Being a city with a shrinking but aging population, it's quite difficult to drive more than a mile or two on the weekend in the Buffalo area without seeing a cluster of signs pointing to various estate sales. One of my good friends has been an enthusiastic estate sale fan for the past decade or so, scoring literally tons of high-end tools and Craftsman-style furniture and accessories through the years. Now, whenever I see a sign advertising a sale, I'm tempted to turn the car and check it out.
Here's what I've learned by visiting several estate sales in the Buffalo area.
1) As people get older, their tastes grow more ornate. Or maybe, people in Buffalo just like tacky furniture. Here's the interior of a typical house in Buffalo.
People who are in their 70s and 80s now were in their 20s and 30s in the late 1940s through the 1960s, when clean, modern design predominated.
Yet, at area estate sales, the vast majority of the furnishings being sold tends to be over-the-top Rococo and French Provincial style. I've seldom seen cool mid-century furniture. My friend says it's now almost impossible to find any Craftsman furniture, except in old money neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo proper, and the nicer pre-WWII suburban neighborhoods (e.g. Snyder and Eggertsville in Amherst, Deerhurst in Tonawanda, incorporated villages).
2) Buffalonians aren't very Catholic. They're very, very, very Catholic.
At almost every sale I've gone to, there's been a huge selection of Catholic religious paraphernalia. Brightly painted statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart, Infant Jesus in a gown, St, Francis, and so on. Paintings of religious scenes. Piles of gory crucifixes. Religious books. Row upon row of Rosary beads. I'm told religious items move fast, and I've seen a couple of people with armloads of it
3) People have too much crap. At almost every estate sale I've been to, the number of tchotchkes on display is unreal. People seem to have enough china and flatware to serve a visiting Army battalion. There's not much more I can say about this.
4) Estate sales drive home the fact that there was a time when everything was made in the United States. The items I tend to gravitate to at estate sales tend to be practical. At the last sale I went to, I bought a 1950s-era stapler in its original box, a small but sturdy and heavy beast that looked like it would survive a few hundred years of regular use. It was made in Brooklyn. Manufacturing in New York City? Would would have thought such a thing happened? Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, all states that frequently appeared on items as the place of manufacture. Imported goods from the 1960s and earlier were usually made in the UK or "West Germany".
If an older item was made in Japan, it was usually cheap, at least until the mid-1970s. Taiwan and Hong Kong seemed to overtake Japan as the place of origin for cheap crap in the 1970s, with China becoming dominant in the mid-1990s.