hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

May 2, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: One man's junk another's treasure

Tom Vartabedian

Anyone want to buy a swizzle stick cheap? I'll let it go for $100. Certainly a bargain when you know its origin. Came from the Melody Lounge where I drowned my sorrows one night after a story I wrote went sour. Just how I like my whisky from time to time.

Or how about the cork to a bottle I picked up at a wine-tasting? The merlot was so bad that evening, I would have preferred castor oil. You can have it for $17, the price of the wine.

After what sellers are getting these days for their odds and ends, I'm ready to explore the universe and take advantage of people's foibles.

Did you happen to catch that article last week about a ticket to the Titanic's maiden voyage that fetched $56,250 at a New York auction? So it was 100 years old. A menu from the same ill-fated vessel sold for $31,250. That I might find a bit more of a conversation piece.

But what in tarnation would anybody want with a ticket stub? An auctioneer said interest in Titanic artifacts remains strong. Wonder what a swizzle stick would net?

A day or two later, I ran across a piece that reported a $412 check that DC Comics wrote to acquire Superman comics selling for $160,000 in an online auction. Seems the cancelled check was saved by a DC Comics staffer in the 1970s and sat undisturbed in a desk drawer for 38 years.

I don't know about you, but before I dished out that kind of money on a hunch that it might grow in value, I'd educate one of my grandchildren or pay off a college loan a family member still owes.

I see these TV shows all the time where people are bidding their lives away. Why anybody would shell out $900 for a fan is beyond me. I don't mean an oscillating device, but a paper product you hold in your hand and wave at your face to cool off.

Just rummaging around my drawers, I might come up with a dozen artifacts I could pawn off to gullible buyers for a tidy sum. I'm talking about dust-collectors. Being a pack rat, I need to downsize my clutter.

I could either deposit it into a receptacle or try my luck on eBay. It wasn't until I had donated a batch of 33 RPM records to the library for its book sale that a cousin broke the shattering news.

"You crazy, cuz? You gave away a fortune. I posted my used records on eBay and made $5,000. You have no idea what those things are worth."

No, I do not. I'm not in the market. For one thing, I am not into eBay or any other such websites that can drive me delirious. Others swear by them. Not me. I wouldn't know where to start, what to command or where to deliver.

As an enterprising teen, I was a mad collector. You name it, I had it. Don't ask me what happened to my baseball card collection. It just disappeared. Or my classic comic book collection. I had every one of them. In an effort to clean house, my mother dispensed with the lot.

Had I preserved them to this day, I would have been a rich man. I was in a comic book store recently and priced one of those editions. It was in the hundreds.

For all I know, I may have owned an original Superman first edition. Would have bought me a nice home in the tropics had I been more perceptive.

As a numismatic, I have a tidy collection of American coins kept in designated folders. My mother left me a small stack of $2 bills freshly minted. Off I went to the bank to see what they would bring and I keeled over in dismay.

"Face value," the cashier said. "Nothing more."

I wonder what my United States stamps would be worth today. It's a collection that has spanned decades and is maintained to this very day. I showed it to one of my sons, hoping he might want to inherit the collection. His reaction?

"I don't use stamps. I pay everything by credit card."

He would have taken my entire 1950s Presidential series and given them to his children for play time.

It's all there in my will. Let them fight over my estate and earn what they can. Or I can rid myself of it now, enjoy a better retirement and not worry about the future.

Tell you what. Today's your lucky day. I'll let that swizzle stick go for $49.

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.