With every election year comes all the accoutrements that voters can buy to show off their love and/or support of a certain candidate. Yard signs and bumper stickers are ubiquitous, and in some cases t-shirts. But let me tell you, people don’t wear their pins and buttons like they did back in the day.

If there’s one thing you see in estate sales, it’s buttons and pins (and don’t ask me what’s the difference–I don’t know.) People used to love their freaking buttons. In the 1980s, kids like me wore smaller pins for bands, especially British pop bands, like the Police or Madness. But in the generations prior to that, folks wore buttons advertising their involvement in a parade, in this civic venture, and that, pins with jokes, wide as a baseball or as small as a dime. Heck, the president once encouraged people to wear buttons to help fight inflation!

This weekend’s sales revealed a home of  a woman who was a moderate Republican, probably much like the lawyer I wrote about this summer who came out of the closet and left the GOP’s good graces. If you can imagine this, she was a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, and, if her buttons are to be believed, a supporter of Ronald Reagan.

And that wasn’t even the strangest part of this weekend’s sales: there were boxing rings, empty encyclopedias, manga, collections of old newspaper comics, the works. Friday saw visiting dignitary Mayor Mike Haeg and I visit a crazy sale in Minnetonka, before hitting the dueling metropolis’ of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Sunday Janice and I hit one other Minneapolis sale first thing in the morning.

Despite having zero interest in martial arts, on Friday morning Mike and I decided that we absolutely had to see the sale held in Minnetonka that was held in a studio of the deadly craft. The owners had gone out of business, and certainly seen better days–by Sunday, when the sale was still running, the place was lit with candles and Coleman lanterns, since the electric bill hadn’t been paid.

This was one weird sale. As you might expect, it was an uber-macho joint, with tons of cheap ninja swords, inspirational signs that hung from the ceilings (below, left)  and all the apparatus necessary to pummel your opponents–boxing gloves, headgear, punching bags, and yes, for just under three grand, a boxing ring (above, right.) Inexplicably, you could buy a framed article about the pole dancing exercise class they offered.

But there were also tons and tons of modern comic books, too, and as cheap as dirt–I managed to glom the entire 28-volume set of Lone Wolf and Cub, one of the great Japanese manga comics, as well as the ten volume Samurai Executioner, Old Boy, and a couple of others, all for about twenty five bucks (about 35 cents a book.) There were tons of old videotapes, and the dude who owned the place must’ve also taught music, because there were little plastic busts of Bach and Liszt (both with their noses chipped off), sheet music, and pencils that advertised the music school.

Also, there were tons of framed van Gogh prints. How the hell that tied into music or martial arts eludes me even now.

Mike and I found ourselves over in Minneapolis’ Howe neighborhood, to a sale from a man who obviously dealt in antiques, and needed to “clear out some space.” There was so much stuff he had to have some of the sale outside, which was actually quite nice–this was a brilliant October day, crisp and clear and refreshing.

Inside, the sale was well organized, but pricey–this guy knew his stuff. There were old railroad lights, Native American artifacts, Maxfield Parrish prints, tons and tons of antique furniture, all priced as if it were an upscale antique shop.

Mike came away with a cool old pencil sharpener and he mentioned, perhaps in jest, that it would make for a great little lamp, which it would. On the way out, we came upon the weirdest item of the weekend (and this outside the martial arts center): a small (3′ x 2′) wool, handmade rug, from Pakistan. Unlike the usual patterns, this one had an AK-47, a tank, an automatic pistol, and other weapons on it. Welcome! Please keep your hands in the air.

Our next jaunt took us farther south, to a fairly forgettable sale, and then to St. Paul. This was the home of a fun-loving dude who we think was in the publishing business. But the guy loved to have fun and enjoyed risque humor!

This was run down little bungalow on St. Paul’s east side, just north of downtown. Lots of guys’ stuff, like these sad, old, rotten Western and Spy magazines that made my heart hurt. Why? Because I love this type of art, and would have bought some, had it not appeared as though each magazine had been thoughtfully chewed by some vicious dog, and then stored in someone’s bathroom.

The books were of no interest, unless you count a grocery bag full of 1970s “adult” sex manuals a find. A whole bag! Mike also found a cool (well…) mug that read “The House of a Million Screws” with an image that looks like a corporate logo, screw, and penis all at the same time. People sure were inventive back then.

In the basement, which stank, the man had boxes and boxes and boxes of yellowed tape, a strange sign, drawn as if by a ten-year-old, that read “It’s Happy Hour Time”, and bottles of weird liquid whose labels read “dandelion wine” and “elderberry–Sept. 77″. Mike held off on the screw mug, but I ended up taking a strange prize–a pair of leather-bound, gilt edged, 1957 editions of The Outdoors Encyclopedia. Beautifully designed, but, you may, what the hell do you want with them?

Well, thing is, they’re early galleys, with only a table of contents and a few pages, and then the rest are blank. Thick, heavy paper, nice covers, from an era I enjoy, and now they’re the perfect journals.

Janice and I couldn’t get to the Saturday sales, and we had a ton of stuff going on Sunday, so we got up early and hit one sale in the East Isles neighborhood of Minneapolis. This one probably would’ve cost us a couple hundred bucks if we had ended up there on the first day, buying stuff at full price.

This was the home of another patriotic citizen (in my mind), a Mary Ann, Republican, former president of the League of Women Voters, fighter for women’s rights, circus supporter, volunteer at the Historical Society and Women’s club, and a person who read and read and read. Though I’m guessing that her basement library also had books from a husband and children, too.

She actually passed away in 2010, but sometimes estates take that much time to complete–she owned a ton of stuff (there was a full house even on Sunday), and her home was palatial, and near the lake. That takes time.

As I wandered through the house, I found an old Life and some books upstairs, but also two boxes completely full of buttons. Buttons for candidates–John Anderson, Reagan, Gerald Ford (which actually reads “Vote for Betty’s Husband!”), and lots of Equal Rights pins, election judge buttons, buttons for her work at the circus (“I’m a Circus Daddy!” from five or six different years), pins and buttons for all her good works. Though I didn’t buy any, I couldn’t help but think how incongruous a Republican Equal Rights Amendment supporter would be today.

The basement was another matter. You often see books in the basement, which is sometimes scary, because if it stinks of mildew that often means your paper products’ll reek as well. This wasn’t so bad, and I ended up with a big book of Little Orphan Annie dailies from 1935-1942, and a few other vintage paperbacks. But they were so well organized! Bookshelves like a library, and pretty much put in sections assembled by subject–travel on one shelf, religion on another, fiction pretty much all over the place.

There was also a plate commemorating Jimmy Carter. Considering I found a Ford in ’76 button, and John Anderson one (1980), I’m wondering if the love of Carter came later, or was the property of husband or children. Let’s just say this: it was stored in the basement.

So I find myself conflicted about this lady: on one hand, I wonder about our country, the divisiveness, the hate, and a GOP that I think is become more and more, well, bizarre. Then again, you talk with people who worked their tails off for McGovern in ’72, and they might say the same thing. And yet we endure, and yet we carry on. You can gripe about this generation, and maybe it’s not as involved as they were back in Mary Ann’s day. Then again, maybe they’re just as involved, but they’re changing the world in different ways… and without all those buttons.


This entry was posted in Estate Sale Confidential. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.