Campus News

Bethel College’s ‘American Pickers’ protégé finds $30,000 treasure in $5 storage bin

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brian_shembarger_177_mtn It was the middle of August.  A small crowd of visitors toured the petite storage facility located in Berrien Springs, Mich.  There were five units for sale that day, but it was the first unit sold that really went big for one Bethel student. Bethel College freshman Brian Shembarger and two of his friends from back home, Berrien Springs, attended this summer storage auction in August with high hopes, but never thought spending five bucks would lead to a profit of roughly $20,000- $30,000. “People were probably looking to spend their money on other bins,” said Shembarger,  “There were probably about 15 people present for the storage auction, which isn’t too many people for a storage auction.  We decided to buy together and split the winnings. He went on, “I’ve been to storage auctions or estate auctions in the past, but never really bought anything ‘cause of it being too much or too much of a hassle. This was a good first one for sure.” And it definitely was a great way to break into the storage bin-buying gig.  Shembarger and company bought a storage bin with a mere five dollars. It’s currently being appraised to total near an estimated $30,000 thanks to two majorly valuable rings found in the bin. The young buyers followed the rules of a typical storage auction.  They had five minutes to stand at the entrance of the bin without touching any of its contents and look into the bin.  Once all parties were able to make the decision on whether to pull the trigger on the buy, they began the auction, where Shembarger would ultimately claim the unit. So why did the three young buyers choose to make the move on this storage bin?  Shembarger stated that it was a lucky guess, not really made with high expectations, but with a simple profit in mind. “We looked at what we could see from the entrance and started adding up the values,” said Shembarger, “a little bit here, a little bit there, all adding up.  When it was as low as five bucks, we couldn’t really pass up on that, so we just went for it.” Shembarger hasn’t usually bought in the past, primarily due to the sheer expense of the investment. Typically the bins he has seen sell for around $200 or $300. “Finding a bin at such a low cost seemed to be such a rare occurrence to me, but definitely lucky, I’d say,” said Shembarger. He explained all the exquisite treasures that he and his friends have found within the storage bin so far. “The first box we opened had some old coins in it that we figured we would get our $5 back.  Then we found a couple of necklaces with Sterling Silver on them and knew we were picking up some value.  But then we started finding some jewelry and found the yellow 2.34 carat diamond ring from 1892, and a ruby ring that was recently appraised for $1,350 and knew that we were on to something big,” said an enthusiastic yet humble Shembarger, “other odds and ends we’ve sold for a couple hundred dollars.” Shembarger believes that there is definitely more possible finds available in their recently acquired treasure trove. “We’re still looking through boxes in the unit, but it could be close to 20 to 25 grand by the end of it all,” said Shembarger. Similar diamond rings such as Shembarger’s new acquisition have sold big in the past, and this particular one is estimated to go for a similar total, near $10,000.  It is still being inspected for its value, but should be fully evaluated within the next few weeks.  They’ve sent most of their finds to appraisal companies such as the Gemological Institute of America, or GIA, for reports and sales of their finds.  In this case with the GIA, Shembarger and his two associates will hand over 40 percent of the profits to the company and have their connections sell the diamond for them. As for Shembarger’s immediate response to the find, needless to say he was taken aback in amazement. “It was kinda unbelievable,” said Shembarger in reflection, “I’ve talked to people who do this type of thing for a living and say that this is a sort of once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing that you would make on the job, but even if you did this your whole life, you may not be able to find a bin that would produce that much money.  Even now, I can’t really fully comprehend the full excitement.  It’s pretty surreal.” This was truly a find of a lifetime. Some people who do this type of auction buying for a living often dream of such a find.  But for Shembarger, this was simply another example of his keen eye for an antique’s value.  When in eighth grade, he made a name for himself as a young antiquing protégé.  Shembarger explained how he found a very pricey vintage popcorn machine that would land him as a finalist in a nationwide antique content sponsored by the television show, “American Pickers.” “I had begun going to auctions and sales a lot as a middle schooler,” said Shembarger.  “(Contestants) had to write an essay about what you found and send it into ‘American Pickers.’  I ended up coming in third place with my 1947 popcorn vending machine.  I got it at a garage sale for 70 bucks and it was worth like 350 in its condition.  So they flew me out to (Washington, D.C.), gave me a scholarship (and an) iPad, paid for my hotel and dinner and even got to meet Mike (Wolfe) from the show.  It was definitely a pretty cool experience, and I was only in eighth grade.” Shembarger continued with his affinity for antiques, but he made it clear he wasn’t much of a high roller before that contest. “It was definitely small-scale stuff that I’d look for before then,” said Shembarger. “I would buy stuff for like 50 cents and sell them for $10-15, but after I did so well in that contest it really exploded from there.  I started going for more high-end stuff for like $20 and up and sell them for close to $100.  After all the contest stuff, it really became a lot bigger than I had ever dreamt it would become.” Shembarger said that the main sites that he goes to are usually estate sales and auctions, but he also scours the Internet looking for potential buys and sales nearby. “During the summer, I’ll go to maybe two or three auctions in a week, but during the school year it’s a little harder, so I may only go once a month,” said Shembarger.  “There are certain things that I like to look for or things that I know, from experience, will hold more value than others…old advertising signs, coin-operated machinery from the olden days.  Those are the big-ticket items and sell for big a lot of times.” Although Shembarger has come across some fairly interesting pieces of history along the way, he stated that he doesn’t really get attached to any specific items. “I don’t really buy things for me per se,” stated Shembarger with some amusement, “I don’t really have a problem with letting some of these things go.  If you can make money on it, then what’s holding you back?” As for Shembarger’s secret to success, he was quite clear as to the approach he takes in this business. “It’s always kind of a gamble to it,” said Shembarger.  “You kinda just (have) to get lucky.” Shembarger stated that although he has had success with his findings, he doesn’t necessarily see himself doing this as a full-time career…just yet. “It’s very inconsistent pay with family and other things in mind, but I’d like to do it as a side job along with my real job in the future,” stated Shembarger.  “Hopefully I can retire early and do this for full-time work/hobby when I’m older.” The freshman finance major stated that his exposure to sales and auctions has helped his future business path, whether directly or indirectly. “Doing this at such a young age has definitely developed me as a business person,” said Shembarger.  “The business field has been very intriguing to me and it has only been strengthened through experiences such as these.” So with all of these experiences for Shembarger, is this the last time we hear of him making a big score? It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain: This is one big find and one big pay day to add to his personal storage bin of treasures.
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