The Charity Bonanza

This week I want to pay tribute to Kay Stone, the co-ordinator of Exeter's Paris Street RSPCA Charity Shop. She it was who admitted that the ceramic model of a lion left in a cardboard box for her shop "looked a bit tacky". One of her volunteers, Phyllis Wills, recognised it as an early nineteenth century piece of Staffordshire Pottery, and it fetched a cool £1500.

Kay and Phyllis have given heart to many of us. Kay has stood up for all those harassed husbands who try so hard (there's a whopper coming, so hold your breath) to throw out their old gardening trousers because they "look tacky". Phyllis is the champion of their wives, who say "Don't throw out those gardening trousers, they could be worth a fortune, Hugh Scully could be round the house this weekend with a cheque."

Of course, the implication is clear. Charity shops are probably goldmines. There are some particular items to which I think, in my familiar role as public servant, I ought to draw your attention. In fact, I think the council should be drawing attention to them. Never mind the campaign to save the brown tourist signs. What we need are a few more signs to direct honest folk towards their own particular crock of gold (even if the crock is dusty, broken, and a bit tacky).

Barbers' shops used to have long, candied poles outside. Now they are called salons, and have harmony quartets singing in the corner. They should have a big pair of scissors outside them. And charity shops should have a colossal pound sign twinkling in the sunlight. All right, euro, if you prefer.

Let us visit a charity shop, and see what we can dig out for the auctioneers. Let's see if we can break all records (and I'm not talking about the boxes of 78s). In fact, let's make Exeter the charity shop capital of the country.

Here are a few possible finds.

Item One. A complete set of Bert Kaempfert LPs. If they have the trademark scratches on the vinyl, and slightly ripped inner sleeves, then you are really on to a winner. For starters, they've been played by the one previous careless owner, which is something really special in the case of Bert Kaempfert. Anyone can find pristine copies. The really rare ones are the slightly tacky ones. Worth an absolute mint.

Item Two. Consignia mugs. Those two words really go together, don't they? However, I'm talking about special commemorative drinking vessels. The really tip-top ones have tea-leaves in them, in which you can read the future. Those of you who can't read tea-leaf should take a gypsy with you. If the message says "This was a waste of time making", then you are once again on to a genuine find.

Item Three. A pack of cards with the three of spades missing. The ones to look for are the ones in which some joker has taken a crayon to the Joker, and written "Three Of Spades" across it. This may look a bit tacky, but it is probably the juvenile work of a well-known poker player in a top casino. Watch out for other examples of his work, including the set of Scrabble with no Z, X, Q or K. You don't get so many triple word scores, but, by the heck, it's easier to play. Worth a tidy packet.

Item Four. A model of Exeter, showing Princesshay as a thriving local community with kebab houses, a sex shop, a banana stall, a community begging area, and an organic pig-sty. This is an early model of the new-look Exeter, rejected quietly by the planning committee as "too unlike all other city centres". If it says "NOT ON YOUR LIFE. TOO TACKY", then you can rest assured you've found the big one. Get it home, and on display, and the Express And Echo will pay you for every letter written in complaining about it.

Item Five . Junk. This will be quite easy to spot. It is a Chinese fishing boat, and will take up most of the shop. They're very rare in Exeter, and you could soon be ferrying people up and down the canal in it. Priceless.

Item Six. A picture postcard of Newton Poppleford, from someone called "Scotty". It says "Having a lovely time at Devon Farmers Cream Tea Week. Wish you were here." It's addressed to Cdr. J. Kirk, and dated May 2002. This has been left by a time-traveller. Snap it up!

Item Seven. A metal thingy, with some bobbly stalks, and a twirly bit in the middle with a smidgen of rust. This is a completely unidentifiable piece of early sixties kitchenware, and will be wanted for a BBC2 documentary some time soon. And they pay through the nose.

Item Eight . A fiver. These are increasingly rare. If the sellotape on it looks quite new, and there are no more than three rips in it, and provided it doesn't say "Waddington's" on it, then pay at least 10p for this. You should get a nearly 5000% return for your investment. N.B. If this is sitting in an old-fashioned till, I should ask first if it's for sale. We don't want any misunderstandings.

Item Nine . A jigsaw entitled "Cathedral City Of Exeter", and marked "some pieces missing". Look on the bottom of the box, and see if it belongs to the planning committee. If it is, then it could be publishable, providing you can put together what's left.

Item Ten. A brown tourist attraction sign. Quickly, before someone else snaffles it! The Council is looking for these, and will have readies to throw at you.

Item Eleven . A pair of gardening trousers, tacky. Hoy! That's not funny! Give them back immediately!

Bill Greenwell

From Express and Echo