January 11, 2008
By Kirk Sibbald
Wes Polowski shows off some of his extensive jewelry collection.
Photo by Kirk Sibbald.
It all started as a not-so-innocent means of wooing women, but both Wes Polowski and his second-hand jewelry collection have matured considerably since then.
Polowski, a horticulture supervisor with the Facilities Management Division, says he’s been collecting jewelry at garage sales for at least half of his 50 years. And while he sold a handful of gold rings to help pay for his wedding four years ago, the 12 boxfuls he still has left are an obvious point of pride.
There’s the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champions ring from 1992, a 10 carat gold coin produced by Birks, a few old English rings set with large amber stones, and ornate costume jewelry items distinguishable by a “twinkle and sparkle that always catches (Polowski’s) eye.”
His eyes, in fact, seem to have assumed some of the sparkle that once adorned much of the jewelry of which Polowski speaks. The majority of his immense collection is faded, tarnished and just plain old. That isn’t to say many of his finds aren’t worth something to someone.
“A person could make a living off of going to garage sales if they worked hard enough at it, but it’s a lot of hustle,” he said. “To me, garage saling is a hobby. If I find a treasure one day, good. If not, I still had a good day.”
As Polowski can attest, there are a few treasures sprinkled here and there in rummage sales that mark the aftermath of Saskatoon spring-cleaning. He once bought a gold necklace for $1 and sold it only an hour later for $200. He also stumbled upon a bowl made by world-famous potter Charlotte Rhead a few years back, taking it off someone’s hands for $20 and turning it around for a $380 profit.
Still, Polowski maintains money is of little consequence in the overall scheme of his obsession. And judging by the hordes of rings, necklaces, brooches and pocket watches stashed away in closets at his home, one would be hard-pressed to disagree.
“Just like a hunter, for me it’s not about the money, it’s about the thrill of the hunt,” he says, leaning forward to emphasis this point. “Probably the highlight for me is the bartering. Without the bartering, it’s no fun.”
Polowski also has a substantial collection of paraphernalia from the University of Saskatchewan. He has a few old horticulture books, a badge commemorating a dance at Convocation Hall in 1936, and a gold pocket watch still in perfect working condition.
“People around here say they have to wait for a gold watch until they retire. Well, I say I already have mine, so I guess I can retire anytime,” he said with a laugh.
Although the number of Saskatoon-area garage sales hasn’t decreased in recent years, Polowski says finding his coveted jewels has become a more arduous task with the advent of internet sites like EBay and programs like the Antiques Roadshow.
“EBay and other things like that hurt people like myself that are trying to go out there and find the treasures. Everyone thinks they’re a collector now,” he said with a shrug.
Although Polowski concedes he has browsed some of the jewelry items listed on EBay once or twice, he hasn’t ever bid on anything and doesn’t plan on succumbing to the popular auction site.
“I’m too old for that kind of stuff,” he said. “And anyway, I like the face-to-face aspect of bartering. That’s what it’s really all about for me.”
Wes Polowski holds a gold U of S pocket watch from his jewelry collection.
Photo by Kirk Sibbald