2014 is nearly over, which means that it’s time to take a look back at the year that was.
I decided to take a look through all my posts and finds and see what stuck out. I present to you the best of 2014, in the form of five different top 5 lists.
The top 5 useful finds
It’s always nice to get something useful for free! Here’s five things I saved from the dump that I now use regularly.
It’s a nice one that probably would have cost 50$ new (and it was pretty much new). I also found a bunch of new batteries in the same pile. Found early November in Westmount.
4. Collection of bike locks, with keys
Found over a couple of different garbage days in front of a house in Rosemont (day one, and day two). One was a Kryptonite lock that sells new for like 100$. I bike a fair bit, so these are obviously nice to have.
3. Beautiful vintage cedar trunk (made in the 1930s or 1940s)
Great for storage and also as an attractive decorative piece, I imagine I’ll keep this for quite some time. Found late October in the Plateau.
2. Vintage Westinghouse multi-band radio
I very much like the look of this radio, especially with the fold-up map of the world and time-zone calculator. It also works great! I listen to the radio a lot while working at my computer, so this thing gets a lot of use. Found early April in Snowdon.
1. Macbook Laptop
I had to buy a new battery and charger to make it work, but this laptop was a great find for me. It’s allowed me to work away from home sometimes, which has actually been really nice. That, and the fact that you don’t find good laptops in the trash on a regular basis, makes it my top useful find of 2014. Found mid-September in Mount Royal.
The top 5 oddities
You definitely come across some odd items when looking through trash. Here are five things that are unusual, slightly disturbing, or maybe just a bit mysterious.
The old woman throwing out these antlers seemed to be happy to get rid of them. Found mid July in St Henri.
Status: Now decorating my friend’s house, but still in my possession. I want to try to sell them at some point.
4. Royal Bayreuth devil ashtray
This ceramic ashtray, made in Germany not long after WWII (it was marked “Bavaria Germany US Zone, so between 1946-1949), was definitely an odd one. It was also fairly collectible, probably for just that reason. Found early April in Rosemont.
Status: Sold on eBay for 200$, after a little cleaning of course.
3. Signed “freak show” postcards
These were definitely a bit strange. I thought “freak show” events were popular more in the early 1900s, rather than in 1959 when these were signed. Sealo, named for his “seal arms,” was the most famous of these performers. They were signed at Belmont Park, an amusement park in northern Montreal that operated from 1923 to 1983. Found late April in the Golden Square Mile, in the same spot as the Nazi passport.
Status: Sold on eBay for 154$. The buyer actually told me they were being gifted to an artist with phocomelia, the same condition that Sealo had, which is pretty cool.
2. Teeth with gold crowns
These are legit teeth with real gold crowns. Weird, eh? They’re worth a bit of money for the gold content, probably around 40$ to 80$ depending on the karat. Technically I found these very late last year, but since I only posted about them in 2014 I think I can include them. Found in December 2013 the Plateau.
Status: Still in my possession (in my collection of odd things). I could melt them for the gold weight, but I feel a bit weird doing so.
1. Tiny handwritten book
I put a lot of effort into trying to identify this little, approximately 8x5cm book. I uncovered a few facts about it thanks mostly to Reddit – I posted questions to three different subreddits, links below – but overall it remains a bit of a mystery. What I do know (or at least think I know) is it was made in the hijri year 1293 (approximately 1874-1875 CE), and that it’s written in both Arabic and Persian, though someone seemed to think it was Balochi. It references Ja’Far Sadiq, the 6th imam of Shi’a Islam, and also references some Muslim prayers. It could be a personal prayer book, though someone noted vaguely but with confidence that it was some kind of “fortune-telling book.”
It’s a really beautiful book, particularly the hand-drawn mosaics on the cover and the first page. That, combined with its age and its unknown meaning, makes it the most curious find of the year. Found early February while biking in Mount Royal.
Status: Still in my possession.
The top 5 decorations
I like to decorate my space with the things I find. Here are my favourite new 2014 additions, many of which relate to the city I live in. These tend to be somehow beautiful (at least to me), but not valuable enough that I have to sell them.
5. Serenity Prayer
It was really hard to choose something for the number five spot. I decided to go with this embroidery of the Serenity Prayer, as it’s something I recently hung up on my wall. I like embroideries, and I’ve always liked that saying.
4. 1977 Grey Cup pennant
As you’ll see in this list I’m a sucker for anything Montreal related. I like this pennant, particularly for the image of Olympic Stadium. It’s currently pinned to the wall above an old spaghetti lamp I found. Found mid April in Mount Royal.
Given my love for history and nostalgia (and again, of Montreal) it was really cool finding my own house number plate! These things are pretty iconic of the city, at least in my mind. I have it hanging above the door to my room and I can’t imagine ever getting rid of it. Found mid September in St Henri.
2. Montreal Royals folk art
I very much love this piece. It combines my appreciation of Montreal, baseball, and folk art (it was likely made at a summer camp, or at school) to create a great item I’ll likely hold onto for a long time. Found early April in Snowdon.
I found this very beautiful watercolour back in September at the same spot as the 811 number plate. It was signed “Muhlstock,” indicating that it was painted by locally famous Jewish painter Louis Muhlstock.
I’ve been meaning to update you on this piece. I contacted the estate of Louis Muhlstock (basically one of his relatives) to confirm the painting’s authenticity, telling him I found it in the trash and had no knowledge of its origin. When he first saw the pictures (he opened the email attachments as I listened on the phone) he seemed excited and thought it was a true piece. Not long later, though he expressed doubt, and ultimately decided he thought it was a fake.
Still, I’m not really sure about that. It’s a very nice piece, regardless of who painted it, and certainly looks similar to some of his other work. It has pinholes on the corners and came in a very humble, old frame, which is a good sign that this wasn’t made to deceive. The estate cited inconsistencies to the signatures, but other signatures I saw online showed that there was at least a bit of variance, some of which matched up to the signature on this one.
Either way, I can’t sell it as a Muhlstock (it would be worth several hundred dollars in that case), so I’m just going to keep it myself. It’s a great piece that reminds me (again) of Montreal, the whole interesting process of trying to authenticate it, and the fact that finding it indirectly led me to my #2 top find of the year (I’ll tell you more about that later). Found mid September in St Henri.
The top 5 “best of the rest”
These didn’t quite fit into any of the other categories but are still cool enough to be worth a mention. They might be somewhat valuable, somewhat mysterious, or just the #6 best find of the year.
5. Big change
I find change pretty regularly – I made about 126.85$ from it this year – but rarely this much at a time. This one place in Upper Westmount decided that the 56.85$ stored away in a cardboard whiskey container just wasn’t worth the effort. Found early December.
Status: Quickly traded for bills using the change machines at TD Bank, and now long spent.
4. Envelope full of 25c bills
If you told me earlier this year that I was going to find an envelope full of bills, I would have never guessed that the total would add up to 2.50$. That’s just what happened though when I found ten 25c shinplaster bills from the early 1900s. Found mid September in St Henri.
Status: Listed on eBay.
3. Handwritten French books from late 1800s
One of a kind and written in beautiful calligraphy, these books could shoot up the list depending on the quality of the contents. Unfortunately, my French isn’t nearly good enough to understand its nuances. One book is filled with “Poésies d’amitié” (love poems). The other looks to be filled with thoughts on philosophy and religion, and while parts of it are definitely quotes of famous thinkers the rest seems to be original, and fairly poetic. Found early January in Rosemont.
Status: Still in my possession.
2. 1948 Winnepeg phone book
Phone books are quickly becoming a thing of the past, and even in their prime they were generally obsolete in a few years. However, someone in Montreal decided to hold onto a Winnepeg phone book for nearly 70 years. I’m glad they did, because it’s a great ephemeral find, a personal favourite of mine.
Status: Listed on eBay.
1. 1824 German-Jewish prayer book
This leather-bound book was in amazing condition considering that it was nearly two hundred years old! It sold quickly when listed on eBay to a Judaica collector.
Status: Sold on eBay for 150$.
The top 5 finds of 2014
These are the best finds of the year. They all have historical and monetary value. Some taught me things about the past, while others made me feel things I never would have felt otherwise.
5. Collection of flags
Finding these taught me what Canada’s flag was pre-Maple Leaf. There were four flags in all, two of which were Canadian “Red Ensigns” that served as Canada’s national flag from 1921-1957. There was also an old Australian flag and a one of Switzerland. Found late July in Mount Royal.
Status: All sold on eBay. The two Canadian flags went to one buyer for 305.50$, while the other two went for about 60$ each.
4. Buried treasure
Buried in kitchen waste, that is! These coins and tokens, some of which date back to the mid 1700s, were for some reason at the bottom of a bag of total crap. It was only thanks to my kicking the bag – and hearing that familiar jingle of coins – that I found them at all. There were also a few ripped up photographs in the bag, which makes this all slightly odd. Found early December in Verdun.
Status: In my possession and awaiting listing. The most valuable is likely a late 1700s coin American stamped “Nova Eborac” (New York in Latin). If you want a closer look at the coins, I added a special gallery to my Facebook page.
3. Teacups and saucers
I found these all in the same place, so I think it’s fair to list them as a single find. They were all in great condition and perfectly packed away in aged boxes. My guess is that someone inherited them and some point and just didn’t know what they had. The majority are made by Aynsley and Paragon, brands renown for their quality.
Status: Most are sold or listed on eBay. I’ve already made over 1000$ dollars from the collection, much of which came from a set of three uncommon cottage-themed cups by Aynsley that sold for 750$ (top left photo of gallery above). A set of three turquoise Paragon “rose” cups sold for 180$, while a similar green set sold for 170$. This just goes to show that keeping your eyes to the curb can occasionally pay off in a big way! Found early October in Ville St Laurent.
2. 10k gold service medal from WWI – Plumas, Manitoba
This would have been an easy #1 last year, but there was stiff competition this time around. This medal is a great piece of history, with World War I ending nearly 100 years ago. It’s beautifully crafted in 10k gold, and the note that accompanied it gave it the context I often spend so much time trying to discover (“all the Plumas boys who served and returned got one of these”).
I also came across it quite luckily. I had found the Muhlstock painting while randomly driving around St Henri (an area I had never covered) on a non garbage day, and decided to come back on trash day for a real run. The timing was impeccable, as I found this medal on my first St Henri run.
Status: Sold on eBay for 290$.
1. Passport from Nazi Germany (that belonged to a Jewish woman)
I think this may have been the easiest choice of them all. It’s simply an amazing find that carries all kinds of historical and spiritual weight. The “J” stamp in particular, which the Nazis used to mark Jewish passports, makes me ponder hatred and the power of bureaucracy. As well, the date of departure – July 3rd, 1939 – highlights how lucky it was that this woman escaped Germany before the war broke out on September 1st. By then, it would have likely been too late.
Documents like this have power because they make you feel things that you might never have felt otherwise. Intellectually, I knew many things about WWII and the holocaust from school and reading. However, seeing this artefact and feeling it with my own hands makes that ugly history feel much more real, and somehow closer to home. I hope I was able to share that you with you as well.
I was extremely lucky to find this at all. I happened to be in a part of town I don’t usually cover for an appointment, and I found it long after most garbage is long compacted. The circumstances make it an even better find, and it’s an easy choice for #1. Found late April in the Golden Square Mile.
Status: Still in my possession along with many of the other amazing things I found at the same place. I contacted the local holocaust museum about it, but they said they have five already and I didn’t see a point in giving them a sixth. I’ve considered selling it, but I wouldn’t want to sell it to just anyone. I prefer to keep it myself, selling it only if I am ever desperate for cash. It’s something I can show my friends, and maybe my kids or grandkids someday.
My first full year as a professional scavenger was a great one. I found lots of amazing stuff, made a few more notable media appearances (including one on Definitely Not The Opera, a radio show that plays nationally here in Canada), and improved as a businessman, blogger, and scavenger. I’m excited to see what the new year brings!
I would like to thank all of you, my readers for being so supportive. The blog now has nearly 3000 followers and your interest is a big part of what keeps me motivated. It’s a lot of fun sharing my finds with you and I always enjoy reading your comments. I would like to extend an extra special thank you to my friend Sarah for her unconditional support. Not only did she inspire me to start this blog but she also let me use her car and fill it with trash all year long. Without the car I would have missed out on many of my best finds.
I hope you all have a prosperous and happy New Year!