Monday, June 21, 2010

A Risky Business

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.


ChickenFreak said...

I keep thinking about the whole estate sale thing, but so far my old perfume finds (very few of them) have been from the vintage shops. So I guess I'm letting someone else do the disturbing part. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm in the south as well (Alabama) and I've really never had that much luck with estate sales. I find the same thing is going on that you mentioned. By the time the family & dealers pick through everything, what's left should have just gone to Goodwill or the nearest dumpster. I had luck for a while with a local antique store that has an "estate sale" the first of the month. I got a Shalimar extrait in the box for $15, a L'Air du Temps in the lalique bottle still in the wrapped box for $25, Femme & Madam Rochas perfume in the boxes, and tons of partial bottles & minis. But I've missed the last 2 on purpose. The problem is that in the beginning I was the only person who wanted the perfume but that changed. They also started advertising heavily as well as allowing dealers who are like drooling vultures, that it hasn't been worth the stress of fighting the long line & insane crowds.
There's also that fact that around here they call everything an estate sale only to find out it's one table on the front lawn. The best luck on perfume I ever had was in Cleveland on the last trip to visit my brother. The thrift stores were loaded with cheap but good stuff. I got a huge crystal bottle of BANDIT, a sealed bottle of Givenchy L'interdit, & a full bottle of Jean Patou AMOURE AMOUR. I've actually heard that for collectors, the south is not the place to search. Part of the reason may be because once we get the snow birds who come here to retire, they've already downsized their possessions. Lately I just search the internet. My last score was a full bottle of Chanel #5 EDP for $25. Not bad! Good luck on your search for Shalimar. The prices online actually scare me!!

Anonymous said...

And you're right! You can't help but wonder what the stories are. I've been to a couple that make me so sad & uncomfortable that I couldn't get out of the house fast enough! Sad to think of strangers picking through my things. -MELISCENTS-

BitterGrace said...

I stay away from estate sales, partly because I also find them sad, partly because they are such a potent reminder of transience that I lose most of my desire to acquire *anything* once I'm there. I've never seen a tempting bottle of perfume at any estate or yard sale. My best finds have been at flea markets. L'Interdit, Most Precious, and Corday Toujours Moi in parfum are the ones that thrilled me most.

At the risk of sounding like a complete vulture, I would say your best bet is to look to elderly perfume lovers who are are still alive. A lot of the best stuff I have came from a couple of older women who were happy to have someone take it off their hands. I wonder what would happen if you took out a classified ad offering to buy certain old perfumes?

Olfacta said...

Hi CF -- Yeah, I think that's what I'm going to be doing now, too.

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- Very true about the estate sales here in the South. Lots of Avon, not much Chanel. I had a talk with my local antique store awhile back, only to discover that the owner generally poured the perfume out so she could sell the bottle! And although I keep my searches to the well-settled and well-heeled parts of Atlanta, I must be missing the boat -- or maybe the daughters are keeping the perfumes, as I did my mother's Arpege and Moment Supreme. The best flea markets I've been to in this region have been in Charleston, but, sad to say, this was before I got into perfumes. So...back to fleabay, I guess. Thanks for your comment and stories!

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- I have wondered about placing an ad like that, but then imagined fielding calls from who-knows-who, so I guess I'll stay under the radar for now. I've also considered going to the source -- the estate sale companies -- to get ahead of the crowds. But the whole thing kinda gives me the willies...maybe one day I'll get lucky with the Shalimar, one can only hope!

Ines said...

Unfortunately for me, there are no estate sales here. The double unfortunate thing is, there are no shops where I could try and find anything vintage.
My best option is ebay, or as it turned out lately, another blogger's find who is generous enough to share (Carol's find was incredible). :)

waftbyCarol said...

Well you know what I bought , and seriously , that was the ONLY Estate Sale I have been to in the 15 years I have lived here . Mostly because for 12 of those years I worked 12 hours a day ,
7 days a week in my Espresso Bar .
My friend Chris recieves the e-mails and pictures from this particular sale company , and when she saw the dresser full of vintage perfumes she immediately contacted me , so it helps to have friends watching out for me...

chayaruchama said...

Well, Pat.
I guess that's why I love you.
Really .

Most sales of these sorts require a car and the ability to drive-
Neither of which apply to me ;-0

BG and you both echoed my sentiments.
I wonder about all the stories, myself.
And if I were there, I'd absorb them.
[Not so good for my "shenpa",alas.]

Olfacta said...

Hi Carol -- Very astute of you! I got a couple of cards from the sellers I met last week and may just do that.t. The saying "there's gotta be a better way" certainly applies in my case. We all dream about hauls like yours!

I bet you make a great espresso, too...

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- One thing I thought of, but couldn't work into this particular entry, was if there are estate sales in Europe. I'd never seen a garage sale until I moved to California in the early 70's, where they were all over the place, and I thought that was odd.

I wonder if this is cultural, or about space available, or...all kinds of things. Interesting!

Olfacta said...

Hi Chaya --

What a nice thing to say! Thanks!

I think that some people are more "thin-skinned," as goes the expression, than others. Or maybe just more imaginative. Others enjoy the "needle-in-a-haystack" aspect of driving from sale to sale. Myself, I'd just as soon have UPS drop it on my porch, but we do pay for that privilege!

Good to hear from you as always.

Aparatchick said...

Estate sales don't bother me. I hope that when my time comes, all my things will find homes with people who will treasure them.

And I'd be perfectly happy to find a treasure at an estate sale before then, but we rarely have true estate sales around here. And it is indeed more Avon than Chanel around here.

Bellatrix said...

I don't have money to deal with rent/food, not to mention buying something :D :D However, I did buy Inspiration today :D

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