It was a sunny but cold Sunday morning, and a sizable group of people sat in plastic chairs in a parking lot beside a large warehouse in East Oakland. A dachshund chased a basketball, barking furiously. Some of those resting in the chairs seemed momentarily entertained by the dog, but then went back to waiting for friends or family who would hopefully exit the warehouse soon, returning with treasures in hand.
Treasures like toboggans, vintage ice skates, cloth dolls wearing wigs, miniature trampolines, photographs of bell peppers playing violins—all of these and more were found at Sunday’s preview for the 57th Annual White Elephant Sale.
Each year the Oakland Museum Women’s Board organizes the sale, and the proceeds benefit the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). People donate old items, which are then sorted into different categories and sold to the public. Admission to the preview sale is $15, or $20 at the door, while admission to the sale in March is free.
“We collect donations all year long,” said Lynne Berg, co-chair of the event with Monica Beary. “It’ll be piled—it feels like—to the ceiling. It’s higher than you can reach.”
Finds vary from used copies of DVDs and records to the most ornate estate jewelry. “One time we had a beaded dress that could have been on Mary in Downton Abbey. It was so gorgeous, so fragile. And I always said that I should have been born in that era,” said Berg. But the dress was “too small,” she continued, with a laugh. “I couldn’t have gotten in it. But elegant.”
No matter how hard you look, you will not find any encyclopedias, personal grooming equipment, Pilates equipment, copies of Martha Stewart Magazine (along with most other magazines), or very large boats. Those are all on the organization’s lengthy “Do Not Take List.”
“It’s on our website,” said Berg. “Some people ignore it and we get some really weird stuff, but at least it amuses us. But most of the donations are quality donations.”
Many of the volunteers are retirees, and a few are even in their 90s. Some are second-generation volunteers for the sale, their parents volunteering before them. “If you read Yelp, a lot of them comment about how nice all of us old ladies are,” said Berg. “We’d rather just be called ‘those silver-haired devils,’ or something.”
Last year’s White Elephant Sale raised over $2 million for the OMCA. The money goes to support museum acquisitions and exhibits, educational programs and capital improvements.
Admission to the next sale is free to the public, and the museum will continue to take donations Tuesday-Saturday through February 24.
The White Elephant Sale takes place March 5-6 at 333 Lancaster Street, Oakland. You can find more information about the sale here.