Labor Day is over and you know what that means. Thrift shops are open again! New old inventory! This makes me almost as happy as school being back in session.

I’m a serious thrifter. I love old stuff, especially books and linens. I buy, sell, and occasionally keep what I find. It’s not my job, but it’s my favorite hobby. Herewith, the most dramatic find I ever made.

I like to imagine that Honest Abe was president when little girl’s image was made. Perhaps her name was Eliza or Susannah. Someone – her mother or a maid? – had fussed over her sausage curls. No doubt she chose her favorite toys for her sitting – a paper house and some wooden pegs. Clearly she was from a prosperous family, because who else could afford a sitting, back in the infancy of photography?

I found this item in a thrift shop in suburban Philadelphia a few years ago. Arriving late to the shop, open only twice a month, I knew the pickings would be slim, but I was determined to find something, anything, to buy. I almost passed this up.

It appeared to be just a tiny mirror in an old brass frame, approximately 3″ x 5″. Closer inspection revealed the ghostly image of this child. Still, $4 seemed a bit pricey. I waffled. I equivocated. I argued with myself. And then I bought it.

Several days later, I listed this on eBay, having googled around enough to learn that it was a daguerreotype, one of the very earliest forms of photography. My research indicated that it was rare for a living child to be immortalized – the custom was to take photos of the dearly departed – who conveniently wouldn’t move a muscle during the long exposure required.

I started the bidding at $15, thinking that if that’s all I got, it would be a decent return on my $4 investment, minus the eBay listing fees. Within minutes, someone emailed to ask if they could buy it outright for the opening bid, right that minute. Hmmm, no. With 24 hours to go, bidding was up to $600. Take that, greedy $15 offer person. Heart pounding, I watched in the final seconds as the price shot up and closed at $2220.00. A thrilling profit in just seven days.

And there it is, my most successful eBay auction ever. Nearly 10 years and thousands of auctions into this hobby, almost nothing has even come close. Decent but humble-by-comparison profits are the norm. This daguerreotype was the needle in the haystack all treasure-hunters hope to find. And I can’t stop looking for the next needle.

Tomorrow I shall return to the enchanted thrift shop, as Chris calls it, reopening after its summer hiatus. The odds that I’ll find a real treasure? Very slim. But if buying and selling vintage treasures has taught me anything, it’s that you never know.

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