Old Dolls and a Ghost Story: The Latest in Estate Sales Part 2

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Here’s a continuation of Monday’s post—the good, the bad and the next big thing in estate sales. I recently talked with Charlene Macias, professional estate sale organizer in Chicago. With over 10 years experience in her company, TimeSavers, Charlene was the perfect person to tap for news of what’s new and old in estate sales.  On Monday, Charlene talked about what’s selling now at local estate sales.  And speaking of old…..

GSW: What’s the oldest piece you’ve encountered when preparing a sale?  Was it in good condition?  Did anybody want it?
Charlene: It was a soft cover book from the early 1800’s, in fairly good condition. The original owner was a ship’s captain on the East coast. He had signed the inside cover of the book.
However, the person who bought it knew where the book really came from. This particular book was a volume in her church library….the one volume in a set that had been missing for years. It was identified by the signature on the inside cover.

GSW: Can you tell us about the  most valuable piece you’ve uncovered in a sale? Was it a surprise to the owners?  If something is really valuable in a certain market, what do you do with it?
Charlene: I wish I could say we found something worth thousands or millions, but in one instance, we did fine something the client had totally overlooked.  There was an attic filled with dolls, many in glass cases.  The client said she wanted to send her daughter to college from the proceeds of the sale of those dolls. 

We started to set up a doll room for the sale, and as I did some research on the collection, I found that these particular dolls really don’t bring in much money in today’s market.  Some were lovely but not worth much.  We only sold one doll, a Cinderella, for $75.  But we noticed an older Barbie in the pile of arms and limbs.. It was dirty, with no clothes, but I recognized the old “bubble cut” and put it up on Ebay.  Would you believe it started a bidding war, and the doll sold for $600 to a guy in Paris, who kept emailing to ask when “she” would arrive.  He was thrilled.
GSW: While a percentage of estate sales are for deceased individuals, sales are sometimes in older homes that have a spirited atmosphere. With all the personal history floating around you, have you ever encountered anything eerie?
Charlene: One story is from a sale many years ago in Elmwood Park. I was hired by the son and daughter-in-law of the deceased gentleman. He was in his 80’s and an avid QVC shopper as well as collector of nice things such as Fenton glass, etc. But he never used most of his TV purchases, such as a $1,000, 700 pound fountain.

His wife had passed on earlier and many of her things were still in the home, including her cremains. Years ago, her ashes had been divided into three segments for their children, and one of them never removed her “portion” of the ashes from the home. 

This home was packed….so much stuff you couldn’t walk in it.  It took us weeks to setup, including FIVE loads of garbage taken away by 1-800-GOTJUNK before the sale, which means we were throwing things away left and right. I found copious amounts of personal papers and photos that I set aside for the family. While I was working, the daughter-in-law called. “Did you find Grandma’s ashes?” she asked.

I was taken aback. She said they were in a small white envelope, which was not much of a clue since I was in the middle of sorting through hundreds of them.  But by some strange coincidence, there were the ashes in an envelope sitting on top of the only bed in the house, a small twin bed.

This whole idea was really unnerving to me.  After that discovery I felt the house overall had a very odd vibe to it. One of my workers purchased one of the gentleman’s as-seen-on-TV purchases, an AB Lounge from the sale. About a week later, her son came home late and heard her using it in the basement. The next morning he remarked about using the Ab Lounge late the night before.  She said, “Nope, it wasn’t me. I was in bed at that time.”  No one was in the basement at that time and, needless to say, they got rid of that Ab Lounge right away.

Charlene: Another incident involved a shopper at a recent sale.  A daughter and her husband lived in her mother’s home as care givers for many years until she passed away.

The house was in great disrepair. The basement was a mess…mouse droppings all over the basement and we had to wear masks to work in it. The woman had been a collector of very nice things, but her daughter and son-in-law were not good at taking care of her home. 

During the sale, one woman returned from the master bedroom and said that she felt a “very, very angry” presence in the house. She was quite serious when she said this. I shook it off, but the next day another customer made a similar remark about being able to feel a woman’s in the master bedroom upstairs.

GSW: When you think of all the sales you’ve worked on, does one come to mind as the most successful?
Charlene: Yes, my best sale was in a Victorian home in Oak Park.  The house was totally refurbished, but not in period antiques but with modern furniture from Baker, Bernhardt, Henredon. There were some stunning pieces including a $25,000 Steinway piano, original Art Deco posters, fabulous glassware, china and home decor.  Many neighbors came, and people bought like crazy. Just a lovely home to work in and the best crowd ever. My assistant, Christopher Heitger, and I regard that as out most successful sale.  I’ve worked with Christopher, who’s BTW also an interior designer, for a long time and couldn’t do a sale without his talent.

To get in touch with Charlene and find out about her next sale, visit the TimeSavers Estate Sales website.

To contact Christopher Heitger and browse his interior design portfolio, visit his site here.

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