OAKLAND -- Shoppers and bargain hunters can get an early crack at one of the Bay Area's biggest rummage sales during the upcoming preview to the Oakland Museum of California's annual White Elephant Sale.

The full-scale White Elephant Sale is March 2-3. But the museum will throw open the doors to its 96,000 square-foot warehouse on the Oakland estuary from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 27 for an early shot at candelabras, gowns, bangles, wheelchairs, walkers, paintings, sofas, rugs, books, sweaters, stoles, silver sets and occasionally the wildly unexpected.

In the past, donors have given pianos, turn-of-the-century bassinets, cars and even a pony, although organizers have disagreed about whether the pony was stuffed or live, or if donors had given one of each at some time in the sale's 54-year history.

This year, the Society of Asian Art donated Chinese porcelain and carvings. There are first edition books, a collection of globes and "a ton of off-the-wall things," said Sheri Guthrie, president of the Oakland Museum Women's Board, the organization behind the sale.

The corps of about 100 women plus some 1,000 volunteers work year-round to put on the sale, according to Guthrie.

The money they raise from the sale -- $1.8 million in 2012 -- helps pay for acquisitions, educational programs, capital improvements and other expenses for the museum, such as the "Summoning Ghosts" exhibit by Chinese-born American artist Hung Liu opening March 16.


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The Museum Women's Board began meeting back in 1955 and helped raise money to found the Oakland Museum in 1969. Their work earned them the early moniker "bouffant mafia."

"They were tough and knew what they wanted and got it," Guthrie said. The current business-minded generation purchased the warehouse the size of two football fields on the Oakland estuary. "And it's full," Guthrie said, advising shoppers to wear comfortable shoes and clothes.

If shoppers don't find what they're looking for at the preview, they should not hesitate to come back on March 2-3, Guthrie said. "We have a van that goes out every day to pick up treasures." Advance $15 tickets can be purchased at www.WhiteElephantSale.org or at the museum store on the second floor, 1000 Oak St. The entry fee is $20 at the door on Jan. 27.

Entry on March 2-3 is free. There is no charge for parking at the Fruitvale BART station on weekends and a free shuttle will run between the station and the warehouse from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the White Elephant Sale and preview day.

Rose Jellison, the books chair for the annual White Elephant Sale, leafs through a first edition photography book of images from the Himalayas at the
Rose Jellison, the books chair for the annual White Elephant Sale, leafs through a first edition photography book of images from the Himalayas at the Oakland Museum Women's Board 96,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff) (D. ROSS CAMERON)

Parking, including handicap spaces, at the warehouse, 333 Lancaster St., is limited. Strollers, shopping carts, backpacks and large bags are not allowed in the warehouse. Shoppers can check them at a counter near the Lancaster Street entrance.

Buyers have six days to pick up furniture and pianos. All other items must be picked up and removed from the warehouse on the day they are purchased.