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One Mans Trash Is Another Mans Treasure

Updated on January 31, 2019

Overlooked Treasures and Collectables May Be Right Under Your Feet

In the old days, before EPA and other government regulations, people simply dumped their trash wherever they liked. Many families, especially those on farms, had burn piles or places on the land they piled up old refuse. These old piles can be marvelous places to find now seemingly ancient treasures. What kind you ask, bottles, cans, and marbles to name a few.

Before we continue, lets talk about the legal stuff. Get up and go look in a mirror, then come back.

Welcome back. Now if the person you saw in the mirror was eighteen years old or older, then that person is solely responsible for any harm, mishap, injury, illness, condition, or any and all other negative things that may result in your attempting anything in this article.

If you are under eighteen, do not follow or try anything in this article without the consent and knowledge of your parent(s) or guardian. At which time, they can look in the mirror and see the person responsible for any negative consequence you may encounter.

First, if you decide to "treasure hunt" in old refuse and burn piles, please be aware of the dangers associated with doing so. These piles will or may contain items, substances, or creatures that could be detrimental to your health and well-being. Some are provided here as a starting point, but is in no way complete as there is no way to be sure of what may be in these piles.

Likely to be in old refuse piles are broken glass, rusty metal, splintered wood, and chemicals. Gloves can be beneficial, leather is better than cloth, but even leather can be cut or pierced. Handle with care! These piles may contain harmful substances, lead, other poisons (like rat poison), asbestos, unknown mixed chemicals like bleach, paint, turpentine, and others.

Be sure you take a first aid kit with you in case of injury, and be sure you know the whereabouts of the nearest medical facility and phone. This also means having the phone numbers for emergencies in that area. Don't hunt alone. Not only is sharing the experience better, but safer. Ensure all medical conditions and allergies are readily available on your person or in your vehicle and known to your buddy.

Other hazards include insects, reptiles, and other animals. Examples are rodents, snakes, bees, spiders, millipedes, and more. In Florida we have lots of ring neck snakes that live like worms in the ground. Though these are harmless, someone with a heart condition (known or unknown) and a dread fear of snakes could find a scare that could be fatal. Use caution and good judgment. If you don't have common sense, make sure your buddy does or "don't try this at home!"

If you don't own the land, get permission first. In fact, if you are hoping to find valuables, get it in writing or you may have fun finding it, but not be able to keep or sell it. This is especially true of family; you don't really know someone till valuables enter the equation.

Whether you own the land or not, it's a good idea to take some cardboard boxes with you. These will allow you to carefully store your treasures for transport, and are also there to place the rest of the trash in. Separate the "worthless" metal and glass. This will allow you to place the metal in a trash bin or recycle it at the local scrap metal yard, making a few pennies to cover your gas and returning the metal to the economy.

The old broken glass can also be recycled, or may provide a few more pennies from people who want older glass. Old broken Noxzema and Philips Milk of Magnesia bottles have beautiful and rare cobalt blue glass that some crafts persons may want for making items of interest. Other rare colors, or glass pieces that still maintain a complete logo or unique pattern can also be of value to some people.

In either case you are cleaning up a potential hazard for the property owner and are reducing the clutter you must go through if you continue looking here at a later time. If you simply leave previously covered glass and metal lying around, the owner is likely to be dissatisfied and not allow you to return.

For you city folk who didn't get the opportunity to enjoy life away from it all, you still may have had a grandparent or great uncle or aunt that lived out in the rural areas. If so you may remember them having, or you may have, dumped things in an area of the property. If they were older, this pile was probably newer. If they lived there for some time, it is likely in their younger years they didn't mind carrying trash farther away from the house to keep the odor and unsightliness down. These older spots will be the true treasure piles, but even the newer ones are likely to have some valuables in them.

Other clues as to where old piles may have been might be in old letters or pictures. You can ask relatives if they remember where they were too. Once you get an idea where to look, be sure to get everything together you'll need for safety, storage, and looking. Wear shoes that will provide adequate protection.

The best thing I've come up with to sort through and uncover treasure is a plastic rake. Rakes are springy and therefore can unexpectedly make items take flight. Safety glasses may be advisable. The plastic will reduce the scratching and breakage of the glass. You may need a shovel to get started; a hoe, or small hand flower tools may work well too. If you are sorting through the dirt looking for small items you may need something to sift the soil.

Okay, what exactly can you hope to find. As alluded to - bottles, jars, ceramics, possibly old silverware, collectible cans and tins, coins, jewelry, marbles, currency and more. In the old days banks were rare and many people didn't trust them after the Great Depression. Storing valuables inside old jars and tins wasn't that uncommon, especially in the farm areas.

As indicated, even broken bottles can have value. If you have all the pieces of an item, and it is the only one of its kind, even broken it will have value to a museum or collector. Here's another secret. Broken jars and bottles may have intact labels or lids, stoppers, or caps. If you find, or have, an old bottle that is missing the cap or it was rusted beyond recognition, you can replace it with a cap from a like bottle that was broken.

The more intact, complete, and in original condition an item, the more value it has. Even if you end up with extras, there may be a cap, label, or fellow bottle collector who needs one and willing to pay or trade for it. Don't dismiss rusty caps and lids either. Check to see if the insert, or seal, is still there and in good condition.

Marbles can be found in these piles as well. Some are old toy marbles that just got thrown out after the kids grew up. Many actually come from old spray paint cans. The noise you hear when you shake up Rustoleum and other such spray containers originates from either real glass marbles or stainless steel shot metal balls. Once these cans rust open, the marbles can be found. Uh, don't go out and try to open spray cans that aren't already open from some other cause - high pressure objects tend to explode in your face... again, look in the mirror.

A few years ago I bought a piece of property next to where I grew up. I tripled my luck as it not only has several old piles on the vacant land, but the land is adjacent to an old stagecoach road that has been abandoned for sixty or more years, and is waterfront on a river. Littering isn't new, older drivers threw their trash from cars and wagons too.

Just today in the first pile I have uncovered nearly 20 old bottles; vanilla extract, White Rock bottle, old Coke bottle, and dozens of yet unidentified bottles. I have found old bottles that have collected in the marsh areas over the years, washing in from the river during high tides and floods.

Here's one last spot to find old piles. Some old timers used to gather their trash and share it with the electric companies. I remember finding old bottles along power lines where people just dumped their trash. Looking here is, again, at your own risk, and you really should get permission from the property owner.

If you decide to undertake a treasure hunt, be safe, do so with others, and most importantly, have fun. If digging through old trash piles makes you frown, just think of yourself as an amateur archaeologist. After all that's where some of the rarest treasures you see in museums have originated, thousand year old trash piles.

Once you have your treasures in hand, you may need the help of a local appraiser or some books to identify and determine value on what you find. Some books can be located on Amazon, or at your local library. In either case, you will have plenty of time enjoying yourself and will definitely enrich yourself through learning if not through the almighty dollar.

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