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Twins sell off heirlooms, keep the memories

Sisters' estate sale business is not much for glamour, but the stories are priceless.

May 04, 2008|Leslie Earnest | Times Staff Writer

While their customers collect teacups and china cabinets and sleigh beds, the owners of Karen & Sharon Estate Sales stockpile stories.

Karen Vicker starts a tale and her identical twin Sharon Hawkins finishes it. Or vice versa.

Like the one about the deceased jeweler's family that couldn't find his gems until Vicker sensed something funny about the china cabinet and pressed on its side, revealing a secret compartment. "There was all that jewelry -- diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold," she recalls.

"Somebody could have bought the china cabinet," Hawkins chimes in, "and they would never have known."

Vicker, from Capistrano Beach, and Hawkins, from Laguna Niguel, have been selling personal property for 37 years.

"We always do the same amount of work," Hawkins says. "It always equals out."

Their work is far from glamorous. At a sale in a house in Laguna Woods, the first job is to clear a path in the crammed rooms. In a few days, the rooms are shifting into order. Sort of.

The china is spread across the dining room table and figurines and flatware atop a folding table, and purses are arranged on a shelf in the bedroom closet. The bathroom is a mishmash -- wastebaskets, shelves, three hair dryers, four curling irons, five mirrors, playing cards, checkers, an ironing board and a large American flag.

"Every bit of this has to be priced and tagged," Hawkins says with a sweep of the arm.

To do that, Vicker wields a magnifying glass. The certified appraisers, who have studied antiques across Europe, check auction records for similar items when they're stumped. When they disagree, whoever suggests the higher price wins.

Expensive things sometimes sell quickly, they say, like the 1960s-era Cessna airplane they sold to a guy from Montana. He gave them $30,000 and flew it away.

If something isn't selling for a price that they think is reasonable, they take it someplace else.

When at a Laguna Woods sale they were offered a paltry $900 for a cherrywood cabinet from the early 19th century, they tracked down a Los Angeles resident willing to pay $3,000. And when a dealer offered the family of a Russian heiress from Laguna Beach $4,000 for an ornately carved sterling silver trophy made by Tiffany & Co., they schlepped it to New York and sold it for $45,000.

"We set off every metal detector possible," Vicker says.

Such sales are lucrative for the sisters, who charge 30% commission. They can't afford to miss anything. Once, they recall, Vicker reached into the pocket of a sports coat they were about to sell and pulled out $1,800.

By the time the Laguna Woods sale starts, everything appears under control. They open the door and, suddenly, there are shoppers everywhere.

"Oh my God, it's dangerous in here," says Jim Saindon, trying to help his wife find dessert dishes.

The sisters go about their business calmly, Hawkins answering questions, Vicker taking the money.

After three days of selling, they shut the door and start turning out the lights. They're not sentimental about the end of a sale, Hawkins says. Except, Vicker adds, that one that they did when they were just starting out.

It was the home of a woman whose only son died in World War II. She had done what she could to keep his memory alive, preserving his shoes, pictures and letters -- and the letter from the Air Force saying that he had been killed.

"I couldn't let that be the end," Hawkins says. So she took home one of his childhood pictures and hung it on the wall with her own family photos. "He's still there with us."

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leslie.earnest@latimes.com

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