It’s that time of the year for yard sales, lawn sales and garage sales. They will appear on just about every street in every neighborhood of the Twin Cities.
A hundred years ago, it wasn’t the custom for individual households to put on a public sale, but the basic idea dates back to the very beginning of the last century. The very first of those weeklong “rummage” sales held in the Twin Cities each spring and fall took place on April 11, 1900, according to a news story printed a dozen years later in the Lewiston Evening Journal.
“When the house-wives begin their semi-annual campaign of ‘digging out’ the garret, likewise the cellar, the shed and every nook and corner of the house, a part of the ‘clearing-up’ business is to set aside a pile for the rummage sale,” the article said.
The Women’s Christian Association had been holding sales in May for several years, but they were not bringing in as much money as the members had hoped.
“The daughter of the late Prof. and Mrs. B.F. Hayes of Bates College was away at school. She wrote home to her mother, who was one of the most devoted workers of the association, about a rummage sale that had been carried out in the town where she was attending school,” the news account said. The reporter declared that no one on the association’s ways and means committee, except the chairman, went along with the idea, but she proceeded to appoint a rummage sale committee anyway.
“For that first sale, and for all following ones, for that matter, the women worked like Trojans. They solicited about everyone in town for old clothing, cast off furniture, all sorts of things, and then they went around and collected the bundles,” the newspaper reported.
The sale took place in a store under Hotel Atwood which the Franklin Co. loaned for as long as the store was not leased. That first rummage sale resulted in such a financial success and proved such a satisfactory way of raising money, it was decided to keep it going twice a year.
“The city was divided into sections. A sufficient number of teams (meaning horse-drawn wagons) were secured for collecting. The work was well systemized and, while it has grown with each half year’s undertaking, it has been so well organized it has gone on like clock work.”
The news writer said the association’s volunteers had plenty of stories to tell about the effort.
“One poor woman, who was a regular patron of the sales, aroused the curiosity of those in charge by her singular purchase each season. Just as sure as the spring or fall came, this woman would be on hand to buy single stockings. At first, the people wondered what on earth she could want of one stocking. They guessed all manner of things that she might be using them for. Finally, she explained that she had a son who had lost a limb, and she was buying the single stockings for him and counted it a great blessing to be able to get them so cheap.”
Another time, “A woman of more than middle-age came in and asked, ‘Have you a tall hat, large in size?’ And then she went on to explain, ‘You see, my husband can have a chance to drive a hack, if he can get a tall hat.’ Sure enough, the tall hat was there and it proved just a fit.”
There also was the story of “the woman of 200 pounds or more, who visited the sale in search of corsets. A big pile of small size corsets had kindly been donated by one of the merchants and she looked the pile over and over until finally one of the women in charge suggested, ‘Really, I am sure there is no corset there large enough for you.’ Continuing her search thru the pile, the woman looked up and replied a bit indignantly, ‘Well, if I can’t wear one pair, I can wear two,’ and sure enough she bought two pair of corsets to serve the purpose of one.”
The report said contributions of cloth were often made, and “there has been a good woman on hand to purchase this line of goods. She always spends from two to three dollars and she uses the cloth to make into dresses, aprons, petticoats and various other things for needy children.”
Many items at the sale were donated to the city farm or made available for the police matron to distribute. The writer pointed out that the stories of single stockings, tall hats and corsets goes to prove that “anything can be sold, from flat irons to featherbeds.”