Monroe County History Center garage sale full of unique and vintage items

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The volunteers who oversee the Monroe County History Center garage sale aren’t often surprised by what people drop off.

On a recent afternoon, two peach pit carvings joined several donated carved nuts displayed on a cloth-covered table.

They don’t accept clothing unless it’s vintage, but most other items donated in good condition are appraised, cleaned or polished and affixed with a price tag.

Among this year’s donations were two armadillo handbags, made from the dried carcasses of real armadillos. A man named Charles Apelt started making handbags from hard-shelled mammals in Texas around 1900. He sold 40,000 in six years, sparking a fashion craze.

Someone will probably want them.

Unexpected treasures like these abound inside this week’s sale, Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 33,000 square foot warehouse at 4015 W. Profile Parkway.

Pricing items for the event can be tricky. Since a team of volunteers work most of the year to retrieve and prepare items for sale, they use the Internet or Google Lens to obtain information and document value.

This Phila pitcher might have cost $5 or $10 if Monroe History Center volunteers hadn't done their research to learn one like this sold at a recent auction for $189.

For example, there’s the dog-shaped pitcher, an item inside a box full of assorted things. A volunteer pulled it out and estimated it was worth $5, maybe more. Then she looked it up online and learned one like this sold at a recent auction for $189.

They developed a new respect for the rare Phila pitcher and raised the price.

The maker's mark on the bottom of a dog-themed Phila pitcher worth nearly $200.

A shiny silver tea kettle with a bird on the end of the tap was polished and displayed for $5. Until a volunteer recognized that it was designed by architect Michael Graves and knew that its value was between 150 and 200 dollars. The price has gone up $30, but it’s still a bargain.

Turns out this whistling bird tea kettle designed by architect Michael Graves is worth way more than the original $5 price tag put on it.

Merchandise prices are reduced for the garage sale, which is a fundraiser for the history museum. But sometimes even a discounted price can seem like a lot for high-end items.

Like a ring that looks like costume jewelry but turns out to have real stones. Or a pair of intricately hand-painted vases that look like the ones from TJ Maxx, but are hand-painted Bristol glass and are worth hundreds of dollars each.

When a woman brought them in and sat them down one day, volunteers examined them closely and suspected they might be valuable.

A pair of 12 1/2 inch high hand-painted Bristol vases, valued at several hundred dollars each, were donated for sale.

These vases have a price tag of $125. The same will be true for armadillo handbags. The ring, worth several hundred dollars, will likely go on sale at the History Center’s downtown museum shop.

Volunteer Kathy McFall brandished a 1920s sterling silver mesh evening bag with a built-in compact. The mirror is not cracked and there is still a circle of blush to touch up the cheeks on a night out.

There's still red inside the compact that's part of this century-old silver mesh evening bag

It didn’t sell last year, or the year before, for $95. When appraisers from Ripley Auctions in Indianapolis were in Bloomington examining the contents of a home for an estate sale, they stopped by the History Center’s sales warehouse to view the inventory.

They said the mesh purse could sell for a few hundred dollars at a high-end auction and told the volunteers that a 4ft by 4ft handmade rug from Finland they were selling for 60 dollars had been made by a well-known artist and was worth 400 dollars. .

This donated rug/wall hanging didn't sell at last year's History Center garage sale.  After learning this spring of the true value of the handcrafted Finnish rug, the price has gone up from $60 to $400.

Then there’s African-American artist Jacob Lawrence’s poster of runners from the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich that someone donated a few weeks ago. It’s in a cheap frame and the glass, covered in grime, is broken.

“I didn’t even clean it,” Karen Cline said. “I was going to find another frame and maybe try to sell it for $50 because the subject matter is so cool.”

An auction appraiser said this signed poster by the late African-American artist Jacob Lawrence of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in a metal frame under broken glass, is likely worth $700-900 as is.  The volunteers originally intended to crop the poster and sell it for $50.

The signed poster caught the eye of a Ripley appraiser, who advised him to leave the image as is and raise the price. “She said the artist is very well known and an unsigned poster like this can sell for $700 to $900 at auction,” Cline said.

“I was stunned. She said not to worry about the broken glass.”

Contact reporter Laura Lane at [email protected], 812-331-4362 or 812-318-5967.

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