When I was a little girl my grandmother and mother would load up the kids and go all over the place to what they called ‘junk’ stores. They had houses full of antiques and vintage textiles because they sewed.
These stores could be found packed with undiscovered treasures: silver spoons, old quilts, fruit jars, boxes of tatting and crocheted doilies, things there was no name for, and boxes of used toys.
Although there were Goodwill stores in the larger cities there were no Goodwill stores around here at the time, mostly mom and pop businesses. Back then, believe it or not, people didn’t even have yard sales!
Church bazaars, which were always selling used clothes and toys, paved the way for yard and garage sales in the U.S. They really got their start in shipyards in the early 1800s with “rummage sales,” where the yards would sell unclaimed cargo at a discounted rate.
Yard and garage sales morphed into a phenomenon calling itself the world’s longest yard sale. The 127 Yard Sale is an annual event that takes place the first Thursday-Sunday in August each year. It’s literally, The World’s Longest Yard Sale, extending its route through six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama) and is 690 miles long. According to its website this unique event draws hundreds of thousands of people (shoppers/vendors) each year from all around the country.
The Hatton “Hwy. 101 Yard Sale” is held in September each year and has become a much anticipated event in North Alabama. This Lawrence County event draws people from several surrounding states. It is very successful for its vendors, who save their collectables and their cast-offs all year in order to have plenty to entice shoppers to stop.
This isn’t the only place that people come to shop for bargains on antiques, vintage items, new and like new toys and clothes, there are also businesses that feature a little something for everyone.
One Moulton business, the Junque Market on Court Street was recently featured in a Pyrex Obsession site online, with “Found in Moulton, Alabama” beneath the photo of the wildly collectable cookware. That site has 18,000 members.
Several years ago, Stephanie and Lanier Sherrill of Trinity started renting booths in antique malls and at Gillespie’s Flea Market on AL Hwy. 24 (Gordon Terry Parkway). Stephanie says that she doesn’t ever remember thrift stores existing in this area when she was growing up. “The first one I can recall is Alred’s in the Compton’s Crossing area. They mostly had clothes.” The first antique store she remembers is now Basse Trading Company but before Beth Lewis opened it, it was known as Memories; Antiques and Ideas.
Back in the seventies and early eighties there were plenty of antique stores around the square where the owners did a big business in reproductions. Folk art painting was all the rage then and country blue and mauve were the hot colors.
At that time, people were holding onto their antiques and everything was higher then than now. Currently, thanks to the huge number of ‘baby boomers’ downsizing, things are going for far less than what they used to bring.
The television show, “American Pickers” has inspired many people to do what has become a hobby of sorts. Pickers like the Barndo’s Casey Coker, go around to private homes, estate sales, storage unit sales, yard and garage sales and thrift stores and pick through mountains of cast off items, looking for real bargains. Things that people either don’t want, or they didn’t know what others are collecting now and thought it was just old junk.
Well, it’s true. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sure enough, those Pickers have found countless numbers of things people are collecting or will pay good money for now. We have customers who drive from other states to pick up items they buy at our online auctions. These customers eat at local restaurants, buy gas at local stations and shop in other shops around town. This business is really good for the local economy.
Thrift stores offer things that we once took for granted, like wooden thread spools. Who would have ever thought those common household items would one day be used to make strings for Christmas trees, and all manner of dolls and crafts? Pickers like Chris Aldridge of the Barndo, are also collecting metal toy trucks, tractors, and wagons made of wood and metal, that once were staples in every household where little boys lived, along with Barbies for little girls. The iconic dolls are still a hot commodity with some versions currently selling for up to $5,000.
Collectors come to places in Moulton to see if they can find something elusive that brings back fond memories, or to complete a set of toy action figures, or dishes, or Beanie Babies. And often they find just what they are looking for. One customer asked a local picker, Casey Coker, to look for anything associated with a dairy in Morgan County. Within a few days, the picker came across a set of glasses with the dairy logo still in good shape. Casey drives to surrounding states looking for hard to find and unique collectables. The Barndo offers a huge variety of eclectic items with something for everyone, young and old. Glassware is always available in any of these shops.
The very fact that so much glass has survived at all is a minor miracle. Finding a set of Limoges china, unchipped and intact, is a rare discovery, but there are some sets still out there over a century old.
Southern hostesses in bygone days treasured their china, most often received as wedding gifts, and kept it safely put up in china cabinets, only bringing it out for the most important guests and at certain times of the year, and always hovering over each piece as if it were an ailing relative. That these sets survived handling, packing and moving sometimes several times, and ending up in a goodwill or thrift store or an antique store is still within the realm of possibility. It’s the hunt that is the most fun part of collecting dishes, or anything else.
Pickers in Lawrence County are always on the lookout for the names stamped or engraved on pieces. They find treasures like the Limoges or Fiesta or Fenton glass items among old annuals, beat up old dishpans, odd pieces of silver plated flatware or boxes of old linens, which might contain perfectly crocheted doilies, or elegantly hand-monogrammed pillowcases, or old books that are missing pages. You just never know what you might find when people start cleaning out their grandparents old barn or garage.
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That proves true when you start to notice how various things are now being repurposed. That name is also used to refer to a piece that has been refinished, or as a project piece, which basically means that it is in several pieces, that it needs some love and attention to be brought back to life.
“Refinished’ means that the piece has been changed from its natural state, such as painting or re-staining it, items might include tables and chairs, sofa’s that need recovering, or old picture frames.
Repurposed items are ones that are now used in decorating but were once utilitarian, like making a lamp from an old whiskey crock or a night light fashioned from an old cheese grater, dishes with chips can be broken again and used for making mosaic’s and other artwork. This repurposing can become very important and can bring in lots of cash to owners with no interest in finding a second life for some of these pieces, especially if they are considered rustic.
Rustic collectibles that are hot right now include crocks that were used for whiskey, syrup, sauerkraut, and all kinds of dry goods back before plastic was ever invented. Some were made here in Alabama. They come with numbers on the sides denoting how many gallons they held. Crocks in good shape with no nicks or cracks can be pretty pricy, but if you don’t mind a little chip in an inconspicuous place you can usually find several if you spend the day looking around. Going to look is always a treat because you see so many other things that people couldn’t put online.
However, online auctions have become very popular and some of them are generated right here in Lawrence County, like the Barndo, The Market, others. Several shop owners report having customers drive an hour or more to visit their shops or to pick up auction items.
This cottage business has become very lucrative. Live auctions are not as prevalent as they once were, so if you love the competition of an auction, just find one online that is close by so that you can drive to pick them up rather than having them shipped.
Collectors, like Michelle Young Nichols, started collecting and then turned their passion into a business. Michelle learned to love antique colored glass when she was very young, about four, she guesses. The little girl would accompany her grandmother, Edna Young, to care for her aging father-in-law. “My grandmother would always tell me to put my little hands in my pockets and I could look at all of the pretty colored glass, but I couldn’t touch anything,” recalls Michelle. “I guess that’s where my love of colored glass came from.”
When Michelle was a teenager, her grandmother gave her a set of Ruby Red vases for her hope chest. I didn’t use them back then because everyone was decorating with country things, but when we built our house I got them out and put them on the mantel and I loved looking at them!”
She says that her favorite pattern is Moon & Stars, by the L. E. Smith Company. Ruby Red is now highly collectable. “I went to a lot of auctions where you could still find it at reasonable prices.” She passes these deals along to her customers, plus the flea market often runs certain booths at discount prices, so collectors should visit their favorite flea markets, antique malls and thrift stores frequently because pickers are constantly updating their shops and booths and great bargains are out there waiting!
Call or message Cindy Cantrell at Gillespie’s Flea Market if you have questions about any items or about booth rental.
Mark Nelson is one of the longest lasting antique dealers in Moulton today. He is the son of Shorty Nelson, who dealt in furniture and antiques for years in this area. Mark started being his ‘muscle man’ at about the age of seventeen. According to Mark, who now owns Court Street Antiques in downtown Moulton, his dad was always running up and down the road buying and selling furniture. When Mark went out on his own he often sold antiques that came from places as far as 750 miles away, then returned to sell them at auctions and estate sales. He says the most profitable piece he ever sold was a heavily carved Horner dining room suit. “I bought it in Birmingham for $50,000,” he said, “And sold it four months later for $92,000.”
The oddest piece he recalls selling was to a local collector. “It was shaped like an old dough bowl but it had a pull out piece that could be used to bathe a baby and it had a stork carved on the back,” he said.
Mark has been dealing in antiques for around 40 years and has seen business boom and slow down, as the marked fluxuates, so he is used to good and hard times. This business can be a buyer’s or a seller’s market, much like real estate, and people should study what they buy and look for the history of the maker, or know the details of how to tell an antique from a reproduction to keep from buying something that might be misrepresented.
If you have a question about an antique, Mark or any of the reputable dealers in Lawrence County will be happy to help you find out about your piece.