Won-ok Kim and I knocked on the door of a very sweet woman from whom we had purchased countless pieces of costume jewelry and a few knickknacks a few weeks earlier. She was surprised to see Orion’s Attic back at her front door.
But not nearly as surprised as she would be moments later.
What she didn’t know was that an unexpected treasure had turned up in our bulk buy. We didn’t think anything of the piece at the time as we only saw it for a few seconds while filling up a box with all the stuff we were buying. It was just a vintage cigarette box and a matching lighter that we figured we’d sell for maybe $40 – a needle in a haystack of items we bought that day. There’s simply not time to research every item in a client’s house when we’re buying hundreds of pieces at a time or liquidating an entire estate. When we took a magnifying glass to it days later, however, we discovered that it might be something very special – a sterling silver Alfred Dunhill cigarette case and lighter from the 1920s. We chose to put the item in our eBay store in an auction format as pieces like this sell much better on eBay than they do in our retail stores. We started the bidding at way below what the pair of items were worth in an attempt to draw more people into the action. The bids lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July in the final minute of bidding ten days later. Won-ok and I cheered because we had already decided what we were going to do: We were going to keep a portion for our company as a proper reward for spotting and selling the item … and do something much more fun with the rest.
Our hearts beating with excitement, we began to explain the story to the seller. The puzzled look on her face suggested she still didn’t understand why we were there.
“We bought this from you thinking it wasn’t worth much,” I explained. “It turned out to be worth quite a lot. When we sell something for considerably more than we expected when we bought it, we like to give the seller a little bonus. In this case, after e-Bay took its fees and we paid for the overnight delivery and insurance, we ended up with nearly $3,000 – so we’d like to give you this check for $2,000!”
The sweet woman jumped backward in shock. Her face turned red and tears filled her eyes. She hugged the stuffing out of Won-ok and me with the force only a grandmother can generate. She thanked us profusely and told us that she couldn’t believe that we would do such a thing. She told us that all the stuff we had purchased had belonged to a family member who collected it and that she had never paid much attention to it. She also told us that she didn’t think anyone else who had bought the items from her in the same circumstances would return and give her such a big surprise.
She continued to get choked up as she embraced us again and again. Won-ok and I got salty-eyed, too. To be honest, it was the biggest joy we have experienced in our entire history of running Orion’s Attic. We have often gone back to sellers with tips when we’ve done better than expected but we had never done so much better on a single sale. The act of kindness was simply an expression of our business ethic. Orion’s Attic actually went from a hobby and an idea to a full-time company after business coach Bette George suggested we explore creating a company that matched our values and not just an enterprise aimed at making money. In the case of the Alfred Dunhill cigarette box and lighter, we also knew the money would do a whole lot more good for the elderly seller than it would do for us.
The surprised woman hugged us and thanked us one more time and we called it a night. I called my mom when I got home to tell her the story as what Won-ok and I did was exactly the kind of thing she would do. She has always said that the only reason that she would ever want to be rich is so that she could do more to help other people. Won-ok and I may have a long way to go before we achieve great wealth but on the night we made a surprise visit to a sweet woman with a neat cigarette lighter, though, we got just a little taste of what it must be like to be millionaires.
Do you need estate liquidation services or know someone who does? Contact us today. Orion’s Attic serves Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.