Thursday, March 3, 2011

Granny's 10 Tips for Junking

I call it junking, some people call it thrift store shopping or secondhand shopping or yard sale-ing. Whatever you call it and wherever you do it, the goal is the same: finding good deals on unique items and having fun in the bargain. Here are some of my "rules for the thrifty road:"


1. Look for labels. I am no fashion snob, but when I am buying secondhand, I want to be sure I am getting quality. Why buy used Wal-Mart stuff when you can probably get it almost as cheap brand new? I know that C.J. Banks and Coldwater Creek clothes fit me and so if I find them at a yard sale or resale shop in my size and in a color and style I like, I know I'm in luck. I have found designer names and unusual items like this lovely reversible silk and velvet jacket. With purses and bags, look for leather and natural materials--and labels are important here too.

2. Look for natural fabrics. It's hard to go wrong with linen, silk, wool (and some cotton, although not all cotton items are created equal). Be aware, though, that these fabrics may need special laundering or dry cleaning. I don't mind hand laundering but it's not for everyone.
Our coffee mug collection is a mix of handmade pottery, pretty cups I just like, vintage mugs and a few gifts. I pick my mug to suit my mood. Right now my favorite is that dark brown one above.
 3. Look for hand-crafted: hand-blown, hand-embroidered, hand-knit, hand-thrown, hand-carved, hand-painted. Not all handcrafted items are create equal, of course! But mixed with the mundane and downright bad craftwork that abounds at second-hand shops, you may find a jewel of an item. Pottery pieces, beautifully matted and numbered prints, hand-crocheted throws and handblown glassware often sell for the same price as the coffee mug with a gas station logo, the cheap fuzzy throw or the plastic-framed mass-produced print.
If you like everything to match, then wineglasses can be expensive because inevitably one will break, which leads people to put them in yard sales or donate the odd-numbered set to Goodwill. I like the variety of colors, textures and shapes, so rarely pay more than a dollar for a beautiful crystal wineglass. And if it gets broken, no worry or stress.
 4. Look for crystal instead of glass, bone china instead of Corningware (unless you love Corningware, of course!), stainless steel or cast iron pans instead of Teflon-coated, silver or silverplate instead of stainless dinnerware. Your kitchen and table will become a beautiful eclectic mix of quality pieces that will retain their value long after you are gone :)


Many people are not willing to clean silver, so it can sometimes be found at very low prices. I like to clean it-it's a restful, thoughtful activity that lets my mind wander and often I come up with good poems or stories doing tasks like this. The pieces above were just part of a bag of miscellaneous pieces bought for $10, or about 50 cents each.
5. Look at the imprint on the bottom of pottery, glass and china. Made in China? Not my choice usually. Made in Portugal, Italy, England, Romania, Czechoslovakia, or nowadays even Japan? I'm interested. Occupied Japan? Oh yeah. That's a specific time period that dates the piece to over 50 years ago.  Czechoslovakia is no longer a country, and there are other countries that are now MIA too, so finding a piece stamped with a place like that immediately dates it. I once found a blue-and-white jar marked Siam. Where was that country and when did it exist? I did some research and discovered that my $2 jar was at least 60 years old, dating back to when Siam was the name for Thailand.

Vintage kitchenware is often more durable than new--and in my eyes, a lot prettier in the bargain. Prices are going up as these items become more desirable, but you can still find these pieces at yard sales for reasonable prices. 

6. Look for wear on the bottom of sculptures, glassware, etc. It can be difficult to tell if an item is "the real thing" or a reproduction. You might not mind if the beautiful cake plate is new, you just like it. But if you prefer vintage or antique, sometimes the wear and even dirt on an item can give you an indication of its age.

One day's finds-it was a very good day :) for a junker, that is. The dark blue Moby Dick turned out to be worth about $25, but I paid 25 cents for it. There were lots of good bargains that day, but not every day is like that.

7. Look for copyright dates in books. A book from the 30's or 40's might look like it is worth something but surprisingly most fiction printed after 1930 usually isn't worth much. Of course, if you just like its vintage look or if you want it to read, that's a different story. But if you're buying on the chance it might have real value, odds are you are paying too much if you pay over a dollar or two for the book. Where the challenge is: figuring out which books have value. I recently found a children's book that had been translated from the Russian in the 1960's for sale for fifty cents. I just liked its quirkiness, and the story was cute. When I looked it up, the book was worth about $15.00. Not a fortune, but certainly a surprise. In general, regional history books retain their value, especially those that are out of print. Books about specialized topics can retain value too, although in many cases if the information in them is dated (law books, sciences, medicine, etc) the book is not worth anything.



We found our wood cookstove in pieces in someone's front yard for $75. That was years ago, but bargains like this might still be hiding in someone's garage.

8. Look for the unusual, one-of-a-kind pieces-but keep in mind quality, materials and workmanship. I saw a very cool fountain one day that I thought would look great in my garden. A closer look revealed that while the maker had a neat concept in mind, his execution and design...well, just not well done.

$5 bought these 2 woven-seat folding chairs. We use them on  regular basis for extra seating.

9. Be patient. Every store will not have a bargain. You will often walk out empty-handed. Don't expect to find something every time you see a thrift store or you will end up wondering where all the junk came from that's clogging up your garage and basement!

10. Make good decisions. Maybe you don't know what you're going to do with 500 antique street bricks, but you know that the chances of ever finding them for 15 cents each again is slim to none. You also know you have a garden and you like to make walls and paths. Buy the bricks. The project will come, or you can resell the bricks later. But the $250 black marble corner bathtub? Cool as it is, leave it unless you specifically know what you will do with it, and when!(Saw both and did both this very week.)

I know some of you can add to this list. What are your rules for the thiftshop road?

And by the way, do check out Joy's blog, A Vintage Green. Lots of lovely things there from her antique mall booth and personal collections. There is a lot to be learned from her posts if you're into antiques.

11 comments:

Sharon said...

Great information! I love to go "junking"!

The Gingerbread House7 said...

Granny I love going "Junking" :o) there just aren't many places here in NC ..(I still get lost going places here). I find my best treasures when Junking and I find there are a lot of things I've given or thrown away that i wish I still had :o)

Granny Sue said...

Sharon, isn't it fun? And Gingerbread, I'm like you--these are my best finds and favorite things. Especially the kitchen things--I enjoy thinking about the women before me who used them. Today I found a lovely apron for 50cents (on my lunch break). Handmade--so who made and wore it? I would love to know.

momalizzie said...

Hey Granny Sue!! I found a pink depression pitcher (large) at my own thrift store today!!! Picked it up for $5.00. When I told my boss that one of my sisters collected pink glass, she laughed and told me, "you're no dummy!!" No, we're not!! Another Christmas or birthday present to add to a growing pile! Thanks for the info!!

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Rules I follow: 1. Bargain 2. Buy linens made in the USA. 3. Look for funky clothes -- 1930s to 1950s when textiles were better made than now 4. Be careful -- don't buy just to buy -- you'll end up like a hoarder. 5. Plan your junking trip so you don't waste money on gas. Fun post -- love junking.

A Vintage Green said...

Thank you for adding my blog to your list of favorite blogs. And thank you for becoming a follower. I enjoyed your blog today, very much like my style of 'hunting'.
- Joy

Granny Sue said...

Good deal, Liz! Can't imagine which sister that would be ;)

Excellent rules, Barbara. All of them are certainly important. You don't save anything if it all runs out the exhaust pipe. Although once we drove about 50 miles back to a yard sale I'd seen the day before. It looked great from the road. When we got there--not so much. As we were leaving I happened to spot a long coffee table leaning against a wall and asked about it. It turned out to be handmade of chestnut, and we got it for $25--so in the end the trip paid off, but for a while it certainly looked like a big waste of time and gas.

Angela said...

Great tips Granny Sue! Love your coffee mug collection!

Janet, said...

I love going to thrift shops and yard sales. You seem to follow the same rules as I do. I always look at the bottom of pottery, dishes, etc. Anything made in China, I do not buy. I have found many books, old kitchen items and linens. It's the thrill of the hunt, the not knowing what you are going to find next and the bargains. Some people would not be seen stopping at a yard sale, but they are the ones missing out.

Granny Sue said...

Janet, you are one of the best at the art of yard sales. And you're right--those who think yard sales are beneath them miss some unique and sometimes valuable finds.

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Granny Sue -- Have fun at your story telling weekend. Always thought I would like to give story telling a try. I wanted to comment on the chestnut table. What a find-- certainly worth the drive -- chestnut trees are extinct, except for a few stragglers,in the US. Great yard sale find! -- barbara

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