The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

November 25, 2012

‘Hunting’ season was good this year


Winter hasn’t officially arrived, but the leafless trees and frosty window panes make it clear that another spring, summer and fall have come and gone.

That means that the 2012 flea market season is over, too. I sold all sorts of oddball treasures that I picked up at yard sales, but I also expanded my collections, too. Remarkably, my wife didn’t sigh, roll her eyes or issue a single stop-order.

The outdoor flea markets are held at a county fairgrounds from May through October. People come from far and wide to buy and sell. You never know what you are going to find. It’s an adventure.

I sold tools, chairs, two beds, dressers, a bunch of pictures, and plenty of what auction fliers kindly describe as “miscellaneous too numerous to mention.” In June, I bought a cast-iron fence post for $40, carried it 25 feet, and immediately sold it for $100. I liked that.

My best finds include:

— Trace chain. The seller thought it was just a rusty chain, but it’s actually a Civil War artillery trace chain, used to hitch the horses to the cannon or caisson. The swivel has “U.S.” cast into it. I got it for $3.

— Gibson girl print, circa 1900. Ah, the Gibson girl … has there ever been a more delightful image of American femininity? Charles Dana Gibson’s pen and ink drawings present the all-American girl as beautiful, elegant, athletic, smart and fun to be around. I got a lovely period print, in its original frame, for $7.

— Harness maker’s “horse.” It’s the wooden stool that a harness maker sat on as he stitched bridles, halters and blinders together. A wooden foot pedal opens, closes and locks the wooden vise that holds the leather straps. I had never seen a complete, functioning one for sale. The dealer wanted $110; I got it for $72.

— “Star” kerosene bicycle lamp. Made in Chicago in the 1890s, Star lamps provided little illumination, compared to carbide and electric lamps, and they are rare. The one I bought for $10 still has its bracket, good glass and complete burner.

— Boy Scout bugle. It’s tarnished and battered, but my 1930s official Boy Scout bugle speaks of reveilles and off-tempo renditions of “Taps.” It now sits beside my moth-eaten Boy Scout campaign hat. At $50, I probably paid too much, but I like it, just the same.

— Vanderman strong box. This year’s best deal came at the last flea market. A couple was unloading what appeared to be an old tool chest just as I was walking by. For $40, I got a Vanderman strong box, manufactured in Willimantic, Conn., dated 1897 and made of 1/8-inch steel plate with oak bands. Such boxes, secured with three padlocks, were used to haul gold and other valuables on trains. Identical boxes sometimes bring $2,000 or more.

Hunting season is over, but I’m enjoying my trophies.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at