Recently, I’ve been looking for a small “bat” bottle of vintage Shalimar perfume. I guess this means I’ve become a collector, as I seem to need it. I have a pretty good vintage perfume collection now. Not having Shalimar is sort of like not having “Blonde on Blonde” in any respectable vinyl collection. But these prices!
So I’ve been going to estate and garage sales. My utter lack of success at these has made me wonder. How often do good perfumes really turn up?
I posted the question on a couple of fragrance forums. I asked readers if they had ever “scored” big at a tag sale, and, if so, how many sales did they attend before that, as a number or as a percentage. Perhaps naively, I expected lots of responses.
The answers -- and there have been few so far -- were enlightening. People listed in detail the perfumes they had found. Other forum members oohed and ahhed over the treasures listed. Some suggested asking the host of the sale. Although there were vague references to going to sales “for years,” no one got specific about how many such sales they’d attended.
While certainly not a scientific sample, I thought these results were interesting. I began to wonder if people who frequent estate sales regularly just don’t want to admit it. Kind of like playing the lottery: the big winners tend to be the daily ticket-buyers, reflecting simple laws of probability. But you’d be hard-pressed to get anyone to admit that they’d spent the milk money that way.
My own experience with estate sales has been gloomy. Some old lady dies, and leaves behind a house full of stuff. Once the heirs have taken what they want, an estate sale company comes in and picks over what’s left. After pigeonholing the valuable items, or so I’ve heard, they put the bleached bones on sale to the public. Nothing, it seems, is sacred. The first time I saw used lipsticks with price tags on them, I started calling this “the vulture culture.”
The estate-sale proprietors here in the South are unfailingly well-groomed and well-spoken, polite even to the gentlemen coming through asking if there are any guns to be had -- I saw that twice in one day last week. And I know that you can't take it with you. This is where much of the merchandise in flea markets, antique stores and ebay comes from. In a way, by paying their markups, I’m paying for the privilege of not having to do this myself.
As I wander through these houses, I wonder about the people who lived in them. At some, like one I went to last year, there are few secrets. At others, there are many. Childrens' rooms, in particular, bother me. What happened to the kids? Why was a little girl living with an obviously older -- you can usually tell by the amount of home-health care stuff for sale -- lady? What happened here? At one particularly disturbing house I saw, it looked as though the whole family had simply evaporated. OK, I know I’ve got a too-fertile imagination, but I kept wondering about that one. Was there a car crash? A plane crash? Or was this house kept as a sad shrine to offspring that had grown up and moved on? A hundred houses, a hundred stories.
Maybe I don’t need that Shalimar after all.
And so I put the question out once more: do you go to estate sales? (You don’t have to say how many.) What have you found at them? Do you end up buying stuff other than what you were looking for? (I bought a nifty brand-new western styled leather daypack for twenty bucks at one last week. See, even me. I “scored.” What is this compulsion to brag all about, anyway?)
Maybe this. Maybe we boast about our finds because it makes walking through these spooky houses easier. Makes the experience less horrifying. It diverts attention from what none of us want to think about, namely this: someday, this could be my stuff.