Are there Collectibles in an Overstuffed House? You Better Believe There Are!

Alex Archbold of Curiosities, Inc. used his Ghostbusters-style 1973 fully loaded Pontiac ambulance to get to the Mary Borgstrom home on occasion.

Vintage clothing, bakelite radios and clocks, Remington typewriters, costume jewelry, early toys, woodworking tools, and legendary primitive pottery. Turns out, inspiration and collectibles can coexist.

Alex Archbold, the affable owner of Curiosity, Inc, an antiques dealer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was asked by a family to preview a very overstuffed, 100-year old family farmhouse nearby for items of value. The house was originally owned by local legend Mary Borgstrom, a self-taught potter of unique talent, who represented Canada in pottery exhibitions around the world in the mid-20th century and that piqued Alex’s interest.

Mary Borgstrom’s farmhouse in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, will become a local historical landmark to honor her contributions to the visual arts through her award-winning pottery.

Over six, 45-minute videos Alex takes us through the farmhouse, room by room, searching for collectibles and cleaning along the way. Here is only some of what was found:

Pottery

Just a few examples of Mary Borgstrom’s pottery found throughout the house. It is estimated that her pottery can bring about $5,000 to $10,000 each at auction.

About a dozen or so unique handmade pottery pieces by Mary Borgstrom were found throughout the house. According to Alex, her pottery can sell for $5,000 to $10,000 Canadian each, although no auction records were found.

Personal

Before getting dressed, shave with a vintage gold-plated Gillette razor ($11-$30)* or a bakelite straight razor ($15) in front of a silvered mirror and shaving stand ($20-$30). Trim your hair (very carefully) with a handheld Oster Model 105 haircutter ($15).  

Fashion

Get dressed wearing vintage bakelite eyeglasses ($8-$20) along with your pick of 60s and 70s shoe styles with a hat ($5 to $75 depending on style) and vintage neckties ($1-$7).

Then choose from bags, piles, and hangers full of vintage clothing of all shapes and sizes from suit coats, stretch plaid pants, and other outerwear. Or if that’s not enough you can make your own vintage clothing with Butterick pattern books from the 1940s, 1950s ($10-$25) with an intact Singer treadle sewing machine ($41 to $100).

A complete Singer sewing machine with cabinet was found in the Borgstrom home. This similar machine and cabinet sold for $41 in 2012.

Finish off your ensemble with a hand-tooled vintage leather purse ($20-$35) or a G. Versace handbag that was found with blank checks inside. Be careful, though. The bag may not be original.

A warm set of leather and fur handmade Inuit-style gloves ($67-$75) were definitely needed since the weather was always near -40C (same -40F) while at the house, with no heat at times.

Furniture

A three-level oak barrister bookcase ($100-150) painted white was found in the basement. You can do your work at a mid-century modern-type drop leaf desk while sitting on your 1940s swivel office chair ($100).

Decorative

On your desk, you could use a carved soapstone eagle ($25 to $45) as a paperweight. Overhead, hang a fossilized 10,000-year-old bison skull ($295) as a conversation piece.

Scattered around your office would be a bronze horse sculpture ($31) and your souvenir African-style head bookends  ($15 to $35) holding up your books. Use a steamer trunk ($100) as a coffee table. Hang a series of Canadian Pacific Railroad framed travel posters of Moraine Lake and Chateau Frontenac ($1200 for an older version). An Art Deco double ladies figural lamp ($53; needed wiring) keeps things lighted with an Enfield-style dark bakelite mantel clock ($34) keeping time.

Advertising

Alex found a Mr. T cereal box in a kitchen drawer. Who knew a Mr. T cereal box could be valuable?! This one sold for $59 in 2018.

Alex was looking for advertising items and he found several he didn’t expect. A motorized Timex commercial display ($100) was found in the basement. Upstairs was a large 1966 Sunny Boy Cereal wall calendar ($15 to $35). An unusual CC Snowdon Oil ceramic wall clock ($95-$125) was found upstairs along with a Christie’s Zephyr Creme Soda tin ($10-$15). Curiously, in a kitchen drawer was an empty Kellogg’s Sugar Pops box ($15), along with an empty 1980’s Mr T cereal box ($20-$35; none found at auction had a growth chart) both in French and English.

Appliance and Electrical Items

A vintage hand crank telephone ($75 to $125) was still in its original place in the house with an unusual 1980s Deco-Tel boxed rotary phone ($15 to $35) found upstairs near a Crosely Art Deco radio (similar; $66).

An intact vintage wood burning stove was found in a corner in the basement ($60 or so) near a large table saw ($45). Nearby was a vintage carriage lantern ($105) with an Aladdin kerosene lamp ($35 to $60) found in a box upstairs. A heavy 1950s-style, heavy Kirby vacuum cleaner ($25) was found in a basement corner.

Toys

Become Dirty Harry with a Crosman .357 air pistol complete in box ($53 without box) or a cap firing spud gun in its original package ($50).

Play with a sheet metal GAMA wind-up motorcycle (no handlebars; with handlebars $400-$600) or a complete Minic Garage tow truck ($150). Carefully glue a ‘49 Ford Coupe car with a vintage model kit ($15-$35 complete) and learn with a student microscope ($20-$40) or a Pyro Human Eye kit ($10-$30).

On display in a bedroom was a miniature wood burning stove ($30-$40) which kept baby happy in a wooden doll floor rocker painted white ($25-$35) while you are bundled up in a Pac-Man comforter ($46).

Musical

A Gene Autry 78 rpm Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was found in the house. This one sold for $12.99 in 2012.

A vintage fox hunting trumpet ($25) was found in an unmatched box upstairs.  A Gene Autry 78 rpm record, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” ($13), was found along with other 78rpm records ($3 to $10).  A home upright piano was found, but should just be donated to a high school or community center because of the high cost of moving any piano with little value.

Kitchen

Much of the videos concentrated on other parts of the house, not necessarily the kitchen. Consequently, only a Sunbeam 1950s mixer with bowls ($45) was highlighted along with a cast iron skillet ($15 to $35) that was left on the gas stove. A 1950s-style refrigerator in the kitchen was so full of mold and other contaminants that it couldn’t be saved. No mention of whether there were plates, glassware, silverware, and other bowls, skillets, or cooking items found.

Valuables

Some valuable items found throughout the house included about $2,500 Canadian in 20-year-old cash and coins which helped pay for expenses. A lot of costume jewelry, small carat diamond earrings, and gold/silver necklaces were found only by opening every single bag, purse, box, and drawer.

Curiously, blank checks that were found may be from a defunct bank, savings and loan, or other financial institution and are collectible, particularly those from before 1950. Checkbooks from celebrities are also highly collectible of any era.

Books and Paper

Generally, National Geographic magazines should be donated to schools, churches, libraries, hospitals, community centers, and senior living centers. Check values for special issues from 1888 to about 1920s, particularly with charts or foldouts ($20-$45 to start).

There were newspapers literally by the pound. Sure, you can sell newspapers of historic events for $5 to $20, but they must be complete, not just the front pages, otherwise, they should be recycled. If they are local newspapers from before 1960, check the local library to see if they want them for their reference section.

Miscellaneous and Unusual

Several old wooden whirligigs were found in the basement. This one sold for $25 in 2018.

A galvanized, painted, metal weathervane horse was found in the basement with other handmade wooden “whirligigs” and unused woodworking tools with values from $25 to $60 each. A metal tractor seat ($38) is just as collectible, along with fossilized trilobytes ($12), and a  fossilized leg bone (unclear what it is). A complete Fuller & Morrisson pharmacy scale complete ($200) was also found.

Lastly

In a recent interview with Alex, the nearly 103-year old Mary Borgstrom said that she was traveling so much to find clay, create pottery and exhibit around the world, she merely neglected the house until things just piled up. Alex has since bought the house and property and a historical designation is in the planning stages to honor Mary Borgstrom. To Alex, his family and the helpful locals, thanks for an instructive afternoon. You folks exemplify what good neighbors ought to be.

This article was a cautionary tale for those faced with a similar circumstance. Your first impulse may be to throw out everything, but with patience like Alex’s, some genuine collectibles can be salvaged. For a more complete approach on how to downsize effectively, pick up “Sell, Keep, or Toss?” by WorthPoint’s own Harry Rinker. Perhaps Alex can use it on his next overstuffed house. 

* Note: auction values are in parentheses in US dollars


Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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