Dear Lee,

Years ago, trash was put out for collection each week on what in Cleveland is called a “tree lawn.” It was illegal to take the aluminum cans waiting to be recycled, but no one seemed to care about the rest. My best find was a very old, wooden crate labeled Ivory Soap. It’s still in our country store collection and the oldest one we have seen.

But the best trash find story is Kim’s chair. Kim and her husband, Al, were walking in New York City when they saw a chair in a pile of trash. They recognized it as the work of Norman Cherner, who designed the chair in 1958. (You can buy one today for $1,300.) A full day of sightseeing ahead and nowhere to put the chair, they picked it up and carried it down the street to join them on their day. First stop, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No one on the street or in the museum asked about the chair. They carried the chair with them when they left the museum and visited the IBM headquarters’ lobby. Next stop the subway, then a train, still carrying the chair. No one looked surprised, asked a question, or even cracked a joke before they got to Lee’s house and decided to have him ship it to their Florida house.

But the valuable, treasured chair story has a sad ending. A workman who was repairing Lee’s house either stole the chair or, perhaps, didn’t understand modern design, thought it was trash, and discarded it as part of the clean-up.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, luck is on your side and you truly can find treasure in the trash. There could be a second moral, however: Be careful what you throw out. Especially now, when you can do instantaneous research on the internet. Hate your grandmother’s ugly vase? Look for a signature or mark before giving it to a thrift store. Find a dusty toy in the attic, in its original, slightly battered box? Search for a collecting website (or call a local expert) before assuming it’s worth nothing.

Finally, Lee, if you find a treasure on the curb, in your attic or in a garage, make sure you keep it safe. Or you’ll be as unhappy as Kim and Al.

Chair Photo: Ruby Lane