This might be tough considering the gesture is iterated so many ways, but it's worth a shot. What is the origin of the expression one man's trash is another man's treasure?
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The earliest example I found in Google Books is in Hector Urquhart's introduction to 1860's Popular Tales of the West Highlands:
The concept of something having contradictory qualities to different people has been around a long time. "One man's meat is another man's poison" was a 17th century proverb.
Though clearly not the origin of such concepts, here are some 17th-18th century versions. The 1703 The Athenian Oracle: Being an Entire Collection of all the Valuable Questions and Answers in the Old Athenian Mercuries refers to both One's man's pleasure is another's pain and a proverb One's man's meat is another's poison. This book is a bound publication of The Athenian Mercury which ran from 1690 to 1697.
It refers to them in an answer discussing these contrasts and our "perception of what's agreeable to our Natures", or disagreeable. The same could apply to trash/treasure.
Just a few years later in 1706 is Several sermons upon the fifth of St. Matthew:
And the next year, 1707's A General Treatise of Monies and Exchanges three times gives us a similar phrase to the junk:treasure comparison, in the context of the net wealth of the nation/kingdom/commonwealth remaining the same:
Some other variations from the early 18th century:
It's another "pithicism" along the lines of one man's meat is another man's poison (first recorded 1576), or my favourite one man's ceiling is another man's floor (extant in 1927, so not in fact coined by Paul Simon).
The earliest trash/treasure I can easily find in print is The Saturday evening post: Vol 198 (1925), but William & Robert Chambers Journal of popular literature, science and arts (1879) has
...as one man's meat is another man's poison, so one man's rubbish is another man's treasure.
I'm not sure where it originally came from. Sometimes it's written as "one man's junk is another man's treasure."
I just ran Google Ngrams on "another man's treasure," and found that the phrase seems to have taken off since the 1960s. (Maybe that's because we became a much more consumer-based society around that time frame, and we weren't carting so much junk to the curb before then?)
From a practical standpoint, there have been several times when we've wanted to get rid of some excess furniture, so we've hauled it down to the end of our driveway, and put a cardboard sign on it, reading, "FREE." Somehow, the items never make their way into the garbage truck; someone always seems to find a new home for them before then.
In the 19th/20th century cotton industry, when the raw cotton first reached the factories it was mechanically cleaned by spiked, spinning beaters that forced the dirt out of the cotton. The shortest cotton fibres would also become separated and these short, dirty fibres were referred to as 'trash'. Obviously a cotton merchant isn't interested in the trash, but trash merchants were — they would use it to stuff things like cushions and mattresses. Perhaps this is the inspiration for the phrase 'one man's trash is another man's treasure'? Or maybe it's the inspiration for naming those fibres trash?
protected by tchrist Feb 26 '15 at 2:46
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