The Condition Thing

Show picFunny the things that your mind comes up with when it’s in neutral. My wife and I took a couple of booths at an outdoor flea market here in North Carolina last weekend, hoping to sell off a few older items and lighten the load. My mom came along and helped staff the booth too, as she had more than a few antiques from her own collection with which she wanted to part. (See my Sept. 19 post for more on that collection.)

As things slowed down after a couple of hours, I began keeping track of people who noted/asked about/complained about condition. Now, my wife and daughters can give you chapter and verse about how picky I am when it comes to originality and condition, whether of a 19th century lamp or a toy car made in the 2000s. I prefer to think of myself as a discerning collector; but truth be told, I’m high maintenance in this area. In others too, to hear my family tell it.

Some folks didn’t seem to care if the item they were buying from us had a giant hole punched through the center of it, or that one corner of the blistercard packaging was slightly softer than the others. Several of them made counter offers to the marked prices, but many of them didn’t say a word about damage or wear and tear.

Then there were those who listed every flaw for me, pointing out missing parts and frayed electric cords with obvious pleasure. One guy came in and picked up a heavy 1920s electric “cage” fan we had sitting on the pavement near the front of the booth. He asked me if it worked, and I told him we didn’t know as there was no way we were going to plug in the tattered power cord to find out. He said to me “Do you mind if I go plug it in to test it?” I was momentarily befuddled by his question as we were outdoors, but he was off on his quest before I could answer. I wondered if I would ever see the fan, or the guy, again.

He returned a few minutes later with a disappointed look, telling me “The fan’s gettin’ power, but the motor’s froze up.” As he set it back down in the booth, he picked up an iron apple corer that my mom had on one of her tables and said “Can you do any better on this? Look here, somebody musta broke off the original piece that attached to the table and welded this thing in its place…and this part over here is just plain missing…”

I knocked a few dollars off the price, and the guy bought the corer. And I realized that I enjoyed the back and forth and the debates about condition more than a straight sale where the buyer just handed me money. There’s something about that interaction, about that give and take, that just feels right. It made it a good day at the show.

Douglas R. Kelly is no longer in mint original condition, but maybe that’s over-rated anyway.


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