DISCOVERIES AND REDISCOVERIES: I rediscovered this long-forgotten portrait of my mama (sold decades earlier) at one of Roy Dudley’s sales. He waved me back to the storage room and showed me where it had been hanging for years and then, graciously, gave it to me. It was painted on a hot summer day in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1959 when she was 18. Brian Chilson

Several years ago, murmurs began circulating a few weeks before a certain Roy Dudley estate sale. Word had it that a secluded house in midtown — yes, it being secluded was part of the allure — held untold treasures. And that’s how I found myself on a spring day careening down a busy, steep street, crouched low, a fierce grip on the spongy handles of my son’s scooter. The car was in the shop, and the sale was starting, so … 

In this day and age, of course, you can find almost anything on the internet, but then you miss out on the thrill of the hunt. It’s a full-body, sensory experience: the feel of sifting through ephemera of days gone by, the not unpleasant musty smell (I can detect a good sale within seconds on scent alone). And then there’s the voyeuristic delight of exploring someone else’s space and listening to the story their possessions tell. My heartbeat quickens at the thought. There are also the characters who frequent these sales; if you go, you know the regulars.

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Depending on the nature of the sale, the quality of stuff ranges from the kitschy to the refined. (My tastes lean toward the former, but I appreciate the latter.) It also ranges from the mundane to the extraordinary. A gently used bottle of nail polish remover? I’ll pass. But I will wrestle that vintage schnauzer hologram out from behind that dusty water heater.

There are a lot of estate sale companies in the game. Here are some of the main players: Roy Dudley, Pennsylvania Trading Co., Bob Birchfield, ReHome, Betty Bogart, Caring Transitions, Rook Antiques and Grassroots Estate Sales. Sign up for ashleysfinds.com, the source for estate sale info.

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Here, some veteran shoppers share their spoils:

Brian Chilson
DISCOVERIES AND REDISCOVERIES: I rediscovered this long-forgotten portrait of my mama (sold decades earlier) at one of Roy Dudley’s sales. He waved me back to the storage room and showed me where it had been hanging for years and then, graciously, gave it to me. It was painted on a hot summer day in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1959 when she was 18.
Brian Chilson
TREASURE SEEKERS: Costume designer and artist Missy Lipps shares some of her finds, including this two-pound knife, a gift from her husband, John.
Brian Chilson
MICKEY-GO-ROUND: My aunt Katherine Downie, a social worker and art teacher, poses with her beloved Mickey Mouse Ferris wheel.