Friday, August 14, 2009

The Highway 127 Yard Sale: A Photo Essay

Eli snaps a pic of Momma with a vintage Rockingham-style English teapot found at a large yard sale gathering between Russell Springs and Jamestown, Kentucky along Highway 127. A $5 bargain that I was glad to make.

This is our third year of enjoying the fruits of the Highway 127 Yard Sale and the most fun and rewarding yet. I wanted to share some of my recent finds here with you and this is certainly my longest blog ever in terms of photo content–with accompanying text–so keep scrolling down so you don't miss anything! Two years ago Temple came down for a quick visit with our son Eli to look at the Kentucky ridge farm property that would become ours a mere a few weeks later, complete with comfortable doublewide (albeit "temporary"–my idea, as it was clean and well-kept–emphasis on was clean–and I knew it would serve us well for a few years before building our dream farmhouse). PHOTO: My husband holds a scythe wrench that he was delighted to find in a pile of old tools for a few dollars–he's been looking for one forever.

They drove up and down Highway 127 from Danville to Russell Springs, Kentucky, finding a few treasures along the way. They happened to be here over the first weekend of August, the annual time for the world's longest yard sale that spans the 654 miles from West Unity, Ohio to Gadsden, Alabama. Many people set up earlier in advance of the weekend for the inevitable early birds along the way. PHOTO: An old 7Up® sign on a store in Dunnville, Kentucky. You could buy it if you wanted to take it off the front of the building.

Last summer we had just moved here permanently, and having just packed up a houseful of stuff, I wasn't as keen but I did hit a few of them with our visiting friend Linda and my new friend Anna (who has the largest collection of salt & pepper shakers that I've seen to date). As most readers and friends know by now, I break for antique malls and used bookshops. I will also break for yard sales if they meet the following criteria from a cursory glance from the car window (whether driving or as a passenger):
  • If a yard sale has even five feet of clothes hanging up or lots of plastic bins stacked up, I won't stop. The only place I'll browse for used clothing is in clean, used clothing shops, unless I find vintage items.
  • I avoid colorful plastic crap (or CPCs) at all costs. This usually means someone is trying to sell a lot of cheap, plastic junk from their kids' bedrooms or play rooms. Thankfully, we no longer have need for all of that stuff you have to schlep around for years like car seats and play gyms and portable cribs. Even when we did, we wanted to make sure it worked and that it was clean–not to mention that it met safety standards–so we generally bought new or were grateful to get good hand-me-downs. [That said, if our boys are along for yard sale "grabs" we do allow the occasional bag of Star Wars® action figures just to keep the peace.] So I try to stick with wood and glass and paper and crockery and (vintage) fabric as much as possible–and after all, aren't we trying to make this a PCB-free world?
  • I will stop for anything rusted, metal, utilitarian or funky-looking (excepting metal tools or tractor or car parts, although my husband will break for the tools and tractor bits). Seeing a yard full of metal porch chairs or old tin ware or anything remotely familiar out of an old barn or shed usually means that someone just cleaned out their old barn or shed. Those buildings usually have the best stuff in them (apart from kitchens and pantries, of course!).
  • I will stop if I see a lot of old-ish crockery, vintage kitchen items, old baskets or woodenware and clear glass Pyrex-type stuff (this is often harder to determine from the road). You just never know and these things have to be more carefully examined.
  • Hanging vintage tablecloths and linens also a plus as are funky old signs, and vintage garden and laundry stuff.
Perhaps that sounds like elitist yard sale snobbery, but there it is. Besides, you can't stop at them all and with the many offerings along Highway 127–and I can't even imagine driving along the entire 654 miles of it–you have to be somewhat choosy given time constraints. I'm sure I've missed some gems by this mode of scouting but it is mostly foolproof.

I love old rusty porch furniture that's never been painted and was surely tempted by these offerings...but you should see our storage shed right now. So I took a photo instead. And it's funny to think that people buy "primitive" stuff now that is made in China or Taiwan and sprayed with a faux "rust" paint. One day all of my funky old mismatched porch chairs will be lined up on a wrap-around farmhouse porch. One day...


Don't you think every home needs a pair of Hawaiian-style "Kon-Tiki" wooden salad servers hanging on their wall–yes, all three feet of them!? Don't worry, even for $1 for the set, I was happy to let them stay there–another friend of mine wasn't so lucky. She received a set from another friend for a gift a few years back (and yes, they are both Cupcakes). I was tempted to snag these to send to the cheeky giver but wasn't sure how I'd mail them. They also would have made a great wedding gift prank: "Oh,, they're just what we've always wanted!"

Mushroom canister sets, in wild colors, were really big in the early 1970s (you know, to accent all of those "Harvest Gold" and "Avocado" kitchen appliances). Something tells me that they might not ever be popular again as you see way too many at yard sales these days–and this is coming from a woman who collects gnomes!

Speaking of gnomes, I left this little guy right where he was and now feel tremendously guilty about it, especially because he was the only gnome I saw (well, no, only one of two) at any yard sales last week. Maybe it was his price which I've now forgotten. [Do you think he is supposed to be cleaning up after that turkey?]


Some tin kitchen purchases: the famed Leaning Tower of Cake Tins (4 for a buck) and below a "Paul's Pies" pie tin (5 bucks) from back when you used to put down a deposit on a "boughten pie" (as my husband would say–yup, he's kind of an antique himself).

A gathering of vintage green kitchen things from the 1930s: each item for $6 or even less. There was no neeed to haggle as I was the one getting the bargain right off the top.

Did I need this mug trio, three for $1? The short answer would be "No." They are of the "Northern Fruit" pattern, still being made in Maine at Monroe Salt Works–a pottery company from where I might collect if I didn't have so many other older patterns I go for (well, and maybe if they had a chicken/rooster pattern–oops, they do...I also really love their "Chair" and "Crow" patterns...well, can't possibly do it! Maybe there will be a vintage and discontinued pottery shop in Heaven as well as old bookshops–do you think yard sales, too?). They're also really big and "muggy." Priced new they are now $24 each (OK, I just checked–that's not why I bought them, although good to know!). The woman who sold them said that her mother-in-law had given them to her. I just hope, for daughter-in-law's sake, that M-I-L doesn't read my blog. [But come to think of it, my own mother would love them...]

FABRIC!! She's gotta have it! Why? In case she ever learns to sew. In the meantime "she" can't resist a good bargain like 6 yards of the pretty floral pattern, below, for several dollars and, above, a whole mess of vintage 1950s garden-themed fabric for $2. Both will make great aprons and after that I'll give the extra floral fabric to my friend Anna for her quilting. And yes, I do hope to learn to day. [In the meantime I know some excellent Mennonite seamstresses-for-hire.]

I truly believe in my heart that every home needs a Shrine to Mrs. Butterworth–yes, I bought the graduated trio of glass syrup Mrs. Butterworth's® jars for $10 billed as "Aunt Jemima" (Hey, some day they'll be worth as much as those green glass prune juice jars from the 1950s or old brown glass Clorox® bottles!). This was one of those silly sentimental purchases. I have very fond memories of having waffles with Mrs. Butterworth's® syrup at one of my mother's dear friend's–Mrs. Emily Wirth–house down the street in Akron. She made the best scones EVER (I've tried to replicate her recipe for years as our copy was accidently thrown out and sadly, Mrs. Wirth died of cancer in the late 1970s) and many other goodies. She was also one of the kindest and most authentically Christian women I have ever met (and she and her family helped my mother, and all of us, through a few hard years)–a true strong, but loving, matriarch. Anyway, whenever I've seen a Mrs. Butterworth® syrup bottle in the past 35 years it has always reminded me of Emily Wirth. She used to fill her empty jars with sand, dress them in handmade aprons and bonnets, and use them for door stops. (Not a bad idea for future gift-giving or a pantry door stop.) You could also use them for syrup decanters (and sorry High Fructose Corn Syrup Monster–we've been using real New Hampshire maple syrup now for decades and we are even importing it to Kentucky). I also picked up that vintage appliqued "Mammy" tea towel earlier in the week for $1.

Meanwhile, the painted Mrs. Butterworth was only $2 (it might be a stretch, but I see it as "authentic 20th century American kitchen folk art"). And who knows? Maybe the little Mrs. Butterworth ladies will start cleaning my house one evening while we're asleep. Oh, Mrs. Butterworth! I love your plump, apron-clad, warm and gooey, amber-glassy, syrupy self! For shame that you've been shape-shifted into a plastic vision of your former kitchen goddess-ness (or that some poor dealer mistook you for "Aunt Jemima")! Their loss, our gain.

This trio of bowls is one of many popular styles from the early years of Robinson Ranbsottom Pottery, an old pottery company that sadly closed a few years ago. It was located in Roseville, Ohio, just south of Zanesville, and also has ties to some of my clay pipe-selling ancestors (no, not the Native American kind, but the kind used in sewers), The Robinson Clay Products Company in Akron, Ohio (that merged with Ransbottom in 1920). They also made lovely utilitarian stoneware. A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Zanesville and environs for an annual pottery gathering there and we were able to visit the then-operational Robinson Ransbottom Pottery. Sometimes the spark for certain collections is a family association or just pure old-fashioned "remember when?" nostalgia.

Utilitarian kitchen pottery, especially Ohio in origin from the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries, is my passion and I've been collecting it since the early 1990s. I was beyond delighted to find a perfect set of nesting bowls just south of Liberty, KY. I checked the three graduated bowls over and not a crack or craze or chip on any of them. I asked the vendor, with whom I'd struck up an enjoyable conversation (another great part of yard sales), why he was asking only $30 for the trio? "It's their color," he said. "That pumpkin color isn't popular now but if they were green or blue or red..." Of course, I'd never seen a set of red bowls of this vintage before and I personally love that pumpkin color, as do many other collectors, so why argue? Also to note that many popular collectibles can easily be forged, such as "vintage" cookie jars. However rare a thing it is to find a set in pristine condition and for this price, these bowls are not forgeries. PHOTO: Bowls marked "USA" with a specific pattern number and slash are most likely early Robinson Ransbottom (c. 1920s-30s and even into the 1940s) before they imprinted R.R.P.Co. and/or "Roseville, OH" on them. Because the pottery bought out Zanesville Pottery and was located in Roseville, pieces are often inaccurately confused with "Zanesville" or "Roseville" collectibles. The company was making and selling pottery like bird baths, flower pots, vases and spongeware bowls up until they closed a few years ago and is sometimes still available here and there.

It was also kind of him to throw in a little blue McCoy bowl, a bit crazed, for $5 (and a free "George Wallace" button–"I can't give them away," he said. "One woman from Alabama said she'd take them away just to crush them into the pavement back home!"). And yup, "it's the real McCoy," as they say.

As I was lingering over this nubby aqua glass and pitcher set at a booth outside of Pikeville, Tennessee, the vendor said "Those glasses just want you to buy them and take them home." I answered, "You know, I think you're right." Not only do they remind me of an icy cold Fresca-in-a-glass in our suburban summers back in Akron in the early 1970s, but I knew they would match my Zanesville aqua/brown Country Fare pottery. I know little about glassware but they seem even more retro than the 1960s but I'm guessing are from that era or even the early 1970s. For $20 for a pitcher and five glasses, it was easy to envision them for lots of iced tea and lemonade-sipping on our porch. The yard sale was just getting started when I found the set so I was even more delighted to find such a bargain. [A week later I found two more glasses like these for .50 cents each at a yard sale in Kentucky.]

If I see a booth at a flea market with neatly pressed and hanging linens, various forms of Ohio pottery from the first part of the 20th century–flower pots and bowls, for example–various tinware and small items, like children's chairs with character, I know I've hit yard sale Nirvana. At our last stop on Sunday at the Boyle County Fairgrounds outside of Danville, KY–just as the sale was winding down and cranky, overheated vendors–many who had camped right by their booths all week–uck–were putting things away to take home, we found just the booth. It was a delight and the couple, from Findlay, Ohio, were the kind of friendly quality dealers that know their stuff, their prices and what their bottom line is. PHOTO: Finds from Findlay: two runs of vintage roller towelling yardage and an old tablecloth. These, along with a graniteware baking dish, totaled $50 but I was happy to pay it as I've been wanting old towel yardage.

None of this overpriced garage junk just heaped onto tables–those are the "dealers" most likely not to take a reasonable offer or even gripe about one. I've tried. "Oh no, that book is rare. You won't find it anywhere else. I have to have $5 for it." You want to say, "No it's actually not that rare, but its jacket is in decent shape, and I really just wanted an extra copy to give to a friend." But why argue? Sometimes you just have to meet their price or be willing to walk away. [My husband actually overheard two "dealers" scoff at a person's reasonable offer of $200 for one of those old Colonial Revival-ish (1960s) hutches that were so common and once ubiquitious in American dining rooms. "You don't know what you're talking about and that offer is just insulting," they said and then continued to throw epithets at the serious buyer. So the woman just turned around and left the booth, as did my husband. And I'm sure the couple will have that hutch for a long time to come.]

So imagine my delight when at the Central-Kentucky Ag Center in Liberty, KY, where there was a mix of excellent booths and some trashier ones, that I came upon four Gladys Taber books for $3 for the set. It was the last day of the sale, before we ended up near Danville–and my second time there in a few days–and I didn't even haggle. I thought it was an excellent price, even if the price stickers had fused to the spines of the lovely book jackets. I already have a few of these books so those duplicates will become gifts (or hey, maybe "In the Pantry" give-aways...). When I grow up I actually aspire to be a combination of Gladys Taber and my alter ego, Della T. Lutes, and maybe a bit of Janice Holt Giles and Betty MacDonald , with a hearty smidge of Shirley Jackson and Anne Lamott thrown in for good measure. [Of the five, only Anne is a very much alive writer whom I thoroughly recommend for all of her wholehearted, and sometimes irreverent, embracing of her own path, motherhood, politics, spirituality and her own Christian faith.]

At that same location, a few days earlier, I had been able to scoff up a pile of vintage tea cloths in excellent condition, as well as a c. 1970s (yup, my mother had one) Tupperware celery holder (which I'll used for cut up veggies). When I went to pay, the woman, a vendor from Indiana, said, "That's $5 for the Tupperware and would $6 be alright for that pile of six linens?" Well, she didn't have to ask me twice.
I clucked at the irony of paying almost as much for a plastic refrigerator container as I was for a pile of exquisite vintage linens in excellent condition. But that's the way of a yard sale.

It is hard, if not impossible, to jury these larger venues–some dealers we spoke with in Tennessee were trying to buy a field together where they could all congregate each year without the "$5 designer clothes" booths and outpourings of cellar junk. [Yes, OK, I am a yard sale snob–there, I've said it!] It is true that the antique and funky-junk hunters like me are drawn to those larger quality groupings and there is greatness in numbers–and even better odds of finding the odd thing that you don't really need, either.

Eli on the prowl. Our boys, and daughter before them, have been raised in antique malls and shops and spent their early years in an old New England home (our daughter in several others before that). I'm glad at least one of them, so far, has developed a passion for collecting and the love of the hunt–for those who are so afflicted you know it is both a blessing and a curse.

The absolute best part of our yard sale escapades over the course of different days last week was spending time with family (and my friend Anna and Eli on one day), seeing what came of the day in other ways (like our day trip altogether to Tennessee), talking with vendors and bumping into friends, and spending an entire day last Friday just with my son Eli (when Temple went back to Tennessee with Henry to pick up some blacksmith equipment). He was such a joy and had certain things in mind to look for, like a particular wrench his Dad had discovered after looking for years, and other things he knows I collect. I owed Eli $20 from a few weeks ago when I was strapped and 45 minutes from the bank (we don't have an ATM card). He emerged from a table with an old children's tool set: "for your grandchildren," he said, "I got it for $20." And he hasn't even touched it even though it is his to do with what he wants. My "little old man" is a man after my own heart. So we had fun looking around together and enjoying the day. He can yard sale with me any time.

PHOTO, right: Henry pauses to refresh on the porch at the "Shady Rest" at a Tennessee yard sale [wasn't that the hotel in Petticoat Junction on TV years ago?] Their classic Southern supper-with-sides menu was also tempting: BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes with gravy ("homemade"), macaroni and cheese, green beans, pinto beans, turnip greens, and cornbread or cheesy bread. We tried some sweet tea and lemonade.

PHOTO, above: Three usable outhouses adjacent to a great yard sale congregation outside of Pikeville, Tennessee. RIGHT: An outhouse postcard that I found amidst a number of other large old souvenir placard-style postcards for .50 cents each near Russell Springs, Kentucky. I collect kitschy outhouse stuff, too, on occasion, for our actual outhouse over at my husband's shop/tractor garage. One day I'll gather it altogether and put it over there to surprise him. BELOW: More touristy postcard placards–bathroom humor is always a hit in my family (with two boys and a husband, what else do you expect?).

An old porch near Pikeville, Tennessee.

Another fun part of yard sale hunting for our family are the backdrops. This was our favorite: an old "homeplace" north of Pikeville, Tennessee. I went inside and photographed the house as best I could–and there was a lot of not-so-great junk inside. (Well not all of it, but it was hard to get around the rooms sometimes.) The house had all of its original wood detailing inside and out and the remnants of its kitchen and summer kitchen in the ell. Old green paint, original to the 1930s most likely, was still on the kitchen walls, framed in horizontal matchboard. The late-19th century woodwork–like the doors, door surrounds and mantels–was top notch.

This old store in Dunnville, KY is seldom open but filled with amazing things. The storekeeper and their family used to live in the part of the building marked by the screen door at right. The owner was selling a lot of the old advertising signage, including this "Drink Coca-Cola" sign for $50. I just had to pass on it, as hard as it was, in all of its rusted, original painted, never touched magnificence. And yes, it was "the Real Thing™" (and the only Coke-related memorabilia–of which there are scads at these sales–that I was actually tempted to buy).

Another favorite find, almost in our own back yard, was an unusual store that Eli and I stumbled upon on our day together. We'd been by it many times before but didn't realize it was still operating. Peggy Tarter has owned and operated this old store in Dunnville, just a few miles into Casey County and in its southern-most settlement, in the classic style of old rural Kentucky general stores, for 51 years. She said her in-laws owned it before that and when she bought it they got it lock, stock and barrel. Peggy reminded me of our friend Hazel Wesley who runs the small store on route 837 in Mintonville, on the eastern side of Casey County over near our ridge (and for sale–believe me, I've been tempted). The shelving and many details in this store are original–and some of the canned goods are decades old, I'm sure. These stores are the real deal and not some manufactured cutsey olde time "General Store." [Casey County is also home to Penn's Store, up in Gravel Switch, America's longest continuously operated historic store in the same family, since 1850.]

One day, perhaps, my husband and I will sell antiques and parts of various collections to support our habit, maybe not along yard sale corridors but in a small shop or other venue. We've been told by most dealers that this is how they got started (and yes, the parallels are many.) In the meantime, I've decided in future years to make a game of it. I will save my antique mall and yard sale fixes for one week only, for the splendor of the Highway 127 yard sale in early August, at the end of our summer before our boys return to school, and I will allow myself so much to spend (given what I spent this year, I'll say $200 tops–hey, it will be part of Ma's future egg money!). PHOTO: Another old souvenir shop postcard placard–chickens are always a hit with me.

I prefer buying old to new with most things and I have many friends who do, too. In this "Great Recession," and with the need to recycle rather than consume more resources, I'd rather buy old and used most any day (or use it up or prepare it myself), but for us it has often been a matter of course. PHOTO: Many people had tables of produce and homemade jams and jellies, like these at the corner of 127 and 910 south of Liberty.

So next year I will take the opportunity to yard sale again, a gift to myself, while mostly just spending some of my "egg money" on holiday or birthday gifts for friends–and even immediate family–who are also fellow antique kitchenish, lineny, cookbooky, rusty old junk, and gnomish collector folks like me. PHOTO: YARD SALE FEET! Desperately Seeking Pedicure! (And note the yard sale "sandal tan.")


Kris said...

Can you say, "jackpot?" WOW!

Old Centennial Farmhouse said...

OH, that was almost as much fun as going myself! And bravo for your son loving to go on your jaunts with you! I especially enjoyed "meeting" Peggy Tarter...her little store is as cute as can be! Your blog is so enjoyable...I don't know how I found it but I'm glad I did!

Anonymous said...

I read this entire post, and looked at all your pictures (which is something for me, with an internet-style short attention span). I love your pictures! I've been thinking of your blog lately, as I'm house-hunting, looking at old houses, wondering where the pantry was or the outhouse was.

I'm not a collector in any way, myself (unless you count my stash of wool roving to spin!). I don't want to house any "stuff" that isn't immediately useful to me, but that doesn't mean I don't heartily appreciate the sharing of people who do. Thank you!

DellaRae said...

What a great experience. My children have moved to Liberty, KY. I was there the end of July. I must go the first week of August next year and follow your trail!

tipper said...

Oh I would love to go to highway yardsale!! What beautiful finds you got. I like your tips too. I'm a yardsale addict. My score this morning-about 4 dozen canning jars-yay!

Mecky said...

It sounds like you had alot of fun. You found alot of great and useful treasures!
I am a garagesale snob, too, so I know right where you are coming from. I enjoy them from time to time, but I go to check out vintage items, only. That is why I go to auctions, flea markets or to the antique malls.

Crystal Mudgett-Epley said...

Did you buy any of Amy's jam (there @ the end)? It's yummy!

Catherine said...

Hey Crystal,

No! I didn't realize it was Amy's (some of her children were there now that I think about it). I had just made some of my own so didn't buy any. But I'm sure hers is better (mine is more like "blackberry sauce")

AC said...

Wonderful yard sales! If you like Mrs. Butterworth, it's a shame you couldn't have been at our "house-cleaning-out" sale when my mil sold her house 2 years ago. My fil had a collection of Mrs. B bottles. Must have been 8 packing boxes full. They covered 4 shelves. He was convinced that they would be collector's items someday, but that day must not have come yet because we couldn't give them away at outrageous prices: .10 each? 4 for a dollar? Nope. I saved 3 of them for my pantry in his memory.

Catherine said...

Welcome all and thank you for your comments--sorry the blog was so long (but a picture says so much...).

I keep threatening to open a country-inspired shop filled with "stuff" to sell (maybe on-line and/or actual)...but not quite there yet with the concept.

I'll let you know!


Jeanne said...

Just headed home from Kentucky road trip through Danville. Saw the boothes being set up for this years sale. Could not convince my brother to stop, but now that I have read your blog and saw the pictures I will definately plan a trip for the first of August again and plan for time to stop on the way home to Florida.