The prestige pt.1

I’ve been picking this past week, even as the pandemic intensifies. I keep some hand sanitizer in the car for my hands, and some disinfecting spray to wipe down surfaces with. I’ve also taken a different approach, more often taking full bags to sort through later rather than sorting on the spot, then letting those bags sit until any potential virus inside has died.

Maybe it’s unwise to do this. But to be honest, I’m not really sure what I’d do with myself otherwise. Garbage picking is a passion of mine, and it’s hard to stop knowing what treasures I’ll miss. Maybe that makes me a little crazy or obsessive. I do think that with the precautions I’m taking, the risks are pretty low. As bad as the pandemic is, it’s safe to say that only around .1% (or 1/1000) of the population is currently infected (current known cases are 4682, making the official count closer to .01%, but we can assume that the number is higher than that, so .1% seems like a liberal estimate).

Regardless of the risk, trash picking is definitely less fun right now. The need to compulsively clean is annoying, and I find myself feeling paranoid, mostly because other people feel so paranoid. It’s a bit sad that my enjoyment of my hobby / job has been tainted for the foreseeable future, but so it goes.

I have to say though that this week was pretty successful on the garbage finds front. In particular, I struck gold on Thursday, and had a very 2020 interaction while doing so. It’ll make for a good blog story, which I hope to share here relatively soon.

Anyways, let’s go back to before this all started, when it was cold out and there was still lots of snow on the ground. This spot looked good from the get go: sold sign out front, fancy house, hint of old junk (the suitcase) on the curb, and a bit more volume than your usual pile. I did indeed find some great stuff, and was hopeful that this spot would end up being a regular producer (at least for a while). However, later that day I got a message announcing an estate sale at the house, which usually means that the flow of trash is at its end.

I know the estate sale people didn’t throw this stuff out, so it must have been from the family sorting through personal affects. A large percentage of the trash was old photos & ephemera, but I also saved a bit of quality junk and silver. Also, it’s worth noting that a member of the estate came from a pretty prestigious Canadian business family, so my finds here are the remnants of some serious old money.

Let’s start with a couple of the best photos. These 10×8″ photographs featuring the Harrison Hot Springs & Lake were taken c. the 1930s by Leonard Frank, a noted photographer of British Columbia. The photos are both stuck to the same piece of fibrous backing, which is something I haven’t seen before.

His photos are apparently fairly sought after, and I think mine will sell in the 2-300$ range.

This photo is signed by Yousuf Karsh, the famed Canadian portrait photographer. He took portraits of lots of famous people, but also some less famous folks like Jimmy here. I found another Karsh photo around five years ago and sold it for 235$, though a friend of mine did me a favor and framed it professionally, thereby increasing its value. Still, I’m guessing this would sell for 50-75$.

I found lots of other great photos here, but I’ll save them for another post.

Here’s some “quality junk” displayed on a jewelry box tray I also found. The watch is a Hamilton, and probably worth around 30-40$. May Cutler was a writer and publisher of children’s books who was also mayor of Westmount from 1987-1991.

Here we have an old school Charga-Plate (precursor for the credit card) in its original leather sheath, a candy thermometer that may contain mercury, some vintage lipstick, and a souvenir key fob from the US Capitol.

Here we have some 20-30 year old rolling tobacco, an enameled copper dish, a magnifier, and some vintage products. The Christmas tree ornament hangers are my favourite – based on the font, I’d guess they’re from the 40s.

I saved several Cirque de Soleil DVDs, which should do well at a future yard sale.

Here we have a small collection of coins including a silver dime, a silver cat brooch, a tin filled with vintage keys, a shotgun shell, and a vial that I’d guess contains kidney stones. The 15″ ruler on the bottom is quite nice, it has a brass edge and was made by Eberhard Faber.

I also found two sterling silver picture frames, including one (on the right) made by Birks. It has it’s original glass, so it’s probably worth around 40-50$. The spoon is also sterling, but it was real dinged up and only good for scrap (around 5$ worth).

Let’s finish with this cool piece of art, which is painted on a round piece of wood around 11″ in diameter. It’s pretty well done, but unfortunately unsigned. If you know something about it, please let us know in the comments!

Given that we’re all (mostly) stuck inside I’ll try to post more than I usually do. Recently I’ve been addicted to the news and not really getting a heck of a lot done, but I’m trying to reduce my consumption. It’s good to be informed, but you have to draw a line at some point.


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By now we’ve all been affected by this COVID-19 outbreak. Here in Montreal (as is the case in most cities, I think) most public gathering places, including schools have been closed down and events cancelled. I can still go to Tim Hortons, but it’s take out only – no sitting around and eating. There’s still people walking around outside, but the city is definitely quieter, and an aura of fear is palpable.

It’s all necessary, even if some aren’t taking it seriously (ie: the kids doing their normal spring break routine in Miami). If we do nothing, the cases will skyrocket quickly because no one has immunity to this virus. We have limited health care resources, including respirators / ventilators (which are necessary for more serious cases, and can occur in young as well as old people) and personnel, so it’s important to “flatten the curve” to ensure that hospitals can adequately care for those in need. If not, we run into a situation where doctors and nurses have to decide who gets a respirator and who doesn’t, which is currently the situation in Italy. By performing social distancing, we can flatten that curve.

At this point, I don’t expect things to return to “normal” for another two months. Even after that, there’s apparently a good chance of subsequent, but smaller outbreaks, so things might be different for quite some time.

The virus is having a clear effect on the economy. The stock market is now in bear territory, many businesses aren’t making any money, and a lot of people are losing their jobs. It’s clear that most people, outside of those in certain industries and the super rich, are feeling the crunch right now.

Thankfully, I’ve mostly been hoarding the money I’ve made, so I feel financially secure. I still owe lots in student loans, but that’s not a super immediate concern. It does seem likely that my cash flow will slow, however. eBay sales are down – only two items have sold in the last twelve days. My local auction house is slowing down its operations and could close outright (and even if they don’t, will people bid as much?). Assuming my two month figure is about right, yard sale season will also start a little late, albeit only by 2-3 weeks.

As for trash picking itself, fortunately social distancing is kind of baked into that already. The main risk is that I look through infected garbage, which would be impossible to spot. It’s more likely to find that in apartment building trash, given that many different people’s stuff tends to get all mixed together, so I’ll likely leave that alone for the time being. Most of my finds though come from single family homes or duplexes, which are less likely sources because of their low population density. Also, a lot of my strategy involves searching for stuff tossed by people moving, clearing out houses, and so on, and many of my current “spots” are ones I’ve had my eye on since before the outbreak.

So, I think I’ll keep doing my runs during the outbreak. I’ll try to be extra careful though, by using lots of hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and so on. What do you think of that plan? Please share any ideas or comments below!

Another thing to consider is how people’s garbaging habits will change as a result of the pandemic. My thinking is that folks might do a deeper spring cleaning purge than usual because they’re spending more time at home with nothing to do than they would otherwise. On the other hand, some people might be less wasteful if they’re feeling financially insecure, and others might be too busy with their kids (who would otherwise be in school) to do much spring cleaning. Maybe all those factors will even out, leading to a fairly normal springtime garbage boom. I kind of hope that’s the case, because I have a hard time staying on top of the “normal” quantity of garbage.

Anyways, I was fairly lucky this past week, despite it being the first one that was really defined by the virus. This Lavazza espresso machine was just sitting on top of a trash bin, perhaps evidence that some spring cleaning has begun. Despite making over 6000 cups (according to an odometer-like counter on the back) it still works fine. They seem to sell for around 3-500$ on eBay, so that was a nice (& easy) get.

The “part x of a million” person didn’t throw out anything for a couple weeks, and then one bag emerged this week. It was mostly actual trash, other than this very dry Montreal Daily Witness newspaper from 1908. I’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation, though it’s possible that the flow of trash is finally coming to a close.

I found some nice pottery and art glass on Monday night, the nicest piece of which was probably this ~11.5″ vase signed by Robert Held. It has a little chip, but it’s not noticeable. I’m hopeful that the spot that produced it will toss more quality junk in the coming weeks, seeing as the house has recently sold. I also found some good stuff there last week.

This Hummel figurine made it to the curb unscathed on Tuesday night. “Boy with umbrella” should sell for around 85$. It came from a spot I just discovered, which I hope produces dividends in the coming weeks / months.

Someone else in the neighbourhood put out some nice plants, including this crown of thorns. I’ve been wanting one for a while, so I was happy to find it.

I found more nice plants in a bag nearby. Here’s the entire collection. I ended up giving away the sad looking Christmas cactus and the plant that lost its soil. I’m going to keep the tree, which I think is called a dracaena. I forget what those leafy plants are called, but they’re pretty and don’t take much effort to maintain. It always makes me sad when people throw away plants, but at least I found these when it was above zero. Others aren’t so lucky.

That was a pretty good night. I also picked two bags of jewelry out of a recycling bin.

A lot of it was crappy, broken, or both, but I did save several nice pieces. The bag on the right is the kind you use to put your beans in at the grocery store.

The most valuable piece is probably that tie clip near the center right. It’s marked 750 (18k gold), and is worth around 250$ for scrap. Below that is a fun Mexican silver Snoopy brooch, which I think will sell for around 60$. To either side of Snoopy are different Calvin Klein pure parfums. The dangle earrings are by D’orlan, I just need to glue those stones back in there. The big brooch up top is signed Dauplaise. Because it’s quite large, I expect it’ll sell for around 60$. All the necklaces on the left are made using stone or glass beads, and that watch is a Super Edma. It’s not too expensive, but that band goes with it very nicely.

So, all in all it was a pretty good week for finds, virus and all. But let me know what you think of my plan, and any other thoughts you might have.


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A well-timed trip to the Point

I had some luck picking in Pointe St-Charles recently. It’s not a neighbourhood where I expect to find good trash, given its working class roots and the number of pickers (whether for cans or whatever) who already operate there, but you never know with garbage.

The only reason I went to there in the first place is because I had an appointment nearby at 1pm, and after waking up I took the notion to kill some time by picking somewhere I hadn’t been in a while. That’s when I found this pile, which showed a bit of promise. You can see my first few picks, including a working fan, next to the bags.

It seemed like someone was cleaning out an apartment. A lot of the stuff was truly garbage, but I did save some miniature perfumes, a silver & marcasite cross pendant, a couple tins, and a Canadian Centennial pin. (There were other things, like the fan, that didn’t quite make the cut from a photography perspective).

I might not have gone back, as the Point is a little out of the way for just one spot, but I had another appointment so I figured I might as well check back on it. My previous spot was pretty junky that day, but I happened upon another intriguing pile a few blocks away.

There I found some Quality Vintage Junk (QVJ), including some old keys, a St John the Divine Cathedral souvenir token, an 800 (80%) silver St Christopher medallion, and a neat c.1940s Bakelite desk organizer, which was made to promote the Standard Photo Engraving Company of Montreal.

Here we have a Chase Federal notepad, a Jamaican souvenir leather coin purse, and a tin full of dressmakers pins.

I found only one negative there, but it was a good one.

It was a picture of the R-100 Rigid Airship, which apparently docked in St Hubert, Quebec (just outside of Montreal) in the summer of 1930 after crossing the Atlantic. Here’s a video of it happening! Unfortunately, the similar R-101 Airship crashed and burned in France later in 1930, which led to the R-100 being scrapped and sold for 600 British Pounds. Still, the airship was quite the local attraction at the time. According to Wikipedia, “The [R-100] stayed at Montreal for 12 days with over 100,000 people visiting the airship each day … and a song was composed by La Bolduc to make fun of the people’s fascination.”

I didn’t see anything else at that spot in subsequent weeks. Still, having two intriguing destinations made the trip to Pointe St-Charles more worthwhile, even when I didn’t have an appointment.

I remember the weather being pretty bad the week after the R-100 find, and I was really tempted to skip my run and hide out at home. After all, the chances were good that I wouldn’t find anything super valuable anyways. But I did end up going out, and that was the day I found some really great stuff. I likely wouldn’t have bothered if I only had the one spot to check.

Let’s start with more QVJ. We have two Montreal Gazette velcro wallets, a measuring tape, a bit of costume jewelry, a pair of Italian sunglasses, a nice old pair of rimless eyeglasses, some costume jewelry, and an exacto knife in a pen-like case. The exacto pen is emblazoned with the slogan “cut copy costs with Ditto,” referring to the old copying machine.

Here we have a nice metal container, and old toy savings bank, a Liberty magazine recipe box, and the cardboard box it was shipped in (apparently in 1955). Fortunately it wasn’t too hard to crack that safe – there’s only ten numbers, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that “6” was the one that opened it.

I’m a sucker for anything in its original packaging, so I enjoyed that never used kneeling pad, which I’d guess is from the late 60s or early 70s. That Edmonton Eskimos pennant noted that the team won three Grey Cups in a row, so I was able to date it to 1956. I listed it on eBay and it sold very quickly for 75$. I probably could have got a bit more for it, but I can’t complain too much.

I also found a 1950s “Potluck Cookery” cookbook, and an unopened package of vintage nylon hose.

My best finds though were hidden inside this funky eyeglass case.

I heard a jingle inside, and out came five gold rings (and a magnifying glass).

I would assume that whoever tossed the case didn’t bother to look inside. The 14k + 18k ring on the left has three diamonds, the biggest of which is about 1/4 carat according to my measuring doohickey. The ring second from the left features a star cabochon surrounded by a bunch of tiny ~1/32 carat diamonds. That one is unmarked, but I’m sure it’s gold. The one in the middle holds a big red “stone”, which is probably actually cut glass. Its hallmark is illegible, but it probably says 10k. The other two are simpler pieces, including a classic wedding band.

Overall this is a pretty easy several hundred dollars! The basic rings are worth about their weight in scrap, but the others should be worth a little more. How much more, I have yet to figure out.

I also found a simple pair of 14k earrings inside an old iron-on mending tape container.

There wasn’t anything good on the curb the week after this haul, and the week after that I saw the apartment being emptied into the trucks of some junk removal company. It looked like some nice antique furniture was going into those trucks, but at least most of it was being donated (as per a brief conversation I had with one of the workers).

And so marked the end of my brief but fortunate foray into the Pointe St-Charles trash scene. As you can see, a lot of things had to go right for it to work out, but by picking as often as I do I’m bound to be in the right place at the right time, at least some of the time.

The big topic of the day is the COVID-19 outbreak. In my next post I’ll take about how it could affect my trash picking business. In the meantime, stay safe out there!


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2. My eBay listings, Sign up for eBay, Search for something you want / research something you have (I’m a member of the eBay Partner Network so I make a bit of money if you buy things [even if they’re not mine] or sign up for an account via these links)
3. Help me pay off student loan debt / Contribute to the blog
4. Follow me on Instagram
5. Email: – note that it might take me some time to reply, and that I am unlikely to be able to fulfill requests for items