Don't try this at home, kids.

Who doesn’t love ties? Neckties, bowties, Windsor knot, half-Windsor, four-in-hand. Well, if my lying eyes are to be believed, most men dislike ties, wearing them only for their work, a colorful metaphor for the strangling nature of white collar existence. If movies from before 1960 are to be believed, every man wore ties, to work, to play, at a bar or ballpark, loosening them in hot weather or under duress. Ties were everywhere.

As every estate saler knows, ubiquity in the past often means abundance in the present. Case in point: this weekend I found neckful of ties. Twelve total, including an uncut bow tie, a rare creature, indeed.

This leads me to raise the rather curious point about “estate sale karma.” My Dad’s old girlfriend, Bonnie, used to talk about “garage sale karma”, and “thrift store karma”, since she used to haunt both in Saginaw, Michigan, actually making a living reselling furniture and costume jewelry. This “karma” is the gift of the gods to those of us who frequent these sales–eventually, the idea goes, you either get what you’re looking for or you begin to see patterns in the process.

Well, I love vintage ties, and though I’m probably not looking for any more (I already have a few dozen in my collection), this weekend’s bounty did raise that question: why is it that certain weekends reveal such similarities? A few weeks ago there was a flock of owls to be found. Last weekend, homemade art reared its proud yet ugly head in not one but three sales. This weekend, five of the six sales had ties, and in three of those I found some real beauties. One of the sales had, mixed in with ladies’ clothes, one gorgeous vintage tie.

The gods that I do not believe in have spoken.

This weekend’s journey began in Minneapolis, on Thursday, after I shoveled snow for some friends of mine and then devoured a giant breakfast at the Modern Times café with Barry Kryshka. He refused to join me at the estate sale, choosing to satisfy his awful habit of regular work, so I wandered into the Keewaydin neighborhood of south Minneapolis to see what I could find.

This was a small bungalow, the estate of a woman named Dorothy, and run by a company with their weird ad that concluded with


That made me think that a strange robed creature might be roaming the premises, devouring our souls as we ponder the merits of used NSP mugs. But no, this was a popular sale, with a line even at 10:00, which was fine because it was a gorgeous day.

Inside, it became apparent that Dorothy was an antique collector. I couldn’t find an obituary on the person, but the ad claimed it was a specific estate, suggesting someone had passed away. But this was a nicely laid out sale, lots of china, lots of nice furniture, lots of, well, lots of lots. Decently priced, but nothing I would buy until I came upon the ties.

Five vintage ties, gorgeous ties, on a little rack, two bucks each. That’s one thing about hitting estate sales–clothes are something that eludes the right customers. If many of the clothes I’d found at estate sales were in Uptown vintage clothing stores, I’d be paying upwards of $100 for the shoes, suits, etc. The ties would go for ten bucks at least, and these were pristine. Used clothing mavens don’t hit the sales, for it has often been the case that I’ve come back on a Sunday to buy severely discounted clothing that survived the first, full-priced day. Since there’s so few of us buying clothes, they’re reasonably priced.

The basement was very impressive as well–the two photos above reflect the treasure trove of nice clocks and vintage tools, perfectly organized and reasonably priced–were I in the market for tools or clocks whose ticking would send me into an Edgar Allen Poe night of insomnia, I’d have grabbed some myself.

Friday saw ESC Visiting Dignitary Mayor Mike Haeg and I hit some sales, in St. Louis Park (awful, and not worth more words), Hopkins, and Robbinsdale. The Hopkins sale at first appeared mediocre, a blah rambler without much personality. I found a few Life magazines, and a book on the stars, but not much else… until I saw the box of ties (right.)

This is why it pays to dig, people. You can see that there’s literally dozens of ties, and if I had just poked around, I’d come away thinking it was just a pile from the 80s onward, nothing I’d ever want. But at the bottom, and I mean the very bottom of the box, there were three bow ties and a beautiful 50s slim tie with a nice sheen. Since bow ties are fairly rare, even new ones are fine–one was clearly from the 90s, another was a hideously wide 1970s plaid number, but the best was a yellow and maroon striped “uncut” tie, meaning that each end comes to a point, as opposed to being flat. Even cooler, it was an “Enduro” brand bow tie.

While plumbing the depths of this collection, a woman came into the room and marveled at all the ties. She laughed. “When I was a girl, my mom found a bunch of ties at a garage sale, and made me a skirt of ties!” When I pointed out that this box would also do the trick, she agreed, then looked wistful. “That was my favorite skirt, too.”

Ah, but there was more! I usually hit basements last, and here I found the creepy “Don’t Talk to Strangers” board game–”a new, comprehensive game for an old problem”, from “People Who Care…” That’s a chilling night of family fun.

Added to this discovery was a collectors plate from the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range railroad line. A quick text to my brother, who collects this stuff, and the plate was mine (soon to be John’s.)

After this, Richfield, yet another dour bungalow, but this time it was the Mayor who scored, pulling in a weird old record by these guys, Jim Copp and Ed Brown, a pair of children’s entertainers who made a bunch of recordings with such intriguing characters as Mr. and Mrs. Destitute, the Hen with the Low IQ, and more. The back of the LP has testimonials from the New Yorker, New York Times, Time… these guys sound like they had the lion’s share of critics in their corner. In addition, the sleeve folds out to make a little stage, and there are cut out characters (still included) that allows your child to put the album on and have a mini-production of “Mr. and Mrs. Destitute.” I imagine teaching your youngun’ a word like ‘destitute’ is a good learning experience.

Did I mention there were ties here as well? True, though none worth buying.

A new job kept me from hitting the sales on Saturday, but in truth the majority of the sales began on Friday this weekend. Janice and I hit a pair on Sunday, the bargain day, when things are half off or more. We began in Edina, at a dull duplex, the place filled with crappy books and furniture. But I did find a neat, World War II “Kick Them in the Axis” button (which you can see on the photo of Janice below.)

From there it was a condo in Robbinsdale, the estate of a woman named Ruthe, who appeared to have had a man in her life at one time, but long ago. There were few items of clothing, almost all women’s, and most of the stuff was quite feminine. However, in a closet, down and in the back, were three ties on a rack. Two were just plain ugly, but I did find another slim number from the 50s, black with a silver pattern. Janice got a very nice red wool cardigan, I found a wool shirt (“King Kole” brand), and a one-serving popcorn popper that we’re going to use to make small batches of kettle corn. The guy even scratched on “1/4 cup popcorn” on it, just so we know how much to use.

Weirder still were the boxes and boxes of tiles in the garage. Tiles aren’t weird–often tile salesmen or people who had planned on a remodel will have crap like this laying around. But these were individual tiles, each with a month of a certain year, from across the 1970s and 80s. Different colors, fonts, styles. Hundreds, but just one each. So you were going to have a whole room filled with different tiles? That would drive me out of my mind. Hell, if you were to have a room of the same tile–of Herbert Hoover staring at you chowing on your Rice Krispies–that, too, would make me insane. If anyone knows anything about these, let me know.

A good weekend, especially for a man who collects ties. If you know me, you know I’m not the type who actually believes in karma, or luck, though I enjoy the ritual of making, say, a Detroit Tigers shrine during the playoffs and watching its magic fail miserably. Yes, I am aware that there are literally millions, if not billions of ties in the world, so it’s no surprise to see them appear in sales. But so many vintage ties, all in one weekend? I don’t think there’s a crazy estate sale god, dressed in used clothing and cackling in some dilapidated house in the clouds, but these patterns are fascinating to me. Coincidence? Serendipity? Ghosts? The mystery remains…



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  1. Dave says:

    Ties, you want ties, when are you coming to Michigan. I several hangers full of ties I want to get rid of.
    I used to say I needed a few for weddings & funerals, but I did not wear a tie to my DAD or MOTHERS funeral, nor do I believe I will wear one in the near future, nor will I have one on when I am cremated!!
    R.I.P. Ronnie Montrose

  2. Peter Schilling Jr. says:

    Dave! I totally want those ties. I’m probably not heading out to MI this year, as we’re in our “austerity program” here at Loafer’s Central. Hang on to ‘em! (Or send ‘em my way–I’ll reimburse you for the postage…)

    My God, I can’t even imagine you in a tie.

  3. Matt Jurewicz says:

    First of all….. WHAT?! Ronnie Montrose? When?

    Okay, you stopped at an estate sale in Richfield? Joy and I did recently as well–perhaps it was the same location? It was a small bungalo on a corner lot with a tuck-under garage. There were tons of books, fur coats a-plenty and baby grand piano in the living room, for God’s sake! Joy was on a mission to find our son a desk for his room so our focus was narrow. I did see a David Soul album that narrowly escaped my grasp, though… Next time you’re scoping the south metro for buried treasure, look me up!

  4. Was that strange bottle of four different anonymous liquors still available when you got to Robbinsdale? I nearly bought that. It was like one of those 4-colors-in-one Bic pens. But boozier.

  5. Peter Schilling Jr. says:

    Matt: that was the same one. Though I wasn’t looking through the LPs.

    Barry: didn’t see the 4-in-1 liquor situation. I swear I saw one earlier though. No, wait, that was on “Pawn Stars”. Why didn’t you buy it? How crazy would cocktail be at Kryshka’s Bar & Grille…

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