Retail Anthropology: Carboot Sale Treasure

13 Jul

Carboot sales have a worrying tendancy to bring out the militant bargainer in me. I can’t pay the first price offered no matter how little it is. From the minute I enter the boot sale my values are warped (£1.50 for a jacket? Would you take £1?). There is an important lesson about price and worth in there somewhere. But boot sales also bring out my romantic side – I find myself affected by the human history of stuff on display. At a recent boot sale I came across a dazzling stall: strewed across blankets were an array of vintage hats and handbags, sparkling costume jewellery, beautiful furs and a suitcase overflowing with silk scarves. The lifetime collection of one incredible globe-trotting centenarian, so I was told, Phyllis. The seller gave me a potted history of Phyllis’s life: one spent travelling the world with the airforce, bungee-jumping aged 80 and never slowing down long enough to get married (which is how her collection ended up being sold off by a friend with some of the proceeds apparently going to the Methodist Church). I couldn’t help but come away with one of the silk scarves but what I wanted most were the amazing collection of photo albums depicting generations of a family through rapidly changing times. There were Edwardians on a punting picnic, a Bright Young Things’ trip to the seaside and a family frolicking in a field as a horse and cart brought the hay bales in. In the end I struck a deal for the smallest album containing souvenir shots of Paris…

I’d like to think one of the shadowy figures is Phyllis herself.



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