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What NOT to pass up when thrifting

Shopping at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift shops can be fun and exciting, but it can also be overwhelming when you are confronted with “stuff” everywhere the eye can see, and then even underneath that. Where to start?

Experienced thrifters typically have a strategy for working the space so they can get the ‘lay of the land’ and then home in on the areas of greatest interest. Some shop for the hidden vintage gems in the clothing racks while others head to the china and glass shelves for marked treasures. Those with a keen eye for good ‘bones’ and a DIY instinct head to home furnishings while others stroll through the nick-nack section looking for decorative inspiration.

Most long-time thrifters are on the hunt for new items to add to their collection – whatever that might be, while others are looking for unique decorative home décor finds and new projects. These shoppers know that thrifting is a great way to purchase something for often far less than its value IF you know your stuff. For decades, this was an ‘insider’ secret, but it seems the word is now out!

Now, thanks to the popularity of YouTubers, Tick Tockers, Instagramers, Facebook influencers, picking shows, and DIY sites that focus on flea market finds, it seems everyone is on the hunt at flea markets and their neighborhood thrift shops looking for treasures that could be worth big bucks.

For the novice thrifter, an April 24, 2024, article in House Beautiful, entitled “20 Items You Should NEVER Pass Up at a Flea Market,” offers suggestions on what to look out for if you are thrifting for hidden treasures and new decorative finds. The following are excerpts from 10 of the 20 items listed in this article. You can read the article in its entirety, here:

1.      Art Nouveau Sculptural Lamps: These lamps likely end up at flea markets because they’re in need of rewiring or the original shade is missing or broken but don’t let that deter you. Rewiring can be easy and affordable, and there are both original shades and reproductions available online. Prices will vary from piece to piece, but a restored Art Nouveau lamp can run into thousands of dollars, especially floor lamps.

2.      Vintage Sporting Goods: You can score vintage sports equipment like baseball bats, boxing gloves, football helmets, and tennis rackets at just about every flea market for anywhere from $25 up to $500, depending on the provenance. These athletic artifacts make lovely decorative elements; the patinas tell a great story of a life well lived and played.

3.      Opaline Glass: Flea markets are a treasure trove for opaline glassware. The semi-opaque, colorful glass was manufactured in France during the 19th century, mostly in Baccarat, Saint-Louis, and Creusot, and used to make everything from jewelry boxes to vases, trinket boxes, and perfume bottles. Opaline glass pieces sell online for $800 to $1,000. If you find a purple opaline piece, you have a true treasure in your hands.

4.      Antique Magnifying Glasses: Antique magnifying glasses, vintage compasses, old binoculars, classic cameras, and pocket watches are fun to collect and display, and can add a unique decorative flair to bookcases, display cases, and antique desks.

5.      Antique Tea Sets: The more elegant versions of fine bone china elevate any tabletop and make for a luxury tea experience, while the quirky, artistic sets can be displayed as interesting decorative displays when not in use.

6.      Sterling Silver: Whether you’re looking at flatware, hotel coffee services, or decorative objects like this trinket box, don’t be turned off if a silver item has lost its luster. Sterling can be restored to shining beauty with a little polish. To find high-dollar pieces, scout for designer brand names such as Buccellati, Whiting, Christofle, Sciarrotta, and of course Tiffany & Co, and check for an etching that says “925,” “92.5,” or “SS” to confirm the piece is indeed sterling silver.

7.      Antique Mirrors: A naturally antiqued mirror may have damage and wear to the backside of the glass, which can cause haziness or blotches, but to vintage aficionados, they render a piece “spectacularly imperfect.”

8.      Coffee Table Books: Hardcover books are a great way to add style to a home—and rare antique ones such as Audubon’s Birds of America can have significant resale value.

9.      Wicker or Rattan Chairs: These chairs are easy to clean with dish soap and a garden hose. Top the chair with new cushions and they are ready to be put back into service. If the wicker is unwinding around the legs or frame, this is something you can easily fix with a staple gun and some glue.

10.  Vintage Lighting: Second-hand light fixtures can be inexpensively restored with new writing and lamp shades, instantly adding to the beauty and value of your find.