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Junk to Most, Treasures to Some

Whether building, polishing, restoring or collecting, we love our stuff. Whatever infliction feeds the addiction that consumes free time and drains wallets, all of us have a vice. The old saying, ‘he/she who dies with the most toys wins’ is proven true in every incomplete but ever-expanding assortment of bobbles, trinkets, doo-dads, widgets and whatchamacallits, whether short-term trends or lifelong obsessions.

Having witnessed auctions, gun and rock shows, visited antique stores and interviewed folks in Lake County with vast hoards of stuff and things and junk, the value of items to the right person has me regretting throwing out some I should’ve instead posted on eBay.

One advantage in a rural setting as a proud collector of things and stuff myself is the opportunity to find a hidden treasure easier than in the big city. This may seem contradictory, as we are accustomed to going without certain luxuries. Consider though that most stores, boutiques and junkyards have already been picked clean of all things valuable and vintage by hardcore collectors the closer they rest to the beaten path. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and with fewer treasure hunters present the supply vs. demand curve for once is in our favor. Finding a quaint shop out of the way in Lake County may yield treasures galore that not even the shop owners are aware they possess, hidden gems that would have been picked from shelves long ago in larger towns.

I encountered such an incident recently on my never-ending quest to add to my junk collection. My obsession is vintage video games. As a child of the 80’s now reaching peak nostalgia and having spent several years working in the video game industry, my time is often spent rummaging at sales searching for classic titles.

Recently I visited Feather Your Nest Antiques in Lakeview on the prowl for vintage games. Sadly, almost every big city store or flea market I’ve visited I left disappointed, as usual the good stuff already cleaned out by fellow collectors.

But not this time. As I dug through an old cardboard box in the backroom filled with titles that would normally take me years to track down, I spotted something even more enticing on a shelf. Buried amongst a stack of books and papers was a nearly mint condition complete in box Nintendo game, Contra Force, one of the most rare and coveted items among collectors. Its value is around $300 or more depending on condition, and this one was practically fresh from the manufacturer. Never in my travels have I even seen it in a store, much less with all the trimmings intact, the kind of jewel normally reserved for a museum’s glass case. After I stopped hyperventilating and let the devil on my shoulder contemplate how to buy it for a mere pittance of its value, the angel on the other shoulder won the internal argument. I notified the store owner of the treasure they had let lay dormant for years, knowing I would never afford it now much less even see something this good again.

Now shipped off to a fellow collector with much deeper pockets than I after paying a small fortune on eBay, the experience may have left me without the prize but nonetheless reinvigorated for the thrill of the hunt. It may not have been the Holy Grail of gaming, but it was at minimum the Golden Fleece, buried for years right here in Lake County awaiting the right traveler to hear its siren call.

Here in Lake County each community has its own shop of doo-dads and thingamabobs just waiting for the right collector to recognize the value of all things dusty and rusty. Treasures are out there in the shop around the corner, from New Pine Creek’s Just Stuff Antiques to Christmas Valley’s The Willows Antiques & Vintage & Gifts, garage sales, backyards and auctions. It’s out there, that one thing we’ve wanted for so long, calling out to us, making our collections feel slightly more complete. Happy hunting.

— Kurt Liedtke

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