The laymans guide to finding antiques and collectibles in charity shops
There are many reasons why antiques and collectibles end up in op shops, or charity shops as they are known and garage or boot sales. In this article I will tell you how to find valuable antiques and collectibles without having to have too much knowledge. I will tell you what to look for, how to check it out and how to go about selling what you find.
I have been buying and selling antiques and collectibles most of my life and a large proportion of them I have found this way.
Note that most valuable items are identified and then stolen by the charity staff or sold off to an antique dealer or collector privately. I am not having a go at anybody here. This is just a fact of life. Anything that you see in an op shop that is marked collectible or antique with a large price, steer clear from. The op shop has already identified the item and knows its value. Once this has happened there is no scope for you to make any money.
Why do things end up in op shops or garage sales? Remember that in both the First and Second World Wars a lot of Germany and Europe was looted for its valuable art and antiques and other artefacts. These items have found their way back to America, England or Australia through the soldiers that came back home.
These items have then sat, unidentified for years in various households. When the owners of these items have moved into old age homes or have passed on, the items have either been donated to op shops, or given to younger members of their family who have no idea what they have, so they then put the items in a garage sale or simply donate them to the charity shops.
We are also coming into a period where people who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s are starting to get old. Their children have grown up and moved away and they are downsizing into smaller homes or retirement villas, hence a lot of their unwanted stuff is donated to the op shop or charity shop or put in garage sales.
To help in your research and your search for antiques and collectibles firstly you should have a little bit of knowledge on what constitutes an antique or collectible. Visit as many museums, antique shops and art galleries as you can. If you are reading this article then the author expects that you have some knowledge of antiques.
Look at the items and try to memorise the main features that identify them as antiques. With ceramics, a lot of the time they have a good mark on the bottom. Get yourself a pottery marks identification guide and a digital camera. If you come across an interesting mark or item, photograph it and check it out later or look it up on the net. A lot of old pottery does not have marks, so you will have to rely on the knowledge you have picked up by looking at things in the Antiques shops and museums.
Also start getting a reference library together. Millers and Carters guides are good but expensive. They will give you information on a large cross section of antiques and collectibles. Lastly, invest in a lap top computer and have it connected to the internet. Always carry a notebook and pen or pencil with you as well as your camera.
Firstly when you walk into an op shop take a quick walk around to get the feel of the place. Your first stop should be the books section. If you find old or collectible books in this department, then the chances are, the op shop has taken a consignment of goods that is likely to contain other collectible stuff.
As far as books go, to identify a rare or valuable item, you will need a lot of knowledge. Firstly check that the book is a first edition by looking at the flysheet where all of the information is. This is where you will find the edition number and the date of publication. Generally anything that is a first Edition by Ian Fleming from the James Bond 007 series is valuable.
Signed is even better. Also look for titles by Ernest Hemingway. Anything written by him on hunting is valuable. Look for anything by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne that is Sci-fi. Look for Stephen King or John Steinbeck, an original War of the Worlds by HG Wells and you are on a winner.
Old Bibles can sometimes be valuable. Books with dust covers are more desirable. Anything from the 1960’s or earlier that involve crime or detective stories should be written down and checked on the internet later. Alibris books, or any of the rare book collector’s sites on the net have information on what is rare and collectible. Original motor manuals from the 1960’s, or prior are generally valuable.
Any book title that is 1965 or prior, that is a first Edition, must be written down or photographed, and checked on the internet.If you think or know an item is valuable and it is less than a dollar then simply buy it and worry about checking its value later.
Any books that have obvious early dates on them, say 1750 should be checked out. You can always look for the grand daddy of all rare and collectible books and this is a copy Shakespear’s Folio, if you find one of these in any condition you are a millionaire.
A lot of children’s books are rare and valuable especially original copies of Dr. Zeuss from the 1950’s or 60’s. They are not marked with dates, so if they have not got computer bar codes on them and you can buy them for a few dollars then invest, and do the research later.
The same goes with comics, quite often you will find them amongst the kid’s books, they must be in mint condition to be valuable. Look for titles like Superman, Batman, Spider Man, Phantom, Xmen.
The earlier the better, once you find anything from the 1930’s you can be looking at serious money but otherwise take the number, date and title of the comic book and write it in your notebook and do research later. This way you will learn. If the comics are cheap and you think they are worth a punt just buy them before somebody else gets them.
Be particularly careful when photographing or recording anything in your notebook. Try to be discreet, because if the shop proprietor sees you, they will know what you are up to, and when you try to buy any item it will likely be that you will pay a premium. Fellow shoppers can also be alerted to what you are up to, and will take a firm interest in what you are doing and what you are interested in.
When you leave the op shop, check out all you have written down or photographed on the net immediately and if you think it is valuable buy it straight away.
The problem for the op shops is that they are not experts on everything. They may have an expert on books or ceramics but they still miss things.
Next check out any paintings the shop may have. If you find old books, it is a good chance the charity shop also got old paintings from the same estate. Prints can also be valuable. The first thing to look for is the obvious, the artists signature.
Then look at the back of the painting for any obvious clues like auction lot numbers, gallery numbers or art supply stamps. These should then be checked out thoroughly on the internet, in the end only an expert can tell so if you find something you feel is really valuable, take it to a professional antique appraiser or valuer. Do not trust antique shops.
I purchased a painting in 2006 in Toodyay a small town near Perth in Western Australia for $25 by Vlase Zanalis entitled “The Miner”. He turned out to be a famous sought after artist. The painting was well known too and I sold it for $25,000. I also bought a tryptcih (three paintings in a series) by Dion Florence Jones for $120 in a Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) op shop which sold a week later in Indonesia for $10,000 on Ebay!
Now while you are looking for paintings look out for movie posters. Movie posters that are genuine should be quite obvious but again only an expert can tell. Look for the famous classics such as Gone with the Wind, Cleopatra, Ben Hur Psycho, Apocalypse now, anything with Bogart or James Dean in it, any horror film particularly featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, Boris Karloff or anything kooky and weird, like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the Blob or Batman from 1966, you get the picture.
I found an original 1966 Movie poster of Batman backed by Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, Psycho at the local tip second-hand shop. I paid $5 and it is worth $200.
Your next stop should be the record section. Note that with records and books and all other antiques and collectibles for that matter, the better condition, the more valuable an item is. So ideally you are looking for things in pristine condition.
Look for early records by famous artists like The Beatles, The Monkees, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Sort the chaff from the hay by ignoring old records by Max Bygraves, Liberace, Cliff Richard or Barry Manilow etc. Really old records, the old thick ones before acetate came out should be recorded and checked. Anything unusual should be noted in your notebook and looked up on the net later.
I found an obscure record from Germany from the 1970s entitled "Of Dreams and Memories", they were an underground psychedelic group, half German half English similar to PinkFfloyd. The cover picture was of a snake crawling through a human skull. I bought the record fo $10 and sold it for $390 after looking it up on the net and finding its rarity.
Now go to the toys section and see if they have any board games from the 1970’s and prior. Look for old monopoly sets from the 1930’s, The Batman Board game, Lost in Space board game and anything quirky or unusual, it has to be rare though, not common, to be worth money.
While in the toy section, look for the original 1970’s issue Star Wars figurines which are worth a fair bit, especially in the original packaging. Look for any toy with The Beatles on it or anything at all for that matter in the way of souvenirs as well as the Monkees. Look for tin or lead soldiers or military pieces.
Also look for tin toys. Especially Robots and cars from Japan prior to 1975 or German tin toys from any era, they will be marked somewhere, they can be very valuable if in good condition. There is also a ready market in old cigarette cards and sports bubble gum cards. Australian Rules Football cards from the 1930’s can be worth thousands.
The same goes in the States for old basketball, gridiron, and baseball cards. Also look for the original 1966 Batman cards, they are worth good money as is the Matchbox car of the Batmobile from 1966. Original in the box it is worth upwards of $600, used in poor condition you will still get $25 for it.. Also look for old matchbox cars from prior to 1970, check them on the net or buy them and check later if they are a few cents. They must be in good condition. Any old 1960’s stuff in relation to the kids puppet series, The Thunderbirds is valuable.
Look for old dolls and Teddy Bears. Barby Dolls need to be original in the box from the 1960’s to be worth anything. Generally plastic dolls are worth nothing. You are looking for ceramic, paper machet’ or wooden dolls. The makers, mould mark and usually year can be found on the base of the head at the back or on the dolls back itself. With Teddy Bears, the most valuable are Steif bears and they usually have a button in the ear with the name on it.
Now head into the Ceramics/glass section. As I have stated above, look for on the base of ceramic pieces for makers marks. Clarice Cliff ware from England is one of the most sought after amongst many others, do some research! Ceramic figurines are generally valuable if they have an obvious mark on them. Valuable glass will come in the form of Murano which is found in charity shops often. It is Venetian or Italian coloured glass from the 1950’s and 60’s.
Usually it has an identifying sticker on it. Be wary of cheap Asian imports/replicas. You should see a fine pontil mark on the base. The other glass you will find is depression glass from the 1930’s which is still quite common. It comes in Amber, Green and the rarer violet. Look for good examples of this type of glass in your local antique shop.
I once found an original 1750 English Goblet in an op shop. I paid a few cents for it and sold it for $1200. At the time I knew nothing about glass apart from photographs and descriptions I had seen in an English Millers guide and what I had seen in Museums. The glass just stuck out to me. The glass was a different colour and had a lot of impurities in it. You could tell by the ripples in it. It had been hand blown and the shape of the glass was so unusual and a different colour to modern glass.
As far as jewellery goes the only valuable pieces you may find in an op shop are strings of pearls, the obvious gold and silver pieces would have disapperared long before you get a chance to buy them. You can tell real pearls by rubbing therm against your teeth, they should feel gritty. A good string of cultured pearls is worth about $1000!
Other things to look for in op shops is, anything from the Vietnam war. I found an old Zippo lighter inscribed with “Vietnam I’ve been there” and the dates of the soldiers tour in an op shop. I paid a few dollars for it and got $850 for it. Look for any memorabelia from the Nazi era, especially anything with a Swastika. Old, original Levis jeans, pre 1950’s. Look up a description on the net to see what you must look for. Early computers, such as the original Ataris are worth money if in working order.
Musical instruments from Guitars to keyed and brass instruments are often found. Pianos are the only keyed instrument worth anything, prices vary on make and condition. Old electric organs are worth nothing. Look for guitars with the names Hofner from Germany, Washburn from Australia and Martin, Gretsch, Fender and Gibson from America. Brass instruments can be tricky. Take the model number and brand name and year and look it up on the internet.
As far as selling your items, steer clear from selling glass, ceramics or any breakables on Ebay. If you do use Ebay, insure your item for loss or breakage. If the item is breakable or very valuable you are better off selling it at an antique/art auction or to your local antique dealer or even consider advertising it yourself in the local newspaper or local noticeboards. You may also consider a market stall or having a garage sale. Make sure you have your item professionally valued first. If the item is not worth valuing, then it is probably not worth the time and trouble of selling it.
This is what you need to search for antiques
Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on September 03, 2018:
Lots of good info here, thanks!
Curesmile on July 10, 2018:
Really enjoyed your article as I love treasure hunting, i'm going to free appraisal day at the auction house I like this month.
Thanks so much, I will be saving this page.
Alex Haworth from Madagascar on May 06, 2018:
I really liked the article, but it was very text heavy and you loaded all your pictures in at the start. It would flow a lot better if you interspersed your pictures between your text for a better reader experience.
Very useful information thanks!
Allison Knight on March 09, 2017:
Thank you! What a valuable help you are. It is a treasure trove of information across the board!
darren208 on February 23, 2015:
I would like to tank u very much for written this article there,s a lot of little gems out there waiting to be found and this little gem is going picking,
wildchild1962 (author) from Geraldton on January 06, 2015:
Thanks Alphe, much appreciated, I must find the time this year to write some more. Best regards Trev
Alphe on January 06, 2015:
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email firstname.lastname@example.org my name donald on October 15, 2013:
try to find london artist signitures born in wandsworth 1890 signitures on her paintings which i have
Leann on March 27, 2013:
Great advice. Just like getting from a trusted friend. Thank you so much for putting your time into writing this article.
Sassyb on December 26, 2012:
Thank you so much for writing this article. I found it very informative
Kristy Callan from Australia on December 01, 2012:
This is a brilliant article. You clearly have a lot of knowledge about this sort of thing. Thank you for sharing it with us.
customlapel from Kissimmee, Florida on February 24, 2012:
sometimes antique dealers have so much in their stores that it's hard for them to notice everything. Make sure you are familiar with the porcelain and what it looks like before searching for it, because reproductions do exist.