The Japanese ‘Big-Eyes’ and the Car Park Deal

A few months ago, during the clearing process I found a large wooden box containing an equally large pair of binoculars.  Ugly things painted a military green and so heavy that I could barely lift them.  As with all such items, they went into the boot of my car to return home with me.

My family is now well used to my return from a clearing session with a full car load, and have progressed from the “Ooh, is there anything interesting in there?” to the sarcastic “Oh good, more junk!”   There are constant moans that I have cleared our old junk, from drawers and cupboards in our house, only to replaced it with ‘Fred’s junk’.

This particular junk/treasure went straight into my garage for dealing with a later stage. Never let it be said that putting off today what you can do tomorrow is not the best policy.  It enables you avoid making decisions and, more importantly, means you don’t have to do it today!  Procrastinators Unite! (tomorrow).


I was reminded of the binoculars some weeks later when I was getting something else out of the garage.  I can’t remember now what I was going to get, because once I saw the binoculars I decided that they needed to be photographed straight away.  Whatever it was will probably come to me next time I go to the garage for something else, which in turn will be forgotten, and so it goes on.    That’s pretty much how my life works.


Photographing the binoculars in their box was fairly straightforward, but I thought that it would be much better if I could get a picture of them on the tripod.  Cue comedy scene in driveway:

My first mistake was choosing the gravel driveway as a suitably stable surface.  You know that voice at the back of your head that tells you “You should really work out how you are going to do this before you start”.  Well, I always ignore it: a) because it seems too much effort and anyway, I want to do it now – not later – not another day; and b) because life is too short to read instructions.  I hasten to add that I don’t apply that same logic to household chores or really anything that actually needs doing; those tasks obviously need very careful planning and can only be done under the right conditions (blue moon, pigs flying, dry English summer).

Sometimes this approach works for me and sometimes it doesn’t.  It didn’t work very well when, in an attempt to repair a dripping shower, I ended up with a high pressured, horizontal spurt of water that resulted in a call-out by the emergency plumber, a bathroom that you could paddle in, and a promise to my husband never to attempt any plumbing repairs again.


One of the many drawers of lids that I found!

Back to the tripod that, even before the voice had finished, I had cleverly erected and which appeared quite stable; even on the gravel.

With difficulty I lifted the binoculars out of the box and balanced them on the top of the tripod while I looked for the hole on the underside which would secure them in place.  As I was feeling for the hole (I knew there was one, but hadn’t had the foresight to check exactly where it was before I had started) the tripod started to slowly sinking towards the ground; legs splaying outwards like a sick giraffe.  Determined not to let go of my new-found treasure, I was slowly sinking towards the ground myself trying to place my body between binoculars the ground.  It was only the assistance of a sharp-eyed son who had looked out of the window come to my rescue that stopped me being part of a tripod and binocular heap on the driveway.


I wasn’t too sure how the binoculars had been acquired, but I had my suspicions. Dad, being a jack-of-all-trades, was often the recipient of items in need of repair, or knives in need of sharpening.  He was always happy to help somebody out, but wasn’t particularly speedy about the process and it would be quite normal for the broken item to hang around the house for a year or so.  Eventually, the owner would turn up and dad would usually do the repair there and then, chatting to them over the lathe/welder/sharpening stone as he did so.  The trouble was that in his later years he couldn’t always remember who had given him which item to repair, and if said item wasn’t collected promptly it could quite easily have been given to some other needy person.  Dad was a generous man and couldn’t see the point of having two of something when he only needed one (and yes, I laugh at the irony of that now), and so he gave anything he considered surplus to his requirements away.  There was an awkward moment once when a friend returned for her newly sharpened knife to find that it had been given away only the day before.  This may or may not have been the case with the binoculars, but they had been lying around the house for about 30 years and in that time nobody had laid claim to them, so we will never know.

Incidentally, as a jack-of-all trades dad resented having to pay for something that he felt he should be able to do himself.  He could put his hand to most small jobs: electrics; plumbing (unlike his daughter); car maintenance; bricklaying (that one I can do) and welding to name just a few.  If he had to buy help in, he would watch that person at work to see how the job was done and by the time the need for it came around again he would have the tools and the expertise to do it himself.  It was something he found very hard to give up in his older years and at 92, only a few months before he died, he was up a ladder at the top of the stairwell replacing a broken light fitting.


Credit cards, train tickets, cigarette cards, and phone cards; they are all there. If you look carefully you should be able to spot one of the early cashpoint cards, with the punched holes for the computer to read, and my incomplete set of Monkees cards that I thought had been thrown away long ago.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the binoculars.  They didn’t look particularly old and I wasn’t really sure eBay was an option; given their weight postage was likely to cost way more than they were worth. 15 minutes browsing of the wonderful World Wide Web I was able to establish that the binoculars were most likely to be WW2 Japanese ‘Big Eyes’ and that they probably came from a captured Japanese warship at the end of the war.    I found out that the word “Kohgaku” which was written by one of the eye-pieces was the company name (later to become Nippon, then Nikon).  Although I wasn’t able to find an exact match, it did look like they would be worth a bit more than I first thought.

Further investigation was needed.


Let me tell you that several tins of Brasso and much elbow grease has been expended in the process of getting these pictures to you

I sent an email and pictures out to some specialist dealers and to some auction houses who offered free valuations.  One auction house said they would probably “fetch between £300 – 400”, another said I would be “sadly disappointed” and the third said they were of “little value” and “not the type of item we would sell anyway”.  Out of the two dealers I had contacted.  One offered £800 – £1,000 and another £800 – £1200 depending on the condition.  My children rubbed their hands together with glee.  (If I haven’t mentioned before, any money made from selling the bits and pieces was to be divided between the six grandchildren).

…..and that’s how I found myself in the car park of Duxford Imperial War Museum counting a wodge of £20.00 notes.

More Drawers

I had established who would give me the best deal and, using the wonders of digital photography, a fixed priced was agreed before exchange.  Getting the binoculars to the dealer was not straightforward.  I wasn’t particularly keen on driving all the way to Notting Hill and there was no way I would be able to carry the binoculars on the train. The dealer had already offered to drive to my home to collect, but I wasn’t too keen on that, what if he was a crook and caught a glimpse of all my other treasure?

The next time I was close to the M11 junction I did a recce for suitable spots for the exchange.   I ruled out the McDonald’s car park as I know they had closed-circuit TV.  I had this awful thought that anyone who saw us might think there was a drug deal going on.  Why I then decided that wouldn’t be the case in the car park of the Imperial War Museum I don’t know? Anyway, that is where I chose.

I did a bit of checking before actually agreeing to meet up and, at the insistence of Paul (husband), requested a photograph – after all no serial killer would send you a picture of themselves would they?
Not experienced in meeting strange men in car parks, I was accompanied by my own personal bodyguard (son Ben) and armed with a picture of a man who looked like everyone’s favourite uncle we pulled into the car park ready for the drop.

After all the nervous anticipation the transaction proceeded very smoothly.  Ben made himself useful by counting out the dosh while I chatted to the dealer and handed over the goods; yet more junk was converted into cash and the six grandchildren were £200 apiece better off.

All this talk of things Japanese reminded me of an incident many years ago when dad decided that it would be amusing to poke a little fun at local bureaucracy.    The Parish Council at the time appeared to be a ‘closed shop’ populated by local landowners.  Planning permission appeared to be determined by who you knew and how much money you had.  Whether there was any truth in that I don’t know, but while mum and dad were refused planning permission on several occasions, the local farmers appeared to build wherever they liked.


Anyway, dad had a brother-in-law who worked for the AA, in the department that made up signs for special events.  Dad thought it would be amusing to get him to make up as sign that said, “Twinned with Yokohama”.  I can remember helping him attach this to the village sign in the dead of night (well just after dark really, but dead of night sounds much more dramatic).  The sign survived for a few days before being taken down by the village powers-that-be, tut-tutting as they did so, and tabling an urgent agenda item for the next meeting to discuss: a) whether planning law had been breached; b) by whom, though they had their suspicions; and c) to agree that even if they wanted to twin with a town, it would be they who would choose it and it would most definitely not be Yokohama, but somewhere much more fitting for dignitarial (I think I just made up that word) visits such as Provence or Tuscany!


A little story about the picture above.  I found these tools in a container on a shelf; I didn’t know what they were used for so posted a picture on Facebook and asked if anyone had any ideas.  One friend suggested that they could be apothecary tools, and looking at the various shaped ends it looked like a distinct possibility.  The next day I was moving some of dad’s old books and came across one that was a 1901 textbook about wood-turning, pattern making and sand casting; there was a bookmark sticking out and the book fell open at the marked page ……..


We were of course completely wrong; the tools are finishing tools used in the process of sand casting but if I had believed in communication from beyond the grave, this would have been a pretty sure sign.

I leave you with two more pictures: one a photo that I found a couple of weeks ago that just about sums up my dad’s unique sense of humour.

dad shoes

….and this, which having been inspired by doing the Christmas Tree, could be the start of several creations using items from the drawers.


This entry was posted in Collections, Dad, Hoarders, Living History, photgraphs, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Japanese ‘Big-Eyes’ and the Car Park Deal

  1. veronicacay says:

    What an amazing gift you have been granted – and great storytelling as well 🙂


  2. antarabesque says:

    Loved this account, particularly since I suspect my father is cut from the same cloth as yours was.


  3. Not only do I love your writing style, but your photos are completely gorgeous! So talented!


  4. msiskirt says:

    That last collage photograph is STUNNING! Mouthwatering for a fellow keeper like me.


  5. VivBlogs says:

    Hi! I’ve nominated you for the Liebster blog award! Check it out:


  6. Patti Grulke says:

    I have only just discovered your blog and can heartily relate to everything you’re discovering! Feeling relieved too that I’m not the only one who, upon making these discoveries, is making the best and finding humor, joy and so many fond memories through the act of plowing through the *stuff*.
    I was tickled pink too to see some of your pictures as they could easily have been mine. I have come across the same box of door knobs, dials and whatchamajigs, all entertaining. One thing I’ve found that you might want to keep a look out for is….
    a nice full box of……..
    Large springs. Small springs. Gold colored springs and blackened springs. Some springs are sprung but most are still nice and springy.
    Thanks so much for taking the time to post blog updates. I will look forward to seeing more treasures!


  7. chrisrenney says:

    I am in awe – everything here is a treasure – and the tools and cogs and bits and bobs are just gorgeous and I am envious.


  8. Miky says:

    I have some of those sand casting tools they look very old. any idea how much they are worth?


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