I'm a professional scavenger making a living selling curbside garbage. This blog details my finds and sales. It also acts as an archive for things beautiful and historic that would otherwise have been destroyed.
2018 was an excellent year for garbage – I think this top ten list is my most valuable to date!
The year also saw some changes to the way I do business. For one, I finally discovered the local auction house around the middle of June. It’s been a great way to unload things quickly and effortlessly while getting decent money for my finds. I can’t understate how much this has reduced the accumulation in my storage spaces, something that’s caused me a fair bit of stress over the years. It also reduces my reliance on eBay, though I’ll continue to use it for many items, especially smaller ones. I haven’t yet done the math, but I think my auction sales outpaced my eBay earnings in the second half of 2018. That’s due in part to the epic purge I undertook this summer, but I expect the auction house will be a prime source of income going forward.
I also started leaving the house earlier when going on evening trash runs. For years I left at around 10:30pm, but one day (I’m not sure when) I realized that I could leave earlier and see the same amount of garbage. Now I start my runs around 8:30pm, which makes it easier to get to bed at a reasonable hour and perhaps go out in the morning as well. I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but I guess old habits die hard.
Finally, much of the city used to have two garbage collection days per week. However, in recent years they’ve been slowly replacing (one borough at a time) one of those garbage days with a compost day. Now there are very few places that have two trash pickups a week. That doesn’t mean much for most people, but for me it’s great news because all of the garbage is now concentrated on a single trash day. It makes every run a little more productive, and I’m sure the new compost days contributed to this being my best year to date.
Anyways, enough chatter. Here are my top ten finds of 2018!
10 – Tchotchke cabinet. Most people seem to recognize this as a printers tray. Personally, I think it had a different purpose. Each hole was labelled with a place name (most of which were in Quebec), and inside were pieces of paper with even more place names written on them. It’s also a lot sturdier than most of the printers trays I’ve seen. Regardless, it’s a great piece that will likely be used to display miscellaneous junk going forward. It’s currently “on loan” with a friend, I might take it back when I have a vision for it. Also, I kept the pieces of paper – one day I might map out all the places in hopes of finding out what unifies them. Found under a pile of junk in Rosemont.
9 – Collection of lab Pyrex. I was too busy to take many pictures, but over a few weeks I found hundreds of pieces (most of which were in their original boxes) ranging from the humble beaker and Erlenmeyer flask to the more exceptional models you see here. Thank goodness I had discovered the auction house by then as I’m not sure what I would have done with it all otherwise. Without looking at the numbers I’d guess that the collection netted me somewhere around 500$. Found in the Mile End.
8 – Old platters. As mentioned in my last post. These could move up in the rankings depending on their value, but I have more research to do before I can say anything with confidence. Regardless, they’re very beautiful and I expect that they’re eBay-worthy. Found in the Golden Square Mile.
7 – Expensive perfume collection. Most of the nice perfumes I find are vintage. This collection, however, was relatively fresh and fairly expensive. The Kilian “Smoke for the Soul” sold for 115$, the “Tuscan Scent” by Salvatore Ferragamo sold for 120$, and the Byredo “Super Cedar” went for 50$. Those were all friendly rates as well – they would have gone for a bit more than that on eBay. Found in Westmount.
6 – 1950s St Laurent oil quart. Petroliana is very popular these days, and the oil tin has become a desirable collectors item. This one was pretty rare – I couldn’t find another like it online. So, I wasn’t totally surprised when it sold for 355$ via eBay auction. That still seems like a lot of money to pay for a tin, but I’m not complaining. Found in Nouveau-Bordeaux.
5 – Uranium glass lamp. This thing sat in my basement for months before I thought to check and see if that green hue was a result of uranium. Sure enough, it glowed very nicely under UV light (as you can see below). The glass was broken in a couple of places, but thankfully I found the pieces and was able to repair it so that the flaws weren’t too noticeable. It’s a great piece, and it definitely gains some value being uranium glass. Found in TMR.
4 – Silverware collection. This bag contained a collection of old cutlery, some of which was 80% and 92.5% (sterling) silver. Overall I saved over a kilogram of solid silver. I melted the damaged pieces and listed the nicer ones on eBay, many of which you can see below. I still have yet to figure out the origins of two pieces, including a knife with a dragon motif. If you know anything about them please let me know! Found near Vendome metro.
3 – Cold hard cash. 2018 was my easily my best year ever in terms of finding cash. I saved 307 USD (nearly 400 CAD) in Nouveau-Bordeaux, 262$ in a fake fireplace in the Mile End, 140$ in some shirt pockets in the Plateau, and a coin collection featuring old bills and several silver coins. On a related note, I also found 225$ in unused gift cards, besting my previous best of 68$. I doubt I’ll get nearly as lucky in 2019, but you can never know for sure.
2 – Austrian 4 ducat gold coin in a 18k gold frame on an 18k gold chain. God only knows why someone threw this out – my guess is that it was a gift to a privileged kid who didn’t know any better. Either way, it ended up being a nice little windfall for me. This ducat coin is pretty common, so I wasn’t going to get much above scrap weight for it. Still, I was able to sell it to my jeweler for around 1000$. This is the best find that I don’t remember finding – sometimes, especially when it’s cold I’ll throw things in the car and figure it out later. The one thing I know for sure is that it came from a certain rich neighbourhood.
1 – Solid 18k gold Cross fountain pen. My best find of the year was one that didn’t made the blog. It came to me in the summer, right when I was super busy switching garages and trying to get on top of my overwhelming collection of junk. I usually like to take my time posting my more awesome finds anyways, but before I knew it months had passed and I figured I might as well save it for the top 10. This Cross pen looks like most other Cross pens, the main difference being that instead of being gold-filled (as many are) it’s made from solid 18k gold. This is an upper class pen, one that only CEOs and others in the 1% could ever hope to afford. I have it listed on eBay for 1500$, which I think is a reasonable price. I expect it will take a while to sell, however, as the market for fountain pens costing over 1000$ is fairly small. Found in Outremont.
2019 is off to a bit of a slow start. I’ve made some good finds, but nothing that seems worthy of next year’s top-ten. However, I’m sure the awesome garbage will come eventually, especially after the weather improves!
I’ve been a “full-time” scavenger for nearly three years now and have been honing the art for longer than that. My trash picking technique continued to evolve in 2015. I greatly improved my organizational skills, visited new neighbourhoods, and learned a lot about selling online.
It was the first full year that I kept track of my sales, and my refined business savvy led me to earn more than I ever have before. I’ll take a closer look at the numbers in a future post!
I also changed the way I blogged, switching from a rigid weekly post to something a bit more casual and less time consuming. I found that the old method was contributing to garbage fatigue, and since the change I’ve found blogging to be a lot more satisfying.
I don’t think anything I found in 2015 is quite as mind-blowing as the Nazi German passport I saved last year. However, I think that my average find this year was better than last, and this fact is reflected in this post.
What follows are five lists that I think represent the best finds of 2015. It’s hard to choose sometimes, and a lot of great finds are obviously left out. Check the archives if you want to see it all, and let me know if the comments if you think I left anything deserving out.
Let’s start with …
1. The top personally useful find of the year
I did a top five of this category last year, but this time around I cut it down to one because most of the stuff just isn’t very exciting. Be it known that I found tape, bubble wrap, boxes, batteries, battery chargers, sharpies, tuques, gloves, clothes and all kinds of other useful stuff. A portable cell phone battery I found in Hampstead would probably have been #2 in this category if I felt like including it. However, I thought only one item was really worth mentioning…
#1. Angeli Mini Pro Espresso machine
I’d like to thank whoever decided to toss this machine – it makes a pretty tasty latte! It’s a solid mid-range appliance that should provide me my caffeine fix for quite some time. Apparently this model was often given by distributors as a gift to café owners. The previous owner may have tossed it in preparation for a move. Found this April in TMR. Estimated value: 200-300$.
2. The top three decorations
My room is (as you might expect) mostly decorated with former trash. Here are three new additions to my interior decor.
It’s actually kind of hard to find a decent rug in the trash. Many of the ones I see are moth-eaten, mildewy, or of low production quality. You also have to be very sure that they aren’t infested by bedbugs. Fortunately this one avoided all those ills, and now it adorns the center of my den. It really ties the room together. Found this June in TMR. Estimated value: 100$.
#2. Yellow mod lamp
I love yellow and 60s mod design, making this lamp an obvious keeper. It now illuminates a corner of my room. Found this March in NDG. Estimated value: 100$.
#1. Three-layered man by Morrie Rohrlick (signed lithograph print)
This piece speaks to me because of its style. I also appreciate that it was made by a noted local artist. It now hangs on my wall, hopefully making people think I’m more cultured and distinguished than I actually am. Found this May in TMR. Estimated value: 150$.
3. The top five oddities
There’s lots of strange things to be found in the garbage. Sometimes, I decide it’s for the best that I don’t share some of these things on the blog. This top five list contains two never seen before items, things that I figured were best shared long after finding them. Otherwise, these things are all united in being weird, somehow surprising, or just a bit mysterious.
#5. Boxes of vintage false teeth
These belonged to an old dentist. I found some dental instruments in the same spot, as well as a little wooden box full of baby teeth. I considered adding the latter to this section, but finding baby teeth isn’t actually that unusual for me (they’re like seashells: lots of people collect them, and later decide they don’t want them anymore). Found this January in Verdun.
It seems that I find dental gold once or twice a year. This one was a bit different though as it was just one big chunk of gold. Often they are just a thin cap or fillings that extend over a few different teeth. I’d love to find dental gold more often because it’s easy money. However, it’s still a bit weird taking something that was once an important part of someone’s mouth. Found this March in NDG.
Status: Sold for scrap (approximately 80$).
#3. Pre-Columbian (?) clay beads and tiny vessel
I’m no archaeologist but I’d say these items look pretty ancient. I’ve held off on selling them because I can’t really prove they’re old, though I suppose I could just list them asking eBayers to judge for themselves. Regardless, I don’t mind holding on to this stuff – it’s pretty cool owning ancient artifacts.
The house it all came from gave off generally mysterious vibes, and it seemed like the previous owners were very eccentric. I’m not sure what happened but a lot of their stuff ended up in a big yellow dumpster. The bin also provided a bunch of scrap silver, a 17th century book, and there were three other adjacent dumpsters full of mediocre amateur art. The inclusion of these items in the oddities section is due partly to to the fact that it’s weird to find ancient artifacts, even if they’re not particularly valuable in the trash, and partly because the spot itself was so strange. Found this February in Outremont. Check out the link if you’d like to see pictures of the other beads.
Status: The beads are collecting dust, while the vessel (below) is on display.
Estimated value: About 10$ per bead and 40$ for the vessel.
#2. Vintage H&R .22 Caliber Rifle
I found this gun in a recycling bin of all places – this thing definitely isn’t recyclable! I held off on posting it because I figured people might be reasonably sketched out. The gun is a .22 caliber, which is quite small and intended mostly for hunting small game and birds. The gun is also definitely vintage. My guess is that it was made in the 50s or 60s, and the barrel is rusty to the point that it might be dangerous to shoot. In short, it’s much more a “kid’s first gun” than a potential murder weapon. The house it came from was recently sold, so chances are the previous owner just didn’t want to hold onto this piece of their childhood any longer.
Status: Eccentric house decoration.
Estimated value: Not a heck of a lot.
#1. Ripped up photo
I see old photos on a fairly regular basis, and very occasionally the previous owners (or the people who inherited them) rip them apart. I find this annoying because it makes it difficult to decipher the potential story behind the images. I kind of understand the motivation in this case though, as this photo portrays someone shaking hands with a Nazi.
The photo is a lot more innocent than it might seem at first glace though. It took place at a pre-war swimming competition, and the Nazi swimmer is just another competitor. I very much doubt the wearing of Nazi insignia was optional at the time, so the man wearing the outfit isn’t necessarily a supporter of the ideology. As well, the man shaking his hand is doing so out of sportsmanship, not because they have any kind of sympathy for the cause.
I didn’t mention this picture on the blog before due to its personal nature, but figure it’s okay to share now that a sufficient amount of time has passed since it was thrown out. Nevertheless, the exact spot it came from will remain secret. I considered blurring the faces, but I don’t think it matters anymore given that the photo is about 80 years old.
4. Honorable mentions
In no particular order, here are five things that didn’t make the top 10 but deserved some credit nonetheless.
Postcard featuring the Ottawa “base-ball” team, champions of the Canadian League in 1913
I love both history and baseball, so finding this postcard was pretty sweet. It features Frank Shaughnessy, a notable athlete, executive, and sports innovator. I would have like to have kept it, but I needed the money. Found this April in TMR.
Status: Sold for 115$.
2015 was the year of the laptop. In 2014 I found only one that was in working order (a Macbook that just needed a battery). This year though I found three, all of which were more powerful than the Macbook. As you might expect, it’s people with money who throw out working laptops: Two came from Westmount, while another came from a nice house in Cote St-Luc. This doesn’t include a few others that I sold for parts. None of these laptops are top of the line, but they’re definitely not trash! It’s also important to note that laptops aren’t supposed to be thrown out regardless, as they contain dangerous chemicals that contaminate the environment.
Status: The one pictured sold for 80$. My mom is planning on buying the two from Westmount for 250$.
Status: Some pieces sold for scrap, some listed or sold on eBay, some collecting dust.
Vintage fortune telling card games
Someone in Verdun had a keen interest in the occult. I found several different vintage card games in front of their place on Bannantyne, some of which sold for pretty good money. The same spot also produced the fake teeth from earlier, and a nice collection of vintage restaurant menus that narrowly missed being added to this section. They were found over a few different trash days in January and February.
Status: Black cat game sold for 130$; EE Fairchild (middle bottom) deck for 35$; Gypsy Witch deck for 35$. Two others are collecting dust, while another was sold at a yard sale.
George Orwell’s Folwark Zwierzecy
This is the first (or if not the first, a very early) Polish edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was published in 1947 by the League of Poles Abroad. The binding is very basic and economical, intended for distribution to a country devastated by the Second World War. It was in remarkable shape considering its age and binding technique, not to mention the fact that it was tossed in a recycling bin. Found June 2015 in Mount Royal.
Status: Sold for 150$.
It’s now time for…
5. The Top 10 finds of 2015
You know the drill for this section! These are the finds that I think constitute the cream of the crop. Some are museum worthy, some are useful, and some are just very valuable. What unites them is the excitement they add to my life. Finding this kind of stuff is a big part of what motivates me to keep on picking.
#10. Massive box of family photos
I don’t think I’ve ever found so many old photos in one place. There’s so many that I haven’t thoroughly looked through them yet – the prospect of doing so is a bit overwhelming. Included in the box was a great circa 1910s photo (see below) of a family posing in front of their Villeray home with their cow. That photo became the subject of a newspaper article a few months ago, and I earned 60$ for the photo rights. Also included in the box was a very nice piece of Quebec folk art, which I have listed on eBay for 115$. It’s sad to see such things tossed, but at least I was there to save it. Found this April in TMR.
Status: The cow photo has been added to my personal collection of found objects. The rest of the box is mostly intact and in storage. I should probably figure out what to do with it in the new year.
#9. Parti Québécois election sign / separatist mural
Staunch federalists may disagree with this selection (some might even want to burn it!) but I personally think this election sign deserves a spot in the top 10. It’s just one of those historical object that really zooms you back to the time in which it was created. The sign was likely made in 1976, the first election that René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois won in Quebec. It helped to elect Gérald Godin, a well know Québécois journalist and poet. That side, with its distinctly 1970s graphic design is cool enough, but on the other side is a hand-painted mural (below) that was likely painted for the 1980 Quebec Referendum. The one-of-a-kind painting really captures the spirit of that interesting time in Quebec’s political history. Found this April in the Plateau (or Mercier, in homage to this sign).
Status: Sold for 130$.
#8. Westmount jewelry collection
Basically some very rich people moved, and someone in the family tossed a whole black trash bag full of jewelry. Not much of it was that special, though I did sell a pair of Tiffany earrings for 100$. However, I did make nearly 400$ from junk gold and silver alone and sold a bunch of the costume jewelry at yard sales. Overall, it was pretty easy money! The same people also tossed a whole bunch of perfumes, sunglasses, and curiosities, making them a top candidate for “spot of the year” – if I had chosen to include that as a category. Found this May in Westmount.
Status: Mostly sold (for a total of around 600$).
#7. Expo 67 plan map
2015 saw me find a bunch of great Expo 67 related stuff, including this rare key map of the Expo 67 grounds. It must be rare, because I shared it on the Expo 67 Facebook group and most had never seen anything like it. It’s signed by Gilles Gagnon, one of the project’s head engineers. The map was included in what looked to be a kid’s school project, and I’d guess one of the parents must have had some connections to get it. Found this March in Hampstead.
Status: I intend on getting it scanned, and then selling it for whatever I can.
Estimated value: It’s hard to say for this kind of item, for which there is no easily researched equivalent on eBay. However, I’d guess that it would sell for at least 200$, and I’ll definitely try for more before settling for that. My eBay pricing strategy is “start high, move low.”
#6. DSM II
The DSM II, the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, is notable for being the last edition to include homosexuality as a mental disorder. It’s an interesting piece of history, and apparently difficult to find; my copy, far from being in pristine condition sold for a very pleasant amount.
Status: Sold for 280$.
#5. 1951 Centennial Model Singer 221-1 “Featherweight” Sewing Machine
This sewing machine is apparently very desirable to quilters due to its light weight. It came in its original case with a bunch of accessories, and made me nearly a whole month’s rent. I ended up selling it locally to a fashion design student. It’s nice to know it’ll be put to good use. Found this May in Cote-Des-Neiges.
Status: Sold for 450$.
#4. 18k gold Patek Philippe watch buckle
It’s a bit funny to have a watch buckle as my forth best find of the year. However, this buckle was 18 karat gold and made by Patek Philippe, a prestigious watch maker whose work often sells for tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some watch collector was likely very happy to get their hands on this buckle, which would have helped to (genuinely) complete their vintage gold watch. Found this March in Hampstead.
Status: Sold for 650$.
#3. Modernist / brutalist jewelry collection
This was hands down my best jewelry haul of the year, featuring several great modernist and brutalist pieces from the 1960s. There were three works by Guy Vidal, a renown Montreal based designer, a five piece sterling silver set by Arne Johansen, and a few other unsigned but beautiful pieces. This collection taught me a lot about this era of design, and also made me a load of cash. Most was found this March in NDG, though the Johansen set was completed a few weeks later.
Status: Guy Vidal pieces sold for 375$ (bracelet 185$, earrings 100$, other earrings 90$). Arne Johansen set listed for 675 US$. Others listed on Etsy (one, two).
#2. Art deco era Asprey mail order catalogue
This gorgeous catalogue, which was published sometime in the 1930s provides great insight into the aesthetics of art deco design. The catalogue was made by Asprey, a prestigious UK-based designer, manufacturer and retailer of luxury goods. Their flagship store is on New Bond Street in London, one of the most expensive retail strips in the world.
The book is in excellent, nearly mint condition. Many things associated with prestige and luxury have value, and this book is no exception. Though it seems to be quite rare, I was able to find a couple other books like it for sale online: one (in inferior condition to mine) is going for 992 US$ while another is listed at 4000$, albeit with a “best offer” option. Items like this often take a long time to sell, but I expect this book to eventually bring me a nice hunk of cash. Found this May in the recycling bin of a Golden Square Mile apartment building. To see full-sized versions of the pictures below, click on the image and scroll the the bottom right side of the page, and then click on “view full size.”
#1. Huge collection of Expo 67 ephemera: photos, ephemera, and a rare Hostesses’ Handbook
Like I mentioned earlier, it was difficult choosing a top find this year. There was no clear front-runner. Each of the top three are of roughly equal monetary value, and each has significant historical value. However, I ultimately decided to go with something with a little more local flavor.
Besides, of all the three these photos received the most attention. I’ve been in touch with two different local archives, both of which are preparing for 2017 – the 50th anniversary of Expo 67. Both have interest in adding these items to their collection.
The photos are mostly architectural models of the various pavilions, some of which never actually came into existence. There are also aerial shots of the grounds, photos of a few different hostess uniforms, and a rare shot of Montreal Canadiens great Elmer Lach. Many of these photos come with a type-written description. Otherwise, there were various pamphlets, press releases in a few different languages, and a very hard to come by Hostesses’ Handbook.
Overall, it’s a fantastic collection featuring many rare, historically valuable items. Now I have to figure out what to do with it. One of the archives can only offer a tax receipt, though given my increased income that might actually come to use – I’ll likely have to pay taxes for the first time this year. The other archive has made a solid monetary offer.
However, I can’t help but wonder how much I could sell these for on the private market. I would love for them to go to an archive, but I still have a lot of student debt to pay off thanks to my (somewhat naive) investment in a mostly useless Sociology degree. It’s impossible not to think about what the maximum payout might be, and impossible to find out without listing it for premium amount. I’ll figure out what to do in the new year, but I’m confident I’ll get at least a decent payday one way or the other. Found this October in a TMR recycling bin. Check the link if you want to see more of this collection!
Estimated value: To be determined.
What’s next in 2016
The same thing, most likely! I hope to make a bit more money next year, and I figure 24k (or 2 grand a month) is a challenging but attainable goal. In 2016 I plan to stay on top of my work like I’ve done the last few months, get to finishing some of my dustier, long delayed projects like scanning that Expo key map, and schedule a healthy dose of relaxation and down time. I’m also looking to increase my blog subscribers, so if you know anyone who might be interested in seeing what I find in the garbage, send them this way!
Thank you so much to all of you for your support in 2015. All the best in the new year!