For a year, photographer Norm Diamond visited up to 10 estate sales a week, documenting the stranded possessions for his series What Is Left Behind.
Norm Diamond, “LBJ With Fishhooks,” from What Is Left Behind: Stories From Estate Sales (courtesy the artist and Daylight Books)On weekends when I was growing up in Oklahoma, my mom and I often would scan the newspaper listings of estate sales, and pick a few to explore. To my memory, we rarely bought anything, but I was captivated by these whole lives suddenly exposed to be dug through by scavenging hands, while family members or strangers set a dollar amount for stacks of well-worn records and boxes of vacation travel slides. More than any funeral I’d attended, these estate sales had a heavy sense of mortality, with a life reduced to its meager price tags.
What Is Left Behind: Stories From Estate Sales by Norm Diamond, out May 16 from Daylight Books, is a photographic excavation of this world. As Diamond affirms in his introduction, “There is nothing like an estate sale to remind me of my own mortality and life’s brevity.” For a year, he would visit up to ten estate sales a week in Dallas, Texas, photographing the haunting, strange, and sometimes comical moments of these incredibly personal sales. On May 20, the Afterimage Gallery in Dallas will open an exhibition featuring this series.
Norm Diamond, “Man of the House,” from What Is Left Behind: Stories From Estate Sales (courtesy the artist and Daylight Books)Diamond’s ability to find an image amid the heaps of possessions came from his 35 years working as an interventional radiologist. He explains: During my career, I sifted through hundreds of computer images every day, glossing over each patient’s normal anatomy subconsciously until an abnormal finding set off a conscious alarm. As an example, it might have been a minute trace of dye, seen on only one or two images, that escaped the confines of a small artery and revealed the site of a patient’s hemorrhage. When I went through the rooms in a house during a sale, I also made hundreds of yes/no decisions every minute without thinking. Almost always the answer was “no.” And then something would catch my eye — a poignant memento, a cultural knickknack that illustrated a time in our nation’s history, or an item so intimate and evocative that I knew I must photograph it.
Cover of What Is Left Behind: Stories From Estate Sales(courtesy Daylight Books)He bought some items (nothing over $25) and brought them back to his studio. Yet the in situ photographs are especially engaging. A man’s portrait rests by a made bed, the serene domestic moment interrupted by a tiny price tag for $2.50, a sale that would likely be for the frame rather than this family photo. A toilet paper holder in another image is priced at $5 for anyone who wants to rip it from the wall, while a body brace marked $15 is a shadow of the absent owner’s decline. In the back of the book, Diamond has some notes on individual items, such as the rifle resting on a Bible (“This being Dallas, Texas, I had several gun images to choose from after a year of estate sale browsing”), and another for a box of butter cream caramels, which had a wig inside. “After I purchased it, I took the box home and removed the hairpiece, which sprang out, expanding wildly in every direction,” he writes.
Most of the objects Diamond focuses on in the nearly 70 photographs published in What Is Left Behind are not worth much, whether a 1939 science project collection of pressed leaves, or a cast of someone’s teeth from 1973. Instead, they are a tactile timeline of a life lived. “This is contemporary Dallas, but it is also Dallas in 1950, 1972, 1986 — each home a time capsule,” writes Kat Kiernan, editor of Don’t Take Pictures, in an essay for the book. “Through Diamond’s photographs, we see how the world has changed over the course of a lifetime, culturally and technologically.”
At every estate sale there is a percentage of customers who try to bargain on the price that is listed. Bargaining is never the problem, it's how customers go about the bargaining process that is the problem.
Most folks think it's their inherent right to get a lower price since the items are part of an estate sale, but that is not necessarily the case. Most, if not all, estate sellers price the items they are selling for less than 50% of the retail price for the item in question -- for most people that should be a bargain just in itself.
Of course our goal is to sell everything, but our goal is also to make our client the most money possible. If you hired an estate seller for a relative or even for yourself, wouldn't you want the person you hired to get you the most money out of the sale?
Customers need to realize that at many estate sales reserves are put in place so that certain items do not sell below a set price. These reserves are set by the client not the estate seller. This means for certain items, estate sellers, are contractually obligated to a specific reserve and that they cannot go below a certain price.
One of the biggest problem with customers who bargain at sales is that they don't do it correctly. They come to the table "expecting" a discount. Here is some good advice to take to heart the next time you are negotiating on an item at an estate sale - let's start with the Don'ts list:
1. Never try to bargain in the first hour of the sale - it's a big no no and most estate sellers won't even contemplate a change on pricing on the first day. Trying to get a discount in the first few hours of a sale is likely going to result in zero reduction on the price.
2. Don't whine! Whining is definitely not going to get you a discount.
3. Don't act like you are entitled to get a discount - no one is truly entitled for a discount.
4. Don't tell us you are a reseller and you need to make a profit - that does not bowl over well for most estate sellers as we too are resellers. Of course we want you to make money but not at the cost of losing money for our client and ourselves. It's better to be discreet about being a reseller.
5. Don't be rude. If you are rude we are more than likely not going to bargain with you. Some estate sellers have been known to remove the item from the buyers hands and place them back on the shelf.
6. Don't peg one salesperson off of another. Many of us have systems to know if a salesperson has given you a discount or not.
1. Wait until the first day is almost over before asking for major discounts on the item(s) you are interested.
2. Offer a bid if you don't want to pay full price. Remember bid's are binding so don't offer a bid unless you are serious about paying the price you bid.
3. Be polite, don't assume you are due a discount just because you are buying items at an estate sale.
4. Do accept the sellers response the first time, don't ask over and over expecting the answer to change.
Remember if you are not happy with the price don't buy the item. There will always be another day and another sale.