Everyone knows I go to estate sales … a real regular.
There are numerous things I have learned from visiting estate sales, which I think are of interest. For instance, there is a veritable circuit of people who go to estate sales. It is obviously a habit or an obsession or an avocation-or even a vocation-for those who go on to sell items bought on eBay. We may not know each other by name, but we know each other by sight. And so there are always greetings and a sharing of information. Those who have visited other sites are quick to share the information with others if it is considered good or bad or worthy of a trip.
One can easily recognize the doctor’s wife who always looks for dolls for her collection. Then there are others who are always hanging around jewelry and clothing, or the men who gravitate toward tools. One can almost predict where they will show up and why. We have become something of an unofficial “club.”
Conducted sales are better than those run by family members because conductors price items better and without emotion. Families tend to add to the price of items due to personal memories, which, obviously, have not been shared by a potential buyer. Families, too, recall what an item sold for when it was new, now forgetting that it is second-hand and depreciated. Families are also less likely to want to negotiate a price.
The conductors of sales are well known to all, and there is always the familiar banter of greeting. The conductors all know I look for books in foreign languages in my mission to save these books before they get tossed out. The chances that these books will be purchased is slim. Families are quick to rid themselves of estate books in other languages because, by the second or third generation, the family’s ethnic language heritage is secondary as English prevails.
I try to get these books for the various ethnic museums which do archive them or make them available to the public as needed. Many of the books collected are valued because they are often out of print, hard to get, impossible to find. I have managed to get cases upon cases of books off to their respective museums because I think it is just plain sad to toss out books which hold the wisdom of ages in them.
Universities, too, collect books in other languages. The University of Chicago’s Library for Slavic, East European and Central Eurasian Studies thinks the western suburbs are a goldmine for old, ethnic books. The University of Illinois at Champaign also collects Slavic books, zeroing in on illustrations. And then there are the ethnic museums themselves.
I have had great success in getting books in German to the American Aid Society of German Descendents Museum in Lake Villa. Personal prayer books with personal notes in them from times past really make them worthwhile. The DANK, which is the German American Association, has an extensive library of old books.
For the Czechs and Slovaks, there is the CSA Museum in Oak Brook or the Czechoslovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For those books that do not make it to the universities, which covet them, these museums are interested in expanding their collections.
The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture and the Polish Roman Catholic Union Museum, both in Chicago, are good repositories for Lithuanian and Polish books. All of the ethnic museums, too, are always on the lookout for any artifacts which highlight the immigration and settlement of their ethnic group in the Chicago area-over and above books. Dolls, costumes, jewelry, artworks, etc., are always possibilities.
Although not an ethnic museum or library, but still a repository for books that otherwise might not find a home, is the Pritzker Military Museum. I am always on the lookout for books about past wars, especially those which were government-issue to soldiers of those wars. Manuals and handbooks are always welcome. I have also found sheet music that reflected past wars, which also have gone to their archives.
Why do this? Well, it has become a bit of a hobby, for one thing. And also I am concerned about the loss of history if these books and artifacts wind up in a dumpster. The ethnic experiences of our immigrant groups has been a rich one. These folks have become our productive citizens, making great contributions to our area on numerous fronts. It is a good thing to know how it all got that way, and so I go goodwill hunting for the libraries and museums.
If others would consider doing this, or donating their language books to ethnic libraries and museums, we could salvage even more of our communal history.
My family was saddened that the Smithsonian did not want my late father’s World War II Army Air Corps official photos, but we quickly recouped by sending the 70-plus 8-by-10s and ll-by-14 glossies to the Dayton Air Force Museum. Although we made copies for potential, future family generations, we know that the originals are now in the public domain where they belong.