Anatomy of a Pick

My favorite part of my job is, and always has been exploring newly acquired estate contents. Once we've made an agreement with our new clients to handle their estate, my adrenaline spikes as they hand me the keys. That very first moment I enter the home now as a "picker", the hunt is on! We never know what we'll find!

Many people are interested in this phase of what we do, and thus get a lot of questions about the process. How do you start? What do you look for? What's the weirdest thing you've ever found?

Here are the basics:

  • We unload the truck of all the packing materials and find a place in the home to put them. Usually the kitchen is a good place because even in a cluttered home, the kitchen is a clear area.

  • Many of the homes we enter are jam packed with years of collections, that's why we're there. So the next step in this case, is to clear pathways to other rooms and to all exits.

  • Now we figure out which rooms to pack up first. While this decision can depend on what's there, most often we work from the top floor down. Then from the basement up. I like to completely clear a room and close the door once finished with it. This way, we don't have to enter that room again, so steps are saved, so is head space!


We start with the Attic. A typical attic requires the use of at least a dust mask if not a HEPA filter and we need to be careful not to fall between floor joists. And in older homes, exposed rusty roof nails can be treacherous. Can you say "tetanus shots". Attics usually render vintage Christmas ornaments, antique family photos, books, older wedding gifts. Old trunks with treasures and not treasures. Cleaning out an attic is not for the weak! It's best to have one person up top and one below to pass things down to. The worst thing about attics are finding what would otherwise be gems, have been ruined due to dry-rot, rodents, roof leaks etc. The best thing I ever found in an attic was a Daguerreotype collection of historic significance.

  • Next we move onto any upper bedrooms and other rooms until we get to the first floor. It's in the bedrooms where we'll find jewelry, vintage clothing, linens, furniture such as hope-chests, dressers, beds etc. The best thing we usually find in bedrooms are jewelry and sometimes good lamps. Since the furniture market is pretty slow right now, I don't count that among good finds. The worst things about bedrooms are moving the mattresses if we're doing a cleanout. The best thing I've ever found in a bedroom is a coin collection.

After the upper rooms are cleared, we move to the basement and work up to the first floor. This is the next hardest area to clear and you don't want to save the most difficult thing for last! Basements most often yield old tools, old toys, trunks, some furniture, lawn and garden items if they're not stored in a shed or garage, crocks, pottery, jugs, mason jars, bottle collections. The worst thing about cellar finds is coming across a great collection of vintage vinyl or books only to find they've been ruined by moisture damage. The best things I've ever found in a basement were valuable crocks and bottle collections.

  • Now we're onto the kitchen which holds a LOT more hiding places than you'd think! We've found coins behind cupboards, diaries under the bottom of drawers, and that tippy-top shelf is a great place to store cash for mortgage payments! Of course we don't find these things every time, but sometimes... Of course the kitchen usually has us packing, bowls, crocks, cast iron pans, dish sets, flatware linens, cookie jars, and maybe a kitchen table & chairs. The worst thing about kitchens is handling something the former owner THOUGHT they cleaned and ewww! Lots of sticky stuff in a kitchen! The best thing I ever found in a kitchen is an antique Pop-Eye cookie jar.

The Den. I love dens. Usually they hold men's items, and those are generally among the best sellers in the antique/vintage world. Here we'll find pocket watches & wristwatches, antique pens, paperweights, coin collections, postcards and ephemera collections, antique books, Baseball card collections, men's jewelry, Masonic & fraternal items, swords, steampunk items, clocks, stamp collections, pipes & tobacciana, cigar boxes, furniture like desks and small stands and much more! I search everywhere in dens at least 3 times. If the owner was a collector, it's here that collections will heavily accumulate and often the most valuable pieces are hidden! The worst thing I've ever found in a den was...I can't honestly remember finding anything horrible in a den! The best thing I've ever found was a collection of gold pocket-watches.

  • The living room. Here we'll find vintage record collections, books, lamps, upholstered furniture, sometimes rugs, MCM pieces (Mid-Century Modern), pop art, barometers and clocks, family portraits etc. The worst thing we'll usually find in living rooms is bad art by family members. The best thing I've ever found in a living room is MCM furniture.

  • The Dining Room. If there's going to be a great find in the dining room it's usually a sterling flatware service, or rugs. Of course there's things like Limoges china, Belleek teapots, Shelley Tea Cups and dining room furniture. The worst thing about dining rooms is breaking the news to the family that the gorgeous mahogany set they paid several thousand for is now worth a few hundred at the most! The best things I've found in dining rooms were large sterling silver flatware services for 24.

Garages and outbuildings. Here you'll find lawn & garden items which can sell well in season. But we look for old signs, antique tools, crocks, bottle collections. Garages and sheds often have the same things basements will have. But the worst things I run across in these buildings are usually containers of old paint, solvents and insecticides and other poisons. Besides being dangerous, these can be very expensive to dispose of properly.

The best thing I've ever found in an old garage was a 6ft old metal Evinrude boat motor sign.

Porches. We can expect to find wicker furniture, crocks, planter's etc. We always want to look up on porches for stained glass pieces, wind catchers etc. The worst thing I've ever found on a porch was a used cigar butt collection. I kid you not, there were about 20 old coffee cans filled with used cigar butts. It was the smelliest thing I've ever come across. Ever! And if you wonder, did I open every one, the answer is yes. Because you just don't know if one contains rolled up $20 bills. People sometimes have strange ways of doing things. The best thing I ever found on a porch was a coin collection. It wasn't in one of those coffee cans, but it was on the same porch, at the same estate.


So there you go! Sometimes it's feast, sometimes it's famine in this business. But two things you can always count on are: 1. Hard work is always involved. 2. There will be surprises. And they USUALLY make it worth the effort!


Are you wondering what awesome treasures we've found recently? We'll you can see them at our NEXT AUCTION.


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