Do you ever attend a series of garage sales and feel like every good thing has been sold before you arrived?You’re too late; you missed all the good stuff?! Next time you feel that way at a garage sale, thrift store, estate sale, or auction, bring the list of the following ten items with. If you bring home one or more of these overlooked and undervalued vintage pieces, you’ll have had a successful day!
Are you ready to find out what I think are ten of the most overlooked and undervalued items at garage and other sales? Let’s get started.
I’ve found that pretty much anything found in a basement or garage tends to be overlooked by most people. Of course, that’s where you’re likely to find tools, and many people don’t maintain their tools very well, so they are often dirty and/or rusty Most shoppers don’t stop to look at dirty or rusty, but you should. With a bit of elbow grease, the dirtiest, rustiest tool can often be transformed into an attractive piece of decor. Tools with a bit of paint, especially red and green, but also yellow, white, or black, provide some of the best decorating opportunities. I pick up most tools for $1 or less, because I’m cheap, cheap, cheap.
To give you an idea of their actual market value, the items pictured above have each sold from my Etsy shop. The clippers sold for $12.99, the brass hose attachment for $7.99, and the level for $19.99. A lovely woman actually purchased two red levels from me, and she named them both: Fred (the short one) and his cousin, Carmine (the long one). We had a good laugh back and forth with all that silliness.
The clippers came to me a bit rusty and lusterless, so they received a light scrubbing with some fine steel wool and then a hand-rubbed coat of mineral oil to beautify and protect (see below for more info). I found the wooden level in quite a dry state, so it received a nice rub down with one of my favorite products–Howard’s Feed-N-Wax.
A final note: men love tools. So if you take the time to learn a bit about them, you will either a) be able to buy great gifts for the tool-loving man in your life or b) be positioned to sell to men, who aren’t afraid to spend some money on the things they love. The tools I’ve talked about here are primarily decorative or functional. Men want old Stanley tools, antique hand-made tools–early and unusual stuff that takes some time to learn about.
|Before and After|
Frames are both functional and decorative, and they tend to be quite plentiful at all sorts of sales. Old frames have many uses now-a-days: as chalk boards, bulletin boards, shadow boxes, mirrors, and more.
I recently purchased the walnut frame (above) for a mere $5. The poor thing was all dried out and contained a modern print of Stratford-on-Avon. It wasn’t pretty, but I could see its potential, so it came home with me. On the right, you see it after receiving a rub down with, yes, some Howard’s Feed-N-Wax. I hope to frame a vintage botanical with it, and will price it somewhere in the $40-50 range.
In the past, I’ve purchased ornate, gold-gilt frames, beautifully aged mahogany frames, and even former wedding gift frames (still-in-the-box) that I’ve been able to re-gift. In fact, because of my “frame sickness” (along with several others that shall be revealed as you get to know me better), I probably own a couple hundred frames, stored in various places throughout my home right now. (No, I am not a hoarder!)
Sellers tend to price frames quite reasonably because they lack the knowledge to identify and appreciate older frames. A couple of things to look for: real wood and real nails. Many modern frames are made to look “aged,” but they are constructed of molded plastic and are glued together. Some more modern wooden frames have ridged metal inserts on the back, in the corners, that hold the pieces together. Of course look for chips, dents, and scratches since anything really old is going to have some imperfections.
Most people have their own opinion of what constitutes “art.” Someone who decides to sell one of Gramma’s “ugly” paintings at their garage sale, might price it for a few dollars and be happy if it sells. They may have even overlooked the pretty frame it had because they fixated on the “ugliness” of the art.
Now if I’m the buyer at this sale, I’m going to take a look at all the art, for the frame as well as the art itself. Certain subjects and themes immediately attract me: flowers, landscapes, barns, and ships. Then I look for color scheme, if all the colors are working together and/or it’s reflecting a trendy color scheme, then I’ll think about it seriously. Let me stop here and say that if it costs $1 or less I will just buy it without thinking twice. If I decide when I get home that I don’t like it, I’ll just re-thrift it, or if its a canvas, I’ll use it for one of my own art projects.
But if it costs more than $1 my next question to myself is, “Was the piece created with any evident skill?” Most of the art I see at garage sales falls into the “naive” category, basically art created by someone with little or no training (this also puts it into the “folk art” category). However, that doesn’t mean the artist had no skill. Good naive art will demonstrate the basic artistic qualities of color, balance, and unity.
I purchased all three pieces above at garage or estate sales. The first, my favorite, is listed in my Etsy shop for $99.99; the second sold for $34.99, and I’ve not yet listed the last piece. Once I paint the frame black, I will price it at around $69.99.
I have pretty good luck finding jewelry while I’m out garage saling. I often find sterling silver pieces left behind by other sellers because they were unattractive. Sometimes unattractive means old and I can resell it. Sometimes it just means plain ugly! But in that case I can sell the sterling for scrap or use it for parts, for example, an ugly pendant on a perfectly fine chain. I can match the chain with a pendant and sell it as a set. Sterling is usually marked 925, older pieces may be additionally marked, “Sterling.”
I must note that a fair number of people are always on the look-out for jewelry. I’ve hit plenty of sales where the jewelry has been quite picked over. But those jewelry buyers can’t attend every single sale. And those are the sales where I am able to make some fun purchases, like the pieces above–all purchased for $1 or less. The enamel daisy pin on the left sold for $9.99, the sterling silver identity bracelet for $16.99, and the circle pin is still for sale in my shop ($8.99).
Some items to look for include Christmas tree pins, other figural pins (e.g., animals, insects, fruit), Bakelite anything, signed pieces (e.g., Corot, Haskell, Weisenburg, etc.), and ornate rhinestone pieces.
Coffee Table Books
Coffee table books provide a great decorating accessory–rest them on a coffee table or stack them and turn them into an end table and they look terrific. They give a literary, well-read sort of feeling to a room, and depending on the subject matter, can make a real statement, too. Categories to look for include: movie stars, birds, cities, baseball, art, and your local area.
Quite plentiful at all kinds of sales, they can usually be had for a dollar or two. Resale value can vary from $8-$25 and up. I just sold the Marilyn coffee table book above on Etsy for $24.99. Published in 1973, the book’s author, Norman Mailer (the famous playwright and one-time Monroe husband), adored Marilyn. The book contains page after page of gorgeous black and white photos.
HINT: Often books purchased at sales have a musty odor. I have found that this can usually be taken care of by sprinkling some baking soda between some of the pages, putting the book in a bag, sprinkling some more baking soda on the top and bottom of the book, and then sealing the bag up for a week or so. At the end of the week, open that bag and take a sniff. if all is clear, shake the book out in the bag and you’re good to go. Throw the bag and the used baking soda away.
Most people will not touch, let alone buy anything with rust on it, but if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that a little bit of rust never stops me! Of course, rust is “in” with some decorative items, but I’ve also learned how to deal with unwanted rust. In my post, Have Some Rusty Metal That Needs Cleaning?, I walked through the steps you can take to eliminate (or at least reduce) rust and protect against future problems. Some items to look for: vintage rusty tools, grates, gates, gadgets, trivets, cast iron pots, plant holders, and vintage scissors.
Above you can see the before and after of a few rusty items: a rake, a hook, and a lock. They lack life and depth on the untreated, left side, but suddenly have a bit more appeal on the right (more noticeable in real life). If you find a piece interesting, chances are, others will too. Does it have an interesting shape? Is it colorful? Can it be grouped with other items? Can you hang it on the wall? Will it look good in the sun room, the den, or the family room? These are some good questions to ask yourself.
Folk Arty Pieces
Folk art is a unique kind of art produced by untrained artists in a naive style. Usually proportion and realism take a back seat to charm. Sometimes experts consider folk crafts like basketry, hooked rugs, and weaving to be forms of folk art. I think you kind of “know it when you see it.”
Folk art has a special place in my heart; I find myself very attracted to all of its many forms. Here, I’ve just pictured two. The wooden pieces on the left and right are both hand-carved, but to very different effects. The soft, warm pumpkin-shaped piece, purchased locally, opens to reveal what I think is some kind of mold (soap perhaps). I purchased the cat-in-the-boot in England. He’s a great example of proportion not being quite right and the cat’s features not being quite realistic, but at the same time, he’s so darn cute!
The watercolor in the middle reminds me so much of Grandma Moses–a folk artist in her own right. Again, you can see that proportion is off, as is the depth. I’m really in love with this piece, along with the pumpkin, and I can’t seem to decide whether to keep them or not. The-kitty-in-the-boot was one of the first items I sold out of my new Etsy shop this past October. Some lucky buyer won him for a mere $34.99.
Weathered Wooden Stuff
Another category that people often overlook includes any sort of old weathered wooden thing, like the saw horse and pair of ladders above. For some reason, it’s easy for the eye to overlook them–often because you have to imagine a new purpose for them. The ladders will be cut in half (soon!) and then leaned decoratively against a wall–inside or out–and something hung or draped over the rungs, again, artfully.
The saw horse I’m imagining on my deck, against the wall, holding a beverage tray or perhaps some h’ors doeuvres. The top is about 10″ wide, so it can easily hold a tray or platter. I just haven’t decided whether to simply wax it and call it a day, or stain/paint all or part of it? I really like the brackets and will leave them alone, but I’m not sure what to do with the wood. Any suggestions?
Other old weathered pieces to look for include bird houses, pieces of fencing, pieces of wood, planters, outdoor decorations, crates, and whirly gigs.
Steam Punk or Altered Art Supplies
Steam punk refers to a period in the 1800s when science, exploration, and invention reigned. All things industrial, scientific, and time-related. This is a somewhat narrow category, but it is growing in popularity among young people (my daughter included). Many like to wear steam-punk inspired jewelry and still others use the same types of supplies for all kinds of art projects.
The items above fairly flew out of my Etsy shop: 50 large brass safety pins ($5.99), 10 small pulleys ($9.99), and 13 rusty, square-head nails ($5.99). I’ve sold eight sets of the rusty nails so far. Crazy, right! (It should be noted that some people may be buying them for their antique value.) I’ve seen them used as hooks on an old slab of wood, which is actually more antique-y than steam punk-y. Other items to look for: hinges, knobs, clock faces, clock parts, gears, and other junk like that(!).
Thanks so much for stopping by!
If you like what you read today, I hope you follow me by email.
Sign up on my sidebar and you’ll never miss a post.
Bye for now,