Estate Sales: Old Hats and Uncovered Secrets

Alex Healy sheds light on a pair of vintage rain boots.

Alex Healy sheds light on a pair of vintage rain boots.

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Photos by Noah Sanders

There’s an Estate Sale at Guerrero and 19th this weekend. To most that means a retro couch or lamp for the living room? A dress for the upcoming Mad Men-themed party? Rare books, collectible coins, fur coats, record players, and encyclopedias from 1937?

To Alex Healy, an estate sale is about uncovering secrets buried for decades, unearthing treasures jammed into garbage bags and tossed into the dark corner of the garage. Healy—a fashion designer, fashionista, and Mission-dweller—recently founded Old Hat, a San Francisco estate sale business.

After shopping at picked-over sales in the city for years, she decided she wanted to be the first person get to the goods. She didn’t necessarily realize she’d also be the first person to get a view into the lives of people she will never be able to meet. “Today I read a love letter from World War II” she writes on Old Hat’s blog,  “not a copy, or a picture, or a reproduction, but I actually held the sentiments from a person long since dead in my hands, penned on U.S. Army letterhead.”

Healy invited me to the Guerrero Street house for a sneak peak at the sale. The former homeowners lived in the house for more than 60 years, so I expect it to smell stale or simply old, but instead it just smells like a lonely home.

“Here’s Mary’s room, that’s the living room, over there is Gus’s room,” she says on our tour.  “Gus had a lot of bolo ties. He loved them.”

“I unravel their lives through the things they purchased,” and through the letters they received, and the newspaper clippings they saved, and the hundreds of bills they meticulously filed for years, she says.

Gus and Mary were siblings and neither ever married. Gus was a soldier in World War II and worked at a deli at some point.  He collected coins. Mary received many letters from a love interest during the war but it’s unclear what happened to him. She might have been a nurse, or perhaps she just enjoyed wearing scrubs in her old age, Healy says.

Because I love vintage clothes, our first stop is Mary’s closet.  It’s full of print dresses, handbags, shoes, coats and (of course) old hats. I resist the urge to try anything on because the sale doesn’t start until Friday and it’s as if Mary’s clothes aren’t quite ready to leave.

We continue through the different rooms and Healy shows me the floral embroidered sofa and armchair set, a working Packard Bell television from the 50s, a Venus shortwave radio, and drawers filled with pajamas still in their packages.

The bathroom cabinet reveals an untouched Dopp kit complete with a picture frame to admire your ladylove while you shave. In the kitchen I lust after a set of four water glasses, probably from the early 1950s, with scenes from Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Wizard of Oz. There’s even a relatively new washer/dryer set for the more practical bargain hunters.

During the tour Healy introduces me to many of the items she has found but also points to the bags that still need to be unpacked before the sale. “It’s incredible what we can accumulate in a lifetime,” she says.  “I just can’t go through everything. Maybe there’s something priceless in a cigar box that I didn’t have time to open.”

There’s one mystery Healy knows she hasn’t solved: a locked trunk in Gus’s closet with no key. Think you can open it?  A Ten dollar bill gets you a ten-minute attempt to unlock the trunk without damaging it. Winner takes all.

Old Hat’s first estate sale is located at 719 Guerrero St. It will be open Friday, March 12th from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, March 13th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, March 14th from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Check old-hat-estatesales.com for more upcoming sales.

Elisabeth Carr is a guest blogger for Mission Loc@l and the creator of missioncloset.com

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