert Sonneman floor lamp
This mid-century lamp was a nice get. It was designed by a guy named Robert Sonneman and similar lamps are listed on 1stDibs for 1000$ each or more. I doubt I’ll get that much but I’m sure this lamp will make me a bit of money eventually. It’s in pretty good condition overall, but I have yet to clean up the cast-iron base which is a bit rusty. I figure it’ll sell for more if I can get that cast iron looking black again.
WWI group photo
This photo, which is likely over 100 years old, was hidden behind a picture of Brother Andre that looked to have been clipped from a magazine. It’s a neat piece of history, and it ended up selling to a local collector for 83$. That was more than I expected!
WWII letters and ephemera
I found these way back in January. I remember the homeowner coming out and telling me not to pick there, but I already had some cool stuff in the car including these bags of letters. Here’s hoping I didn’t miss out on anything good. I haven’t actually spent much time looking at the letters, but my mom read some of them and said that there were two authors, one of which was actually a pretty good writer. It might be interesting to do something with them at some point. My favourite pieces were the Military ID cards, especially the one below. I haven’t been able to find a card quite like it online.
Top 10 finds of 2016
#10. Vintage fashion magazine collection
These magazines filled two document boxes. Most were Vogues or Harper’s Bazaars that dated from between the 50s and 70s. Some were individually valuable, such as the issues of Harper’s Bazaar featuring drawings by Andy Warhol or the ones with Audrey Hepburn on the cover, but most were in poor enough condition that they were best sold for collage. Fortunately, I have a friend here who does just that. Apparently fashion magazines from this era are the best to collage with because of their high print quality. I’ve made a few hundred dollars off them already, and I still have some left to sell.
#9. Vintage pen collection
The most valuable of the bunch was a vintage Sheaffer PFM (“Pen for Men” – above) that sold for 175$, but there was also a nice Sheaffer Imperial and a desk pen with a 14k gold nib, not to mention several other yard saleable pens and vintage pencils. All in all the collection should net me a few hundred dollars.
#8. Vintage Longines gold watch
It seems like I find a couple gold watches a year. I hope that keeps up because they’re easy money! Longines is a good brand, and was pretty well regarded back in the day according to posters on watch collector message boards. It hasn’t sold yet, but I recently uploaded a better picture (thanks light box!) so maybe it’ll head on its way soon enough.
#7. Vintage Heinz soup sign
This sign came off a vintage “electric soup kitchen” that was designed to heat a can of soup in 2 minutes. These machines were made in the 30s and 40s but there’s not too many kicking around anymore. It’s a neat piece of history, one that ended up netting me 270$ on eBay.
#6. Vintage pennant collection
I saved a whole bunch of neat pennants, most of which featured various Canadian towns, but these WWI era military pennants were the coolest and most valuable. The Valcartier pennant ended up selling for 160$, while the 40th Battallion pennant sold for 110$. Most of the others went to the yard sale bin, but one from Lowell High School (Jack Kerouac’s alma mater) went for another 30$ on eBay.
#5. Omega watch
My first and finest gold watch of the year. Omega is a luxury brand, so while the watch wasn’t in perfect condition it was a worthwhile project to a handy watch collector. The movement itself worked well, and it ended up going for almost 500$ on eBay.
#4. 2012 MacBook Pro, 15″
This was easily my best find from McGill’s moveout day. It’s hard to believe that someone would throw it out as it’s easily worth several hundred dollars. It works fine – in fact, I’m using it right now. Here’s hoping I have similar luck in the ghetto again next year, though I’m not holding my breath. Lots of great stuff gets tossed on moveout day but not many people throw out awesome laptops. That requires a special, and hopefully uncommon brand of privilege.
#3. Widdicomb chair
It might not look like much, but apparently this chair is pretty exciting if you’re really into mid-century modern furniture. It was designed by George Nakashima as part of his “Origins” line. It needed reupholstering, but it still sold quickly for around 950$ Canadian dollars.
#2. Perfume collection
This was definitely the most perfume I ever found in one spot. These weren’t cheap perfumes either – most were made by well respected brands such as Guerlain, Christian Dior, Yves St Laurent, and Balenciaga. I had to work for them though, as the perfumes in this box were spread across several black trash bags and were mixed in with cosmetics that don’t age nearly as well. I’ve already made several hundred dollars from this collection, and I’ll probably earn well over a thousand when all is said and done.
#1. Henri Bourassa 1908 election badge
It took me a while to decide, but I think this election badge was my favourite find of the year. It’s certainly an interesting piece. Henri Bourassa is an important figure in the history of Quebec, being one of the first to promote a brand of French-Canadian nationalism (though not separatism, which would emerge later). He founded the newspaper Le Devoir, which still exists today, and there’s a pretty major road named after him in the north of Montreal. He somehow managed to personally win two different ridings in that 1908 provincial election. I don’t think that’s even possible any more.
The pin also appear to be pretty rare – I couldn’t find anything like it on Google. Maybe there’s a few others kicking around out there somewhere, but it’s very cool to save something so uncommon. The fact that this photo comes up when you do research on Henri Bourassa makes me think that I’ve contributed, if only slightly to humanity’s wealth of knowledge.
As the coolest thing I found from “The Muck” it reminds me that, while rich people’s garbage is pretty good, common folk can have pretty cool stuff too. This kind of thing acts as inspiration to keep me doing my bike trash runs in the Plateau and Mile End. Even though I often won’t find much of anything, sometimes I do get pretty lucky.
Of course, I also like that it made me some money. It eventually sold for 350$, which is a lot for a button!
Let’s hope my finds in 2017 can at least hold a candle to these!
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