10 Vintage Items Often Overlooked & Undervalued

Have you ever set out to do some vintage shopping and ended up feeling like all the good stuff sold before you got there? Next time you feel that way at a garage sale, thrift store, estate sale, or auction, pull out the list of ten items that I’m going to give you today.

I can almost guarantee you will find one of these items (probably many more than that!), because they are the sorts of things that other people invariably pass over. Bringing home one or more of these vintage items often overlooked and undervalued, means you’ll have new pieces to decorate with or to sell from your antique booth, Etsy shop, or on eBay.

Related posts: Adirondack Girl’s Garage Saling Guide and  How to Haggle Like a Rock Star

Turquoise background with text overlay: 10 vintage items often overlooked & undervalued at Garage SalesAre you ready to find out what those ten categories are? Let’s get started.

collage of three vintage tools

1. Vintage Tools 

Pretty much anything found in a basement or garage tends to be often overlooked by most people. And that’s where you’re likely to find tools, and because many people don’t maintain their tools very well, 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 red or green handles provide some of the best decorating opportunities, but look for yellow, white, and black as well.

I pick up most tools for $1 or less and I’m sure you can too. 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 special treatment as explained in my post about cleaning rusty metal. 

I found the wooden level in quite a dry state, so it received a nice rub down with one of my favorite products, which you can read about in my post on caring for dry wood.

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. Men want old Stanley tools and antique hand-crafted tools–early and unusual stuff that takes some time to learn about. See more vintage tools here.

collage of frames

2. Vintage Frames

Frames are both functional and decorative, and they tend to be quite plentiful at all sorts of sales, not just garage sales. Old frames have many uses now-a-days: as chalk boards, bulletin boards, shadow boxes, mirrors, and more. In the photo above, you can see I’ve used them to frame vintage flags, buttons, and a county fair poster.

The flag sold for $18.00, the buttons for $10.00, and the poster for $25.00. Well worth the effort of matching up the old frames with desirable items in need of a frame. Learn more about how to “frame like a pro” here.

You will often find bunches of them at garage sales, stacked in a cardboard box sitting on the ground. They don’t look very appealing, you have to squat down to look at them, and old ones are regularly thrown together with new ones. Thus shoppers simply pass them by. But from now on you won’t!

In the past, I’ve purchased ornate, gold-gilt frames, beautifully aged mahogany frames, and even 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. (No, I am not a hoarder!)

Sellers tend to price frames quite reasonably because they lack the knowledge to identify and appreciate older examples. A few things to look for: real wood (rather than plastic), aged paper backing, or dark (oxidized) wood, if not covered by paper. Look also for chips, small dents, and scratches since anything really old is going to have some imperfections.

Many modern frames are made to look “aged,” but they are constructed of molded plastic and are glued together. Others have ridged metal fasteners on the back corners that hold the pieces together. You’ll want to avoid these.

collage of vintage art

3. Art

Most people have their own opinion of what constitutes “art.” Someone may think their Aunt Edna’s oil paintings are ugly as sin, and when it comes time to sell her estate, they may price each piece for a couple of dollars. Sometimes I stumble across sales like this, and I fall in love with “Aunt Edna’s” artwork. In such cases, I am more than happy to liberate the family from the burden of a few of pieces.

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 the piece reflects 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 balance, unity, and a pleasing color scheme.

I purchased all three pieces above at garage or estate sales. The first, my favorite, sold from my booth at the Gristmill Antique Center for $42.00; the second sold for $34.99 from my Etsy shop, and the last piece sold for $38.00 from my booth. You can find more art for sale in my Vintage Shop. And take a look at my personal art collection here.

vintage jewelry collage

4. Vintage Jewelry

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 pretty pendant I have in stock and sell it as a set.

Sterling may be marked “Sterling” or “925,” and is almost always marked, as is gold, which is marked by karat, 14K for example. 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 the sales they miss are the ones 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 Vintage shop ($5.99), along with many other pieces. Some items to look for include Christmas tree pins, other figural pins (e.g., animals, insects, and fruit), Bakelite anything, signed pieces (e.g., Corot, Haskell, Weisenburg, etc.), and ornate rhinestone pieces. You can get help pricing your vintage jewelry here.

coffee table book collage

5. Coffee Table Books

Coffee table books provide a great decorating accessory–lay one on a coffee table or stack them underneath an end table, both look terrific. They provide 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. One of my personal, favorite coffee table books addresses Albany history, written by a former Assemblyman, who I knew when I worked in the NYS legislature. Another, a classic on folk art by Jean Lipman, has a stunning cover filled with folk art images.

Quite plentiful at all kinds of sales, coffee table books can usually be had for a dollar or two. Resale value can vary from $8-$25 and up. I sold coffee table book about Marilyn Monroe on Etsy for $24.99. The book contains page after page of sumptuous black and white photos.

Old Houses (above) sold for $9.99 at my antique shop, Michelangelo sold for $19.99, and the Eric Sloan sold for $9.99. You can find more for sale in the book section of my Vintage Shop. Many sales have box after box (or shelf after shelf) of books for sale; it can feel extremely overwhelming. Rather than look through all of the books, focus just on the over-sized, coffee table books. They are just the sort of vintage items often overlooked at garage sales.

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vintage folding ruler before and after rust

6. Rusty Things

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 as I mentioned above; you can read more about it here.

Some items to look for: vintage rusty tools, grates, gates, lanterns, trivets, cast iron pots, plant holders, and scissors. I bought two rusty lanterns not too long ago that no amount of rust removal tricks could affect. I sold them as is (completely rusted) at a good profit.

Above you can see the before and after of a metal folding ruler. I took care of the rust and brightened up the brass fittings, and then it sold quickly at my antique booth for $12.00. (Note: You can fold folding rulers into the shape of stars and they make great farmhouse decorations.)

If you find a rusty piece of “junk” and think it’s interesting, chances are, others will too. Does it have an appealing 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 when you come across a piece of old rusty metal.

vintage art collage

7. Folk Arty Pieces

Folk art is a unique kind of art, typically produced by untrained artists in a naive style. Often proportion and realism take a back seat to charm. It will, however, usually hit the nail on the head with one or more elements, like shape or balance or color, and it typically possesses a warmth and/or vibrancy that one feels irresistibly drawn to.

Crafts like basketry, rug hooking, and weaving are also considered forms of folk art by many. 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.

In the first photo above you see a hand crafted wooden mold of some sort; I love its pumpkin shape, and it remains in my “private” collection. I hope someday to discover it’s true purpose. The watercolor in the middle reminds me so much of Grandma Moses–perhaps the most famous folk artist of all time. You can see that proportion is off, as is the depth, and yet, I reframed it and sold it recently for $45.00.

I purchased the cat-in-the-boot (far right) in England when we lived there from 2009 through 2011. He’s a great example of proportion not quite right and facial features not fully realistic, but at the same time, he’s so darn cute! A lucky Etsy buyer purchased him for $34.99.

Keep in mind that certain kinds of art that you might find at a garage sale, pieces like framed children’s art or poorly executed art student renderings, more often than not fail to rise to the level of folk art.

Learn more about folk art here: What Exactly is Folk Art?.

vintage wooden things collage

8. Weathered Wooden Stuff

Another category that people often overlook at garage sale includes any sort of old weathered wooden thing, like those you see above. For some reason, it’s easy for the eye to overlook them–they look like something you might throw away (or burn), and because you have to imagine a new purpose for them, buyers will often overlook them.

The scrap wood in the first photo could easily be used to create a decorative tray or to make signs. The cylinder in the second photo would make a unique “sculpture,” perhaps set on a coffee table or hung on the wall. And the ladder could function in several ways, as a quick scan of Pinterest would prove. [See more signs here and here.]

Other old weathered pieces to look for include bird houses, pieces of fencing, plant boxes, outdoor decorations, and whirly gigs. It’s hard to go wrong with purchasing any reasonably well made wooden piece that’s priced low. I can safely promise that you will either find a way to use it “as is” or come up with DIY project that’s perfect for it.

More weathered wooden objects to searchfor at garage sales? How about shutters, doors, and crates, all of which offer fantastic decorating possibilities. [See more crate projects here and here.] Shutters and doors can be hung on a wall, rested in a corner, or placed on a mantel. Small crates make great centerpieces andlarger ones can be stacked to create end-tables or small shelving units. The sky’s the limit when it comes to old wooden finds.

vintage game pieces collage

9. Vintage Game Pieces

It seems like almost every garage sale I go to has a pile of vintage games for sale. Most can be had for around a dollar, and I’ve found that the game pieces can be worth more than the games themselves. Crazy right? Game pieces appeal to scrapbookers, steampunk-ers (see below), and altered art creators, so there’s a nice market for these sorts of things. They have a sculptural quality about them that is very appealing.
I would someday love to fill a printer’s tray with a variety of pieces from games I enjoyed as a child, like Clue, Life, and Monopoly. Fill a small bowl or clear glass jar with your favorite game pieces, Scrabble tiles in particular, and you have a great conversation starter. Wouldn’t guests find such a bowl impossible to resist? They would be spelling words before you know it.
Crafters love scrabble pieces for all kinds of projects; I sell them for $8.99 a set. Just recently, I used Scrabble tiles to create a unique Christmas ornament that ended up being extremely popular at the Christmas craft fair I sell at every year. And my daughter and I have made cute earrings with both Scrabble and Bingo tiles. The vintage, wooden Parcheesi pieces you see above recently sold for $5.99, and the letter cards (64 of them) sold for $6.99.
Monopoly pieces, bingo numbers, and dice (particularly Bakelite ones) are also very popular. I’ve used Bingo cards to create attractive Christmas decorations for a few years now. You can also see one in an altered art project of mine here. The possibilities seem nearly endless for these very diminutive vintage objects.

collage of vintage steam punk altered art supplies

10. Steam Punk or Altered Art Supplies

The term “steampunk” refers to a period in the 1800’s when the world was fascinated with science, exploration, and invention–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 steampunk inspired jewelry and still others use the same types of supplies for a variety of unique and interesting 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. I know, amazing! I’ve seen the square head nails used as hooks on an old slab of wood, which is actually more antique-y than steampunk-y

Other items to look for include hinges, knobs, clock faces, clock parts, gears, and similar “junk.” Like game pieces, these kinds of collectibles look great tossed in a bowl or jar, and will definitely get people talking.


So that’s my list of ten vintage items often overlooked at garage sales. I hope you found it informative and helpful to you in your vintage shopping, and I hope you make some wonderful new and exciting purchases. Happy hunting!

What items do you regularly find that others seem to overlook?

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  1. Very informative, Diana! I love those paintings you've found. I haven't had much luck w/ my Etsy shop but maybe I need to regroup and give it another go.

    1. There's nothing in it right now – I'm just doing my tiny booth at the antiques mall and letting the Etsy thing stew for a bit. Thanks for sharing this at my link party, I know our readers are getting a lot from it!

  2. Awesome article, I always keep an eye out for all that cool vintage stuff, especially anything rusty crusty chippy or old. Garage sales are my favorite venue and an adventure, never know what you may find!

    1. Hey there, Brenda–I'm with you–garage sales are my favorite, too 🙂 I feel like I'm on a treasure hunt when I'm out —

  3. I am thrilled with this post, but don't reveal too many secrets. I always go to the shed or the basement at an estate sale. I even crawl under the house if allowed. If I really want something that another person has already purchased, I will offer them extra for it. If you go back in the last 45 minutes, often the estate agent will bundle a whole lot of items for one price.

    1. Ha ha! Ooh, I've never crawled under a house–that must be the sign of a SERIOUS bargain hunter!! Thanks for the great tips. Maybe I'll do another set of 10 sometime 🙂

  4. I am going to a large flea market in Munich this morning. I will keep these suggestions in mind.

  5. Great tips for garage sale season. I am very partial to weathered wood and galvanized containers. I have not seen any garage sales in my area this year, I am really looking forward to this season.

  6. I should have picked up the ugly pictures I saw yesterday; the frames were pretty nice! Thanks for the tips.

  7. What a fabulous post, will definitely catalogue it for future reference! You must have a ball doing what you do, and are clearly an expert. How kind of you to take the time to share so much knowledge. Cindy from TheCranesNest.com

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Cynthia! I do love it, but I'm not an expert 🙂 I know a little about a lot of things. Glad I can pass on a bit of what I know–

  8. Very good information! Thanks for sharing. I especially like that you have an obvious love for these items as items with history and character and not just something to make money off of. I bought a pair of weathered sawhorses at an estate sale earlier this year, thinking someone would want to make a cool table out of them. I could see them with an old door attached to the top. Instead, only one has sold! Now I'm wondering if it's holding drinks on someone's back porch!

    1. Thanks Eddie. I do love this stuff–I was raised with antiques and hand crafted furniture (my Dad was a shop teacher). I think a saw horse table is a great idea. I just moved the one I pictured to my deck and I've been using it as a sort of potting bench. The plants look great sitting on it, too! When the company comes I'll have to move them to make room for the beverages 🙂

  9. Lots of great information here to take on my next thrifting adventure! I still get surprised at what sells though, usually what I did not expect to!

    1. Glad I could help. Yes, you never know what's going to sell–it's always a surprise 🙂

  10. great tips. I had a couple of beautiful jeweled Christmas tree pins in my etsy shop for two years and they never sold. ( for 8.99) when I did my research they were worth so much more. Thank you for sharing your sweet blog at the Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop. Your participation helps to make it extra special ♥

    1. Thanks Katie for your lovely compliments 🙂 It is hard to a predict what's going to sell where and when. Sometimes it seems like there's nor rhyme or reason! Frustrating, I know.

  11. Great tips and inspiration…you have me in the mood to hit a few garage sales this weekend! Thanks for sharing with the Thursday Blog hop!!

  12. What a very helpful post! I especially like the part about the tools. I tend to avoid the tool area at estate sales because it is usually so crowded with men that there is no way I could even get close! Next time I may have to throw a few elbows to see if I can find any treasures 🙂


    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Erica! Glad you enjoyed the post. I'd love to hear how you make out at the tool table next time 🙂

  13. Great list! My daughter and I were just making plans to get together for garage sales – I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

  14. I am new to your blog and just discovered this post. Thank you for the helpful information! I love going to garage sales, but sometimes I don't see much and I think I have overlooked some of these items.

  15. Great post! So fun to read all about your finds and what to look for! I just picked up a vintage beverage cart and am so excited about it! It’s the hunt that is the most fun!

  16. Hi Dianna,
    I wondered over to this part of your blog and really like this article. I might even do a little more garage sales now that I read this. Thanks for the info!

  17. What a totally fascinating mix of items with details of what’s important & what to look for!! Appreciate!! I’m subscribing too.

  18. Thanks for the pointers. I read them at the right time because my family and I are heading to 50 miles of yard sales this weekend. I’m going to have SO much fun now that I have some ideas from you. Thanks again.

  19. I adore your ten idea,s the churchs are starting to have thrift sales for charity and always have great donations! I am packing to move to a new cabin now and my sites are down but, soon I will be back to normal, I HOPE!
    Smiles, Cyndi ~~~~frstyfrolk/ByLightOfMoon

  20. Hi I have been a collector and seller on ebay for almost 20 years. Just found your informative site. We have a vacay home in Lake George and have difficulty finding treasures in our area. Any suggestions would be helpful.

    1. Hi Renee! Welcome to the site 🙂 There are not a lot of places to find vintage and antiques in the Lake George area. Here are a couple: Salvation Army and Glenwood Manor Antiques, both in Queensbury. Also, the last week of September is the “World’s Largest Garage Sale” held throughout the entire town of Warrensburg. I go almost every year and I have a blog post about it. Happy hunting!

      1. Hi Diana
        Yes we go to The Manor quite often. Very fun place. Also we go to the Goodwill on Quaker Road and have been to the Warrensburg Largest Sale. But good estate sales are hard to come by in the LG area. This weekend we are going to the Stormville Airport Flea Market. It is held a few times a year and we have also sold there for their Tag Sale weekends when anyone can sell if you don’t have a dealer tax ID. It is huge and tons of bargains. We live in Ct. so it is only an hour ride. Also the Elephant’s Trunk in New Milford is great if you ever get to CT.

  21. Thanks for the help in pricing vintage items! I’m an avid garage saler, and thrift store shopper. Many pieces in my decor are also hand me downs, and too sentimental for me to sell now, but it’s fun to know what others deem junk is worth. I pinned your posts on Pinterest for handy reference.

    1. Do you weigh your items in advance to help you estimate shipping? Add 6-8oz to adjust for the weight of shipping materials. Are you shipping via eBay or Etsy? You always save a bit this way because they get a discount from USPS which they pass onto their sellers. Unless something is very light or media mail, I use the shipping calculator provided by eBay, so if I’ve estimated the weight correctly, I never lose money and typically make money on shipping in the long run.

  22. I own a second hand shop wondering if you could help me. Is there a place on pintrest to sell items to ebayer looking for stuff to resale like clothing. It would be kinda like a supplier to ebayer of sort.Thanks for your help if you can.

    1. Hi Cathy! You could search the internet for “ebay sellers on consignment” in your area and see what comes up. In general there are only very specific brands and types of clothing that sell on eBay and those who sell them tend to need to buy at very low prices. You may be better off selling your clothing at a garage sale, or if you’re talking about vintage clothing, then search for a vintage clothing shop in your area. Hope that helps!

  23. Hello Diana,
    I loved the article about overlooked garage sale buys. I did notice a mistake, though, in the section on coffe table books. Norman Mailer was not married to Marilyn Monroe, and was not a playwright. That was Arthur Miller. Mailer was a very famous author, though!
    Thanks for your blog. I just discovered it and am really enjoying it,

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