Find Out What All the Junk in Portland Is Worth

Why did Portland tear down a beautiful streetcar system to build highways? What is your grandma's china worth? Why can a bottle cap sell for $1,000 on E-bay? Explore these questions at an Oregon Historical Society exhibition with a group of appraisers.

By Caleb Diehl August 20, 2014

If a 1950s tourist wanted to express their awe of Portland, they would mail off a postcard emblazoned with the city’s pride and joy—a highway interchange, or maybe a parking lot. In the 50s, highways represented innovation and the independence that came along with private automobiles. A city with a highway was a truly American city.

Nowadays, of course, Portland boasts a web of MAX and bus stations, and more bike commuters than any other major city. Modern day Portlanders look back on a 1900s-era map of the Portland Streetcar System with a touch of nostalgia. Why did we ever get rid of those vintage streetcars?

That’s the sort of question curator Geoff Wexler hopes to provoke through What's It Worth?, a new exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society. Visitors can also ponder how pre-1920s catalogues for corsets turned a constricting device into a fashion accessory, why two paintings that look the same sell for radically different prices, and why the city tore down the Portland High School in 1928 to build a parking lot.

What's It Worth
Oregon Historical Society
August 24, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

exhibit runs through November 8

“People think if it doesn’t have a dollar value it’s not worthwhile,” said Wexler. “But if you reduce everything to a dollar value, you get things like tearing down a beautiful building for parking.”

Even if we slap dollar signs on everything, money is just an expression of sentiment, changing times, and personal preference.

With those lofty academic queries in mind, Portlanders can ask another question: what’s the junk in my garage worth? In an event copied from the Idaho Historical Society and formatted like Antiques Road Show, OHS is gathering experts in vintage toys, native arts, autographs, and the like to appraise visitors’ household items for just $10. The only rules are no items you can’t carry on your own, and no weapons or firearms—you have to go to Idaho for that.

“We’re expecting buttons, books, silverware, the whole kitchen sink,” said Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of OHS. “And who knows? Maybe even a kitchen sink.”

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