The Preciousssssssss.

Every thrifter has a 'big fish' tale about the score that defied all odds. I once found a pair of brand-new Doc Martens maroon-leather Mary Janes in just my size for only three bucks. I wore them for years -- in fact, I wore them out -- and then I found another pair exactly like them. Same size, same style, same color, same price, same thrift shop. Of course I bought them-- who wouldn't, when the Thrift Gods make their wishes so clear?

That pair of Mary Janes wasn't my only Doc Marten triumph. I once spotted a pair at a yard sale-- black greasy leather 1460s, the selfsame model I'd been wearing for decades, sized to fit. A lovely young woman with a baby on her lap smiled when I asked her the price. "One dollar," she said.

Wait, WHAT?! Was she serious?

 "Absolutely," she beamed. She explained that she'd never once taken them out of the box, having developed swollen feet as a side effect to a somewhat risky first pregnancy. She held her fine, fat, bright-eyed son aloft. "He was my prize," she said, eyes shining.  "The Docs will be yours."

And every time I strap those 1460s on, I bless that young mother and her miracle child.

In my thrift-hunting life, I've stumbled across so many super scores, cool coups, vintage victories, and amazing finds. But one of the most memorable was the one I very nearly missed, and yesterday's post about sandalwood fragrances reminded me all over again of my great good fortune.

It was a mellow October, aflood with abundant sunshine. My husband wisely lured me away from the computer and out into a waiting car. Our destination: Green Acres Antiques, an estate-sale and antiques complex located on a private farm in the Pine Barrens. At the end of a long, winding gravel drive, it spread out before us: a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by a graduated series of wooden outbuildings stocked with antique furniture and culminating with a two-story red barn crammed with a thousand objects of desire.

"Ye Olde Antiques Barn" (as I irreverently nicknamed it) has since become one of my favorite sources for vintage fragrance, but on that first visit I was frankly surprised to find any at all. Sure, you'd expect to find old rocking chairs, Depression glass, and vintage Coca-Cola collectibles in such a place-- but perfume? Not hardly. Yet here, one of the first things I spotted was a fancy dessert tray crowded with mini-bottles, the whole shebang perched atop a velveteen hassock.  "Go ahead," my consummately-tolerant husband said, nudging me toward it. "I'll catch up with you later."

For a good twenty minutes, I sat happy as a clam on the floor, opening and sniffing one tiny bottle at a time. The owner (a wiry little lady with a fanny pack strapped around her meager hips) happened past and cheerfully called my attention to a SECOND bottle-laden tray on the shelf of a nearby hutch cupboard-- a vision that would have left me weak in the knees if I hadn't already been sitting down. It was in this cupboard that my eye caught a glimpse of real treasure.

It sat half-lost amid the jumble-- a one-dram amber bottle full of perfume oil. I picked it up, turned it around to read the ancient, flaking label, and felt my hands start to tremble. Sandalwood Mysore, it read. Cautiously, I twisted off the lid and inhaled. Sweet gods of perfumery, it was the genuine article-- buttery, rich, radiant and emphatic. I could hardly believe it.

"How much is this?" I asked, holding the vial up for the owner to see.

She shrugged. "Fifty cents." I almost swallowed my tongue. Mysore sandalwood being not just a rarity now, but an impossibility, she could have said fifty DOLLARS and I would have forked it over without question.

My husband met up with me again, and we continued to drift around, finding attractive curiosities in every corner. Secretly, however, I was grappling with excitement so strong it took all my wherewithal to keep it concealed. I felt certain that if I let it show, that fifty-cent price tag on that vial of Mysore sandalwood would magically balloon a hundred times in size. Sure enough, the owner caught up with me about ten minutes later. "You know, I'm really giving you a deal on that perfume oil," she said. "It's actually worth a lot more than what I quoted."

"Oh, er... really?" I replied in my best clueless voice. "I just thought it smelled nice."

"Well, you're the only person who ever asked about it, so that's something. Hell, I've been running this place for years, and I didn't even know it was here-- or who consigned it in the first damn place. So fifty cents and finders keepers."

"Wait here," I told her.

I ran back to the dessert tray and gathered up a handful of miniatures: Houbigant Chantilly, Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien, Prince Matchabelli Chimère, and Estée Lauder Private Collection. I knew they would cost much more than the sandalwood, but at that moment, it seemed to me that karma itself had demanded this gesture.

In the end, we were both delighted-- the owner for having instantly increased her profit to a cool ten dollars; me for walking away with a classic all-season scent wardrobe... and a lifetime supply of the rarest and most coveted essence in the world.