Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Batman phone

Old telephones are one of my favorite garage sale items to flip. Not just any dusty, old phone though. I am talking about those classic telephones the phone company use to "lease" to customers back in the day. The Bell phones are a "must-have" for many collectors who use them as an accent piece in their home. Not only do they look good, but you can actually make a phone call on them! Making a telephone call on an old Bell phone just feels good. The click, click, click of the rotary dial. The heaviness of the handset when you hold it. They're solid, substantial and always dependable. There's no doubt when you're talking on a Bell phone, the person at the other end hears you loud and clear!

Ma Bell phones were built to last!
The old "Ma-Bell" phones were manufactured by Western Electric and were built to last. In fact, I still have a Western
Electric wall phone from the house I grew up in. It's in the classic "avocado green" color that was all the rage back in the Seventies. I can still picture my mom sitting at our kitchen table every day and talking to her sister on that phone. The phone finally came down off the wall after my father made some kitchen renovations. Prior to Bell's breakup, the phone would have been returned to the phone company. But this was long after, so I grabbed it for future use. Some years later, I hooked it up in my basement adjacent to my workbench. Keeping my mom's tradition going, I would endlessly yap away on it. I still have that phone today, although it's been disconnected and relegated to the closet. But I keep telling myself that one day I'll hook it up again. While it's unlikely that I will, I am definitely not going to sell it. How could I possibly get rid of my mom's telephone, right?

I am not the only one who has a deep, abiding affection for the old Bell Phones. Lot's of people like them. Even upscale retail stores like Pottery Barn sell knock-offs of the old Bell phones. But nothing beats an original, so when I see them at a garage sale, I buy them. You have to be somewhat selective however. For example, black rotary dial phones are aways a winner. You can usually snag one these phones for around five bucks at the yard sales. Flipping them on eBay will typically earn you around thirty to fifty dollars. Beige or "bone" color phones are a different story however. They seem to attract only lukewarm interest on eBay.

The cool!
But in my overall experience, the most sought after color is the red Bell phone! Red phones are a rarity at yard sales, so it's the old supply and demand theory at work. Because there are fewer red phones available, prices on eBay are higher. All that makes sense, but I also have another theory as to why red phones are popular. Many of us baby boomers vividly recall that Commissioner Gordan always used the red "Batphone" to summon Batman for help! That's the real reason for the red phone's popularity! Yes, I am 100% certain that's why people seek out red rotary phones! Most definitely it was Batman! What's that you say? My pathetic Batman fixation, which I've clung to since youth, might be clouding my thought process? Very well then, ummm, (clears throat) okay, let's just go back to red phones are really, really hard to find.

Whether it's the red Batphone or other popular colors, I am always on the lookout for vintage Bell phones. Not long ago, my quest paid off at a moving sale. The seller had tons of boxes spread out in his driveway. Buried inside one of the many boxes, I found Bell's illusive red wall phone. I pulled it out and asked the buyer how much? He quoted me two dollars and I didn't even dicker with him.

After cleaning up the phone with some Windex, I posted it on eBay with a starting bid of $20 dollars. By the end of the first day, the phone had already reached $25 bucks. Not a bad start, considering there were still six days to go in the auction. But then things got even better. I received an e-mail from a potential buyer who begged me to end the auction immediately. In return, he offered to flat out pay $130 dollars, plus shipping for the phone! Normally, I don't like ending an auction early. Instead, I prefer to let the bidding run it's course and let competing bidders decide the price. I usually feel bad about canceling bids. It sort of feels like your pulling the rug out from underneath bidders. But I didn't feel bad this time. For one thing, I've kept track of many of my previous sales and know that I've never made $130 on a single phone. By continuing the auction format, I didn't see any chance of even approaching $130 in bids. In fact, the guy may have been able to buy it for less if the auction continued! So I had to jump on the guy's offer right away. Realizing this would be fast, easy money, I knew what had to be done. The auction was shut down! (Sorry eBay bidders, no hard feelings-business is business.) Once cancelled, I immediately re-listed the phone for a Buy-it-Now price of $130. Within minutes of posting the BIN auction, the guy bought my phone! Just that fast, I turned two dollars into $130 dollars...a new personal best for me!

Bell phones all in a row!
The following day the phone was in the mail to the buyer. It arrived at his mailbox two days later. The guy loved the phone!
We exchanged several e-mails, mostly from the buyer thanking me for selling him the phone. In addition to his extreme generosity, the buyer turned out to be a great guy. He explained that he collected old Bell wall phones and had almost every color except red. That was until he found my auction. The red model finally completed his collection. He even sent me a photo proudly displaying all his phones on the wall. He pointed out that every single one of his phones actually work! Can you imagine what that sounds like when a call comes in? All heck breaking loose!

If only every garage sale flip could be that sweet. A huge profit and a grateful buyer. What more can you ask for in a phone? I mean, other then maybe calling Batman on it?

Have you ever flipped an old Bell phone? If so, which model and how'd you do? Share your story in the comment section below...

Pin It now!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Vintage industrial furniture

Ever hear the expression, "Pay it forward?" Basically, it means to do a good deed for another person. Then that person, in turn, does a good deed for the next person down the line. A few days ago, I paid it forward to a fellow yard sale picker. Instead of keeping a hot yard sale lead for myself, I passed it along to a fellow picker. The lead should turn into an awesome flip for the guy. I got to be honest though, my gesture wasn't totally altruistic. The guy had just bought two rusty old stools from me! So he paid me... then I paid it forward! Confusing, but here's the story:

A few Saturdays ago, I was wrapping up the garage sales for the day when I spotted an unexpected sale on the way home. The sale hadn't been advertised on Craigslist, so this almost always means less buyers and more stuff! I was feeling burned out from the long morning and actually debated whether to stop. Usually I lean on the rationalization that arriving at a garage sale late in the morning means the good stuff is already gone. But after finding so many late morning scores in the past, how could I not stop? So I stopped and guess what happened? Yep....SCORE!

Pulling up to the house, I immediately felt a good vibe. The sale was being run by an old timer. This always increases the odds of finding old, valuable stuff. This theory proved true again, when I found two vintage industrial metal stools. Old industrial furniture are hot sellers on eBay. Prices can go sky-high, but most come in at around fifty to a hundred dollars depending on the piece. The two stools I found met all the major criteria-very sturdy metal construction with just the right amount of patina to give them "character." The History Channel's American Pickers show often spotlights industrial furniture. American Picker's Mike Wolfe is completely obsessed with the stuff, buying anything from old factory shelves to light fixtures, chairs and stools. Basically, anything rusty or gritty that came out of an old factory or warehouse. One of the reasons industrial furniture is so popular is it represents a time when America was the undisputed manufacturing powerhouse of the world. A time when most things bought in this country were proudly stamped, "Made in the USA."

The metal stools I found were clearly made in the USA. They said so right under the seat! Grabbing one in each hand, I walked over to the old timer to see about a price. Unfortunately, he was engrossed in a conversation with a neighbor. I don't know about you, but when sellers get wrapped up in conversations with neighbor, friends or buyers, it can be an annoying situation. Should you patiently wait until they're done yapping, or just jump in and interrupt? Sometimes interrupting can be your only option, otherwise the jib-jabbing can drag on forever!

In the case of the old timer, I decided to quietly wait until he was done talking with his neighbor. The conversation mercifully ended after a few more minutes. Turning his attention towards me, I asked him what he wanted for the two stools? He grinned and gave me the old, "Waddya gimme for em?" Now I have to admit, at this point I was a little cranky. It had been a long, hot day and I had just waited patiently while the old fella yapped it up with his next door neighbor. Feeling a little sour, I low balled him, offering just five bucks for the pair. To my surprise, he smiled at me and said okay. Suddenly, I was feeling much better! After paying him, he laid out the back story on the stools. They dated back to the 1940's and were from an old firehouse. I was pretty happy with this last minute find. Not only did I score two vintage industrial stools, but the firehouse story made them even cooler!

The great thing about flipping old industrial finds is you don't necessarily have to clean them up. The grittier and "sweatier" they are, the better. When it comes to this stuff,  the old Billy Joel song fits perfectly..." I love you just the way you are!" After some light dusting, I sat the stools in front of my garage doors and photographed them.  Here's how they looked on my Craigslist ad:

   Vintage Firehouse Industrial Steel Stools - $100 

Great looking pair of vintage Toledo-style industrial metal stools. These stools are two feet high. The concave seats measure one foot across. (Very comfortable to sit in.) I acquired these from an old timer who told me they came out of a local firehouse. He estimated they date back to the 1940's or thereabouts. Nice industrial detail to these, check out the angled legs and fluted feet. They don't make them like this anymore!      

 Looks like a winner, right? Well, yes...and no. As much as I admired these two stools, the buyers were not exactly beating my door down. One thing I learned is Industrial is hot in many upscale, big cities. But if you don't live near those cities, then you're not going to get the calls. While I could have posted the stools on eBay, the shipping would have cost me around $80 for each stool. So I stuck with Craigslist and waited for a buyer. After several weeks of posting, then reposting, a buyer came along and offered me $50 for both. I countered with $75, but he wouldn't budge, explaining that after cleaning them up, he planned to re-sell them for $50 each. His explanation seemed legit, so I put up the white flag and told him to come get them. After all, turning five bucks into a fifty bucks ain't so bad!  

Paying it forward with a Facebook find
When the buyer picked up the stools, I realized he was a kindred spirit and a pretty good guy. We began trading garage sale flipping stories. He shared one incredible story about buying a huge lot of old trains for twenty dollars and flipping them for $900! (I am working through a train lot too. Will share that story at a later time.) After trading a few more stories and getting paid, I decided to pay it forward with my new buddy. Knowing that the guy had an interest in industrial, I gave him a lead I'd found on a local Facebook yard sale group. It was an old Industrial cart offered for $30 dollars. He jumped right on the lead, contacting the seller and buying the cart later that day. That evening, I received an e-mail from the guy thanking me. I told him that us yard sale pickers have to stick together! So it worked out pretty well for both of us.

Have you flipped any Industrial finds? Share your flip in the comment section below...

Pin It now!