The Sherlock Holmes of Estate Sales

This afternoon on the way home from a relative’s first communion, my family stopped at an estate sale. The house, located in a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood, was pretty run down compared to its neighbours. Yard sales and stuff of the sort has never been my favourite thing to go to as I tend to find them awkward. Shopping somebody else’s goods and then possibly haggling them for a lower price is just not my cup of tea.

So this time I decided to sit in the car and wait for my mom and dad to come out. My dad is known for buying pieces of mismatched China at these things. His first visit to one he got lucky and bought some pretty decent pieces for a low price so he’s become an infrequent goer to estate sales since then. (Probably about twice a year.)

As I sat waiting, my mom sent me a text that read, “Tons of old books in her.” As a lover of history books, I couldn’t pass up the chance to potentially find something. My college’s library often sheds off older books once a year. You can stuff a bag for a buck and I tend to come home with four bags. It’s practically free knowledge.

Reader, when I walked into this house, I didn’t know what to say. The condition was pretty crumby. The books though were endless. There had to be over a thousand. Books ranged from Mayans to Colonial America to Revolutionary War to Regency to Homosexuals in History. There was also a large medical collection. The more I looked around, the more I realized not only would I have loved this person, but I began to learn so much about them from their stuff.

They obviously loved to read. They may have even been some sort of hoarder of books. But they liked antiques. There were some old black and white photos dating back to the early 1900’s, old sewing kits, and some Confederate souvenir plates.

Medicine was obviously their profession. Let’s be real, only doctors would probably want to read books on the practice and there were book ends marked “Brown University.” In the garage, there were some “specimen cups” (Which my mother asked if I needed any of those. Isn’t she funny?) and a medical with a stethoscope to listen for the heartbeat of a baby in the womb.

History was an extreme passion for the person but it was mostly for fun. Most of the books weren’t scholarly. By that I mean most of them didn’t have footnotes or bibliographies. The person wanted to read as much as they could on it and didn’t care too much about the potential for era as much as a historian might have. Their collection spanned thousands of years of history so nailing a favourite era is almost impossible but there was a large amount of Pre-Columbus America books, particularly on the Mayans.

Their taste in music was opera and classical. CD’s and records were laden with Haydn, Mozart, etc. They had musical skills. I grabbed a book of traditional Irish sheet music to take home. In it, there are written in notes for chords to play along with the music. Not only can they read sheet music but they were able to figure out harmonies to play, most likely on guitar or piano.

Their favourite vacation spot was New Orleans. There was a bunch of souvenirs from the city. Books, artwork, plates, and cups with sights of the city were all over the house.

I couldn’t help but feel like a detective when exploring the rooms and rummaging through the stuff. Each room revealed more and more about the person and their life. In my book, the person must have been pretty cool. We shared all the same interests, besides the medicine. It’s amazing how much material culture can reveal about one person or a household. I can only imagine what people will say when they go through my stuff when I’m gone. 18th century outfits, jazz music, and Disney World maps will make an interesting conversation.


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