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Urban Archeologist: Hunter, Trader, Trapper – Haggler!

Priceless time piece or time-less pricey-piece?

Urban Archeologist: Hunter, Trader, Trapper – Haggler! Urban Archeologist: Hunter, Trader, Trapper – Haggler! Urban Archeologist: Hunter, Trader, Trapper – Haggler! Urban Archeologist: Hunter, Trader, Trapper – Haggler!


It was just a few weeks ago that I did my best to inform readers how to spot fake civil war-era currency. You may have listened, but I didn't.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to stumble upon “Joan's Great Estate Sale” at a home in Southbury. This was one of the rare times I was able to visit a sale on the day it started and although I was too late for the early-bird pickings I managed to find a few treasures, a couple a mysteries and some old advertisements.

It is becoming more difficult to get a deal at estate sales (a “deal” being relative to what you're willing to pay for any item), due to the easy access to the world wide pricing guide — i.e. Internet. Anyone with a smart phone can look up an item (even the sellers) and set a price out of the “deal” range.

The first item I found (not pictured) was a steel fly-rod from the Union Hardware store in Torrington. I thought of purchasing it just to find its back-story. I have friends who look for fly-fishing gear and they recommended paying a few dollars for it, but when I couldn't haggle below $20, I decided to pass. I discovered that these sell between $20-$40 and were made by a couple of manufacturers that typically stamped the names of the stores that would sell them.

I'm usually looking out for an old magazine in the hopes I will find some interesting old advertisements. The hunting theme that filled this sale led me to an issue of of “Hunter, Trader, Trapper” from 1914 (sans cover). Aside from the pictures of reader's hunting success (see image), there are numerous ads that are fun to look at. Among the stand-outs were The Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company and Bristol Steel Rod Manufacturing. I like to peek back in time to Connecticut businesses I never knew. I hope someone who remembers these places will share their story in the comments.

Before leaving I looked through the jeweler's case guarded by the cashier and was intrigued by a very old looking pocket watch. I handled it but found that the chain loop and the crown were missing. This also prevented the case from opening. There was no way to know if it worked. After pushing and pulling on the threaded stem the lid would not release. I asked Joan (estate sale service owner) how much the un-openable watch was, and after trying it herself, she said, “How about a dollar?”

I figured that even if it was empty or unrepairable, I would enjoy trying to figure out how to open it. Surprisingly, of all the watchmaker forums and DIY (do-it-yourself) sites I found, none could direct me on how to open a broken pocket watch. After several minutes of concentration (actually, picking my teeth) it dawned on me that if I slid a length of dental floss in the thin gap between the lid and the base, it might pop open.

As you can see by the step by step image, it worked well, too well actually, because after I had opened it I almost wished I hadn't. Inside, instead of a timeless timepiece, I found a chinese movement, that wasn't moving. So, not only did I not get a priceless antique, I didn't even get a working contemporary knockoff. I can't complain for a dollar, but I was certainly fooled by the faux “aging” and overall feel of the watch. Hagglers beware!

I found this mystery item at the sale... can you help me determine its purpose and year?

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 about his adventures by visiting his blog.

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