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In order to further introduce myself to you, groovy reader, I suppose I should delve into the world of old stuff. The world where everything smells a little musty, everything is a little dusty, and the stories are endless.
Before vintage was a thing, there were still treasure hunters who scavenged garage sales and thrift stores, gathering the oldest and rarest loot they could find.
There are many names for these folk. I call my mother a treasure hunter. Some say “antique dealer.” For the less friendly folk, I say “pirate” and my dad says “tiquer” (pronounced TEE-ker), short for “antiquer.”
It’s a serious game these folks play. Line up at an estate early on a Saturday morning and you will feel the crazy adrenaline coursing through the veins of the treasure hunters and tiquers, each hoping to score a museum-worthy treasure to bring to next month’s antique fair or flea market.
My sister and I were the kids dressed in thrift store clothes. My friends wondered how we always found the good stuff at our small town thrift store, leaving the rest for them to stumble through in disappointment. The truth was, we went every day. Before school, we would hit up the garage sales with Mama, and after school, it was on to every thrift store in town.
One day every month, my mom would take us to an antique fair in California’s Bay Area, to hawk her wares. Fast forward to today, fairs and fleas such as this one are everywhere. Today, vintage clothing and decor are a thing. Groovy folk can be found reusing and re-purposing all sorts of old stuff offered by the treasure hunters at flea markets.
This is what our fourth-grade teachers taught us on Earth Day. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Only they never told us it could be such a beautiful pastime.
Perhaps it has been fueled by a mass production-induced boredom with new fashion and decor. Or, perhaps starving students and recession-era frugality lay behind the movement. No matter the source, it is obvious from the funky clothing worn by our peers and the eclectic decor in their homes, that this passion for treasure hunting has found a permanent home in our culture.
For those creative folk interested in the art of collecting antiques and vintage for home or wardrobe, here are some of the sources I check on a regular basis:
✮ Local Flea Markets ✮
For those treasure hunters who aren’t faint of heart, the local flea market is often your best source for unique vintage and antique treasures. You will have to wade through socks, DVDs, and other new stuff to find the rare, charming artifact you seek. You will have to roll out of bed at an ungodly hour to beat the other treasure hunters to the goods. And, you run the risk of not finding a gosh darn thing worth having in your collection. It’s tough, but when you find that special treasure, it’s totally worth it.
Flea markets are often found at your local city college campus. Type “[your city name] flea market” into your search browser and you will find some local markets to explore.
✮ Antique Fairs ✮
For the uninitiated, monthly antique fairs don’t seem much different than flea markets, but there is a HUGE difference. Flea markets are still in the thick of the treasure hunt. Often the sellers at flea markets sell the contents of storage units or their grandmother’s attic. The sellers don’t specialize in selling antiques, but rather a wide variety of goods. Therefore, flea markets are generally less expensive and more difficult to sift through.
An antique fair, on the other hand, often has rules that govern what can be sold by its vendors. Usually, items have to be 20 years old or older. These are the markets where the treasure hunters gather to sell the goods they’ve collected from various sources throughout the month.
Buyers still have to get their booty out of bed early to beat the other treasure hunters to the best offerings and you will pay a higher price for the specialized knowledge of the sellers and the time and gas money that went into finding the goods on display. That being said, your shopping efforts are much more likely to be rewarded with a vintage or antique treasure to bring home…which, of course, is awesome!
Since I am a Northern California native, one of my fave antique shows is the Alameda Point Antiques Fair. But there are tons of fairs all over the country, including the gigantic show in Portland, Oregon which I hope to adventure to someday!
Some flea markets and antique fairs are smooshed into one big event. A good example of this is The Rosebowl Flea Market in Pasadena, CA. This market is divided into sections for new stuff, handcrafted stuff, vintage clothing and, yes, antiques and collectibles.
✮ Thrift Stores ✮
I can’t go too long without a thrift store adventure or I get kinda sorta depressed. Like I said, I grew up going to thrift stores every. single. day. Thrifting is an integral part of my existence and really one of the few kinds of shopping I enjoy. There is nothing like walking into a local thrift shop and finding a gorgeous vintage afghan for my cozy blanket collection or a psychedelic maxi dress to wear to the next rock and roll show.
Thrift stores are definitely a treasure hunt and most of the time I leave empty-handed. But, man, those times I find treasures make all the times I get skunked totally worth it. (I’m not sure if other people use the term “skunked,” but that’s what we call it when we don’t find anything worth bringing home.)
As you might imagine, the dedication it takes to be an avid thrifter can be pretty intense, but it can totally pay off if you don’t mind the hunt!
✮ Garage Sales and Estate Sales ✮
It’s probably happened to you. You were driving down the street and you saw a handwritten sign on neon orange posterboard informing you of a garage sale. If you are a treasure hunter, odds are you turned in the direction the sign pointed and searched for the sale in question.
Garage sales and estate sales can be incredible sources for vintage goodies but, again, there is a pretty big difference between the two. Garage sales are generally hosted by folks who need to get rid of stuff they no longer use and would like to make a few bucks in the process. The contents of a garage sale can range from furniture and household goods to garage tools. There aren’t really any rules.
Estate sales on the other hand generally occur when there is an estate being liquidated for one reason or another. Perhaps someone is downsizing for retirement or maybe someone passed away and the family of the owner has to empty the house before they sell it. Estate sales can be all new stuff or, sometimes, they can be a time capsule with too many vintage treasures to fit in your basket.
I’ve talked about it on this blog before, but my all-time favorite treasure hunt was an estate sale in Berkeley. The woman was liquidating her estate which included her breathtaking collection of vintage Gunne Sax gowns, many of which still had their store tags attached. When the doors opened to that sale, I began piling dress after dress onto my shoulders until I was trembling from the weight. It was at that sale where I paid $25 for my beloved wedding dress!
If you find the idea of garage sales or estate sales intriguing, you can find sales in the garage sale section of your local newspaper.
✮ Online Sources ✮
Ok, so let’s be real. Most of you probably don’t want to be up at the crack of dawn, sifting through flea markets and garage sales with frozen fingers. If you don’t mind forgoing the excitement of the treasure hunt, your best source for that perfect vintage treasure is probably online.
Etsy, eBay, and Craigslist offer vintage wares from countless sellers, all in one place…your computer. The only real downside to shopping online is that, unless you buy local, there will be shipping costs. While that may not be a big deal if you purchase that vintage picture frame you’ve had your eye on, it will definitely be a big deal if you acquire the perfect vintage velvet couch!
That being said, the range of goods available to you with just a simple online search is endless. At the very least, you can look around online to figure out what pieces you want before spending your bucks at the local antique fair. For the uninitiated vintage shopper, this may be the best place to begin!
Are you an avid vintage shopper? Leave a comment and let me know what type of sale or store you prefer for your treasure-hunting. No need to get specific…we wouldn’t want you to give away your shopping secrets!
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