Goodbye, Stranger: The Sad, Joyful, Morbid, Thrilling World of Estate Sales

pile of sock monkeys on a red wingback chair

Sock monkeys ($6 ea.) sit atop a wingback chair ($125) at an estate sale run by liquidation company Sales By George in Akron, N.Y. earlier this year | Charlotte Hsu


AMHERST, N.Y. — The shopper wants to know where the barometers are.

“I saw in the paper there were barometers for sale,” the customer’s voice calls out, loud enough to be heard over the din. “Do you know what room they’re in?”

It’s the first day of an estate sale on Sargent Drive, and the house is filled with the sound of people rifling through someone else’s stuff.

There is clinking and banging. Heavy footsteps charge from room to room.

There are questions, like the one about the barometers, that would seem weird in another setting. But at an estate sale, where bargain-hunters comb through the personal effects of the departed, few things feel truly odd.

Judging from his belongings, the gentleman who once lived in this house was a proud Buffalonian who liked guns and sailing.

The buyers passing through his home this weekend might include antique dealers, art collectors, history buffs, families seeking furniture, and owners of resale shops who rely on estate sales for inventory.

The sale opened at 9 a.m., and within an hour, many items were claimed. These included a quartet of haggard bar stools a man discovered in the garage. A Kittinger-brand couch, worn but lovely, sold immediately for about $650.

The basement was one of the most popular places to shop. At one point, seven or eight people squeezed into a narrow subterranean room, keen on studying hammers, wrenches, power drills and a medley of other utilitarian-looking items that defied recognition.

It’s hard not to smile. Of all the things the old man collected, this is what the shoppers have come to see: His tools. And his barometers.

It took a lifetime for the man to accumulate his possessions. They’ll be liquidated in days. And, now, the strangers are mobbing his basement, scrutinizing his tools, attempting to assign value to his things.

What’s the meaning of all this?

In four vignettes, we explore the world of estate sales and the relationship between people and stuff — between humans and the objects that we covet, collect, and just can’t live without:

→ 1,000 Porcelain Slippers
→ The House in Broadway-Fillmore
→ The Enamel Bowl
→ A Beautiful Bird in a Dirty House


Robert Salonga, a crime and public safety reporter for the San Jose Mercury News in the San Francisco Bay Area, edited this story. Charlotte Hsu is the author. A special thanks goes to Ben Siegel at Block Club Magazine for coming up with the headline while working on a separate but related project!

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1 Comment Goodbye, Stranger: The Sad, Joyful, Morbid, Thrilling World of Estate Sales

  1. Pingback: The Buffalo Story Project: Goodbye, Stranger

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