Monday, August 27, 2012

A philosophical question

I ran into an acquaintance this weekend, and he related a story to me about a fellow thrifter finding a genuine Rolex watch in small bag of assorted watches, which was purchased for $1 at a church yard sale.  

It sold on eBay for $1900.

After hearing about the fantastic find and sale, I was more than a bit jealous.  After all, it’s our business to buy low and sell high, and we all have mortgages to pay, tuitions to cover, and Disney trips to fund, and most of us can only dream about uncovering such a treasure.

Yet, something was bothering me, from a philosophical standpoint. Given the age of the watch, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was donated by a senior citizen, either directly, or through an estate, and neither of which would have parted with it if they had known its value.  Of course, that’s true at any sale, but we aren’t talking about nickel and dime items.  Two grand is a lot money, and, for most people, could make a difference in their quality of life, at least in the short term.

So, the question I kept asking myself is at what point does our hobby/business/obsession become less about thrifting, and more about taking advantage of people’s ignorance and/or misfortune?  Is there a monetary value of a find that should make us stop, assess the situation, and be a good Samaritan, or should we always take the money and run, so to speak, regardless of the circumstances?  

Does our conscience have a price?

Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers, and, honestly, like most of you, I probably would have kept and sold the watch for the almost obscene profit. By asking the questions, though, I’d like to think that I haven’t quite become so jaded that I wouldn’t at least consider the implications of my gain vs. the donor’s loss. 

Elsewhere in my little corner of the thrifting world, Saturday again was hit and miss.  I did find five USB bar code scanners for $20; a family of Care Bears; several new games and puzzles; and assorted books and CDs.  I also had to work to make a nickel by buying the individual Twilight books for $.25 each to sell as a lot.

On a happier note, Ella returned on Sunday.  Despite enjoying two months of bachelorhood, it’s good to have her home.

Plus, she brought me a plush ALF to sell.


  1. For me, a good balance is to not always take and take, but giving back to the community and churches in other ways. We need the 1900 to put a house over our heads and food on our tables for our families, but we can give back by donating our time or other gifts to people around us.

  2. This post had me tossing and turning all night. The icky question: Did the guy know the Rolex was in the bag or was it a surprise when he got home and went through it? My best finds were by sheer accident. Aside from being unique and interesting to me, I had no idea what they were really worth until I took them home and researched them. My reasoning is that, had those sellers done the same thing, they could have reaped the benefits instead of me, but they chose not to put in the effort. Our business pretty much relies on knowing more than the seller and we seek out and buy things for a dollar knowing we can get $25 or even $50. But to knowingly by a Rolex for a dollar....from a kinda makes me squirm. The church should have had someone look over the jewelry before they put it out for sale. Even if they had sold it for $100, the guy could still have made a nice profit. JMO, of course.
    Glad to hear Ella is home, safe and sound.

  3. Let your conscience be your guide. If you are hurrying to your car hoping the seller doesn't notice/know/realize...then for me it's not as sweet of a find. The guilt will eat at me. I like what Feetinwater said - sometimes giving back in different ways is just as important.

  4. I hope the church would get a nice donation from this lucky person selling the Rolex. That's what I would do

  5. Last year, I bought several men's kilts for $2 each at a thrift store. I really didn't know what they were worth and actually thought they were women's skirts. That purchase of $10 netted me almost $1400. No, I did not feel guilty because whoever donated them didn't want to be bothered with finding out their worth. However, in the case of the watch and the church sale, I feel bad for the person who donated the watch. S/he probably thought the church would reap the benefit of their donation. Instead the church was negligent in doing their job and therefore missed out. But I could not in good conscience buy it for $1 if I knew it was worth so much - I would feel that I was stealing - and I would definitely tell the clerks that the watch was worth more - if I knew that beforehand.