Written By: DIY & Craft Contributor, Katie Femia
Have you seen the television show American Pickers? Or perhaps you are a Pawn Star fan? Seeing all of these people turn their trash into treasure might have you wondering if you could do the same. After all, would you love to find out that the knick knack you bought at a thrift shop for $1.00 was really worth $100? I know I would!
The truth is, when you know what to look for, finding the treasure in the trash is really quite simple! The secret is knowing where to look, and what to look for. Once you have mastered that, you will find that there is a treasure trove in antiques and vintage items! Antique and vintage items have never been more popular, with shows such as Antiques Roadshow, channels such as HGTV, and other shows and networks cashing in on the vintage inspired craze, now is the time for you too to jump on the bandwagon.
Interested? Here are five tips to get you started!
1. Know where to shop:
You can’t buy vintage or antique items if you don’t know where to find them, right? First, check your local newspaper for auctions in your area as well as garage sales and estate sales. These are a great place to find vintage items that have not been picked over yet! These types of sales will typically run 1-3 days, so you will want to get there early for the best selection. The last day is often half off day, so if there was an item you were debating you might want to check back on this day. Thrift stores are also a treasure trove of vintage items as well as consignment shops, and many of them offer student or senior discounts. If you are comfortable doing so, ask when they restock their shelves so you can be there when fresh merchandise comes out. Last but not least, hot items are still turning up on ebay.com and Craigslist.com if you want to shop for vintage items from the comfort of your home. This can be a bit tricky since you are often buying items sight unseen, so be sure to read descriptions well and check seller feedback.
2. Know what speaks to you:
What appeals to you? Vintage clothing? Pottery? Old books? Statues? Vintage linens? Furniture? It is typically easiest if you pick a category or two and stick to it. This way, you can learn as much as you can about it and really develop a keen eye. Once you have mastered a category, pick another! You might find yourself attracted to a certain look or time period. Soak it in! It will be easiest to learn about items that have some sort of natural appeal to you, so focus on that to keep it fun and interesting! It is fun to find a diamond in the rough, but really fun to find an item that speaks to you!
3. Learn how to read labels:
Knowing how to read labels and markings on vintage items in key. Most antique and vintage items will be marked in some way. Pottery, china, glassware, and ceramics are usually stamped on the bottom. Items marked Japan, Austria, France, are typically old. Anything marked China or Hong Kong are new and not antique or vintage! Look for dates, patent numbers, or maker’s signatures to help you identify an item. Old books will have early copyright dates and be first printings, paintings are often signed and dated, pottery stamped, etc. When looking at vintage jewelry check for artist signatures and markings to see if it is sterling or real gold. Such markings can really determine treasure from trash. Always look for these marks and research them to know exactly what you have found.
4. Check for damage:
Nothing will hurt the value of an item quicker than damage! Before purchasing any vintage piece, check it over well. Carry a magnifying glass with you if you need. Look for cracks, chips, repairs, holes, stains, missing parts, missing pages, etc. Even if an item is repaired, if it has been damaged previously then the value is depreciated. While it is hard to find such old items in mint condition, you can still find them in fair shape. Check items over well for any flaws, and pass them up if the price does not match the condition. You want your purchase to be an investment, and the best way to do this is buy items in great shape.
Now, the one time it is ok to ignore this rule is if you are upcycling a piece of furniture. If your whole intent is to find an old piece for cheap and give it a new look, damage can be overlooked. For example, this old chair was a steal at $5.00, but it did have extensive scratching and cushion stains. Since I was painting and recovering it anyways, none of that mattered. In its current state, it was not worth $5.00. But for revamping, it was the perfect piece at the perfect price! The final results turned out pretty cute.
5. Learn to Negotiate:
Part of buying vintage items is getting a great deal, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Most sellers, whether it be at flea market, yard sale, estate sale, or even antique shop will take less on an item. The trick is, ask nicely and offer to pay cash. Sellers won’t be so anxious to give you a deal if you insult their merchandise and point out the flaws. Make an offer of 10-15% less than the asking price and offer to pay cash. If you are buying an assortment of items, ask for a discount for buying bulk. It never hurts. While most thrift stores have firm prices, ask them what days they run discounts or student/senior sales and take advantage of those offers!
So what exactly can you find on your adventures? Well all sorts of things! If you are looking for retro furniture, record albums, vintage clothing, gorgeous glassware, or even old books, these places can have what you are looking for and at a great price! It is never a bad idea to research your item and find current selling prices on eBay to get an idea of what it might be worth.
On one of my latest trips, I found a few pieces of beautiful antique silverware in a bin. All silverware was marked .19 cents each. When I checked for markings, I found it was marked sterling and they had the company name on them as well! I was able to find out more about this company and identify the pattern online, and it turns out my .19 cent silverware was worth about $40.00 per piece! Now that was a great find!
Another great find was an old fur coat, with the asking price of $30.00. I checked it over well for damage and it seemed in good shape. I also checked the tags and found it to be a Christian Dior piece! After some online research I found the coat carried a value of $200.00. Another great find!
Not all finds are good ones. In fact I have encountered some real doozies in the past. But the hunt sure is fun. So get out there and see what treasures you can dig up! You just might be surprised at what awaits you! Good luck!
Photo credit: Katie Femia