Urban Archeologist: Essential Tips for Finding Treasure

When it comes to a “dig,” your drawers don't stand a chance.

I have a couple of tips for budding, current or undeclared Urban Archeologists this week. First, name another hobby (that isn't illegal) that affords one the opportunity to walk through a 19th century farm house poking and peering through every nook and cranny?

If that sounds weird to you, then you'd pass the “normal” test, but you also might fail to see what your missing.

I have been to so many sales that it ultimately happens that I run into “repeats.” I will often skip them knowing what I am missing, but last weekend I came across a familiar one that I couldn't let pass. The first time I walked through this 19th century farm house I felt as though I had gone back in time. The presence of a Brookfield map from the same era had helped; it was also the home itself, which hadn't been updated so as to hide the balance of rustic simplicity with equally elegant features. The massive hearthstone fireplace was clearly the centerpiece of this home, and shared the room with dual opposing staircases leading to a five room second floor.

The decision to stop at the second go-round of this sale was based purely on curiosity. What would I find that hadn't already been picked through?

Walking through the home I noticed a combination of familiar items and some I didn't recognize. The reason, I discovered, was due to the consolidation of another relative's estate into this one. I'm easy to please and I quickly targeted a magazine from 1933 (old ad gold!), but it was on the second floor that I noticed an even more interesting dig — a large desk.

Any desk, no matter the age, is often hiding something. No matter how organized we are, more than five “important” papers become a melee, and eventually push and shove each other until some go missing. I looked over the desk and, despite the constant stream of shoppers, cast off inhibition and pulled out the top right hand drawer (pictured). After a quick pass with my flashlight I sunk my arm shoulder-deep and, as you can see, way back inside were a few odd papers.

It was just a matter of time before I had gone through every drawer and liberated all the trapped papers to once again roam free on the desktop. Unfortunately, this should be the point where I reveal the great find, but alas, there was none. Unless, you consider $4 worth of .19 cent stamps and several legal documents from the disposition of an estate from the 1970s. Still, it was fun to dig through the desk and then hand the stamps over to the estate sale service.

Despite the lack of immediate success, consider these two tips: Always give a repeat sale a second chance, and don't forget to look behind the drawers of an old desk — even one you still own and use. The best desks to look in are the ones that have a wood shelf separating each drawer compartment.

Take a look at the blog for some of the best gift ideas from 1933, and check back next week (I did find something amazing) for Part II of this dig — The Urban Archeologist: Big things come in little packages.

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more of his adventures by visiting his blog.


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