Two Very Different Estate Sales Yield Some Exciting Vintage Finds

estate sale

One of the best things about going to estate sales is never knowing what you might find. Each time I plug an address into Google maps and follow the twists and turns a sale site, I never know quite where I will end up. Of course, I’m familiar with the general vicinity but not what the neighborhood and house itself will look like, and quite often the outside of the house belies what’s inside. I’ve found gorgeous purses and collectibles inside modest bungalows while leaving fancier places empty handed.

Recently, I found some interesting things at two very different sales. The first was inside a tony subdivision in a nearby town, not a typical site for an estate sale and I was skeptical of finding anything suitable for a vintage shop. I almost got back in my car when I found out that the organizers were only letting five people into the house at a time and making everyone else wait outside in the sub-30F degree weather. While we waited, a neighbor started yelling at us from across the street that someone had parked in front of her trash can and had better move…the morning wasn’t starting out so well.

However, I’m glad I stayed because I ended up finding some nice inventory for my shop. It turned out that the owner collected tea sets and cups, which sell fairly well on Etsy. The upstairs level was a bust but the lower level was brimming with collectibles. I browsed though a whole table of porcelain demitasses and teacups, all beautifully preserved with their matching saucers. On another table, I found some pretty ceramic bowls hand painted in Italy. Take a look:

Great find: Haviland Limoges demitasse and saucer with a pink rose garland design.
Found three of these sunny sunflower bowls, hand painted in Italy, and already sold one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next week I found myself at a completely different type of home in a blue collar neighborhood on a street lined with tiny, well kept bungalows. The weather had warmed up and so had the reception: the woman holding the sale had the side door open and welcomed me in before her advertised start time. Again, I was a bit skeptical about finding much in such a small place but it turned out to be a very good day. The sale hadn’t been widely advertised so only a few people showed up, making it easy to do some low-pressure browsing.

The sale encompassed only a few rooms on the main floor but those were chock full of vintage wares accumulated over several decades. Kitchen counters were lined with all manner of dishes and gadgets and the entire dining table was covered with fine china, including–you guessed it–more tea sets! The organizer was willing to consider a discounted price if I bought several things so I decided to take an entire set that included a coffee pot, sugar bowl, and five demitasse and saucer combinations. I also picked up a midcentury serving platter, an Incolay stone trinket box, and some hand carved plates from Poland. Here are a few pictures:

This 1930s lustreware coffee/tea set with a beautiful Fragonard design was in perfect condition.
The owner had two of these stunning hand-carved plates hanging on the wall. I later discovered that they were made by artists in the Tatra Mountain region of Poland.
An Incolay carved stone trinket box.

 

This platter is from the Lu-Ray Pastels line produced in the 1940s. Surf Green was one of the original four colors.

Find of the Week

And finally, the find of the day was this whimsical brutalist art piano man. Turn the music staff wheel in the back and it plays the theme to “The Sting” — you can’t get much more nostalgic than that! I listed it that night and it sold a couple of hours later.

A brutalist art piano man that plays the theme from “The Sting” while raising his beer stein in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s it Worth? How to Price Your Vintage Finds on Etsy

estate sale

Running a vintage shop can be really fun. I love going to estate sales never knowing what I might find. While some women love a day at the mall, my idea of fun is poking through mountains of stuff accumulated over decades that for one reason or another is being discarded. The more piles and stashes, the more nooks and crannies, the better the shopping experience. I’m perfectly content to sift through all manner of junk in search of treasures, and I often sink into a kind of trance, in danger of forgetting that I’m supposed to be working. Estate sales are where I find most of my inventory for my Etsy shop, Premium Transitions. With that in mind, I try to reign myself in and limit my purchases to things with potential resale appeal.

The danger for me, as someone trying to build a vintage resale business, is getting so caught up in the fun part–estate sale finds–that I neglect the real work involved in actually making sales. A few great finds during a morning estate sale run and I’m riding high–then reality sets in after I arrive home and survey the work ahead. Everything has to be cleaned, researched, priced, photographed, and listed. I’ve become more efficient since I opened my shop over a year ago but these steps still take up significant time. Researching and pricing, in particular, can bog me down for hours. Google search is a little like going down Lewis Carroll’s proverbial rabbit hole which, according to Urban Dictionary, means to “enter a period of chaos or confusion”–a very apt metaphor.

Anyway, don’t mean to discourage anyone! I have, actually, become better at the researching and pricing game over time so thought it would be a good topic for a post. Of course, I’m still learning. But here are a few tips I’m able to share so far:

  1. Bookmark. Harkening back to the rabbit hole analogy, it’s very easy to click your way through a research session without tracking where you’ve been. The excitement of finding a piece of information that actually relates to your item can make you forget about saving the source. I’ve found it very useful to create folders on Chrome, such as “Vintage Purses,” where I bookmark useful sites. Having these valuable resources at your fingertips can save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

    Finding great stuff is the fun part–then comes figuring out what you’ve got.
  2. Review Similar Listings. One of the first steps in my research is looking at similar items on Etsy and other online marketplaces, like eBay. On Etsy, it’s not unusual to find the exact same item listed in other shops but at a range of prices. Finding “sold” listings is somewhat helpful as it tells you that the item is desirable but Etsy does not list the sold price.  When looking at what’s available, I try to get a sense of the price range and price mine somewhere in the middle. Others might be trying to sell the same item for much more but price doesn’t equal value. I try to get a feel for the range of prices and land somewhere in the middle. Remember, shoppers see the same range in their search results and know they can get the same item for less at another shop.
  3. Pay Attention to What Sells. Continuing to use purses as an example, I  eventually settled into a few price points based on what was selling. Most of my purses sell for somewhere between $18-$55 depending on the condition, label, materials, and style. Beaded bags made in Japan or Hong Kong often sell on the high end while basic satin or faux-leather clutches with no labels are on the lower en
    This beautiful vintage 1950s-era clutch is now listed in my shop. I love the tiny pearl flowers and sequins.

    d of the range. Certain bags, such as mesh pouches from the 1920s or 30s, can fetch a lot more if they’re attractive to collectors. Once you decide on a general price range, put it out there and monitor its views in your shop stats. You can always make changes as you go. Correct pricing often comes through trial and error. No matter how much you might think or hope something is worth, the market dictates its value to buyers.

  4. Don’t Lowball. While you shouldn’t overprice your items, neither should you undercut the market if you’re trying to build a quality brand. Low prices might help attract bargain hunters but they can also make your shop look cheap. Besides, your prices should also reflect the time and effort you spend as a curator of vintage goods. Think of it this way: Scouring estate or yard sales is not everyone’s cup of tea no matter what bargains may be waiting for them. By shopping on Etsy, they have access to a curated selection of vintage goods that they can browse at their leisure on their computer and have delivered to their doorstep. That’s worth something!

    A cool silvery mesh purse from the 1940s.
  5. Specialize. When I first started my shop I tested things out to see what would sell, and I’m still doing that to some extent. However, specializing in a few types of items makes sense in terms of efficiency. In my case, I started with vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware, which are still dependable sellers, then expanded to other areas such as vintage purses. Once I started to accumulate a number of midcentury bags I began to recognize names on designer tags and to differentiate between genuine vintage and modern lookalikes. I spent some time reading vintage fashion and purse blogs, like Bag Lady University and Collectors Weekly, among others. Now, I am not only much more likely to pick up a genuine vintage bag at a sale but also better able to describe and price it in my listing.

    Besides purses, I’ve also begun to specialize in vintage jewelry.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more tips on running a vintage shop and check out my last post on Lessons Learned from my First Year on Etsy. I welcome your comments!

A Few Lessons from My First Year Running an Etsy Shop

It’s been a little over a year since I opened Premium Transitions, my vintage shop on Etsy, and I remember my first sale very clearly. I had just listed a set of vintage Corning Ware”Grab-it” bowls from the 1970s and was thrilled when they sold the next day. It was my first inkling of how desirable these bowls are among collectors of vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty rare to find undamaged grab-its at a thrift shop, especially with the  fitted glass lids.  I bought that first set on a whim but have since learned to be constantly on the lookout because they typically sell within days of being listed, with or without lids. It was my first vintage find and I was hooked!

vintage corning ware
Corning Ware Grab-It Bowls: My First Sale turned out to be a best seller.

At first, I thought vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware would be the main focus of my shop but I’ve since branched out into midcentury home decor and fashion accessories as well. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how to list and promote items in my shop and how to pack and ship delicate items domestically and internationally. I’ve also learned more about which vintage items are most sought after by Etsy buyers. Some of the things I bought in my first month are still sitting on the shelf while others, like the grab-it bowls, have become best sellers (when I can find them).

My learning curve is by no means over. However, the one-year mark seemed like a good time to pause and take stock of how far I’ve come. Starting from nothing, I now have a sizable shop with hundreds of listings and about 250 completed sales. The following tips and “lessons learned” are gleaned from my own trials and errors since over the past year. I hope they’re helpful to anyone whose thinking of starting a shop either on Etsy or another online marketplace.

  1. Develop a system. Before starting a shop, I didn’t give much thought to the hours I would invest in simply posting items for sale. However, listing can be a fairly time-intensive process, especially with a vintage shop. While it sometimes happens that I can directly copy or renew a sold listing when I list an identical product (such as the grab-it bowls), that’s rare because almost every vintage item is unique. However, once you establish a shop identity and a focus for the types of products you will offer, you can often copy a similar listing (such as a Pyrex casserole dish in a different pattern or size) and use most of the same tags and descriptors. You will still have to replace photos and customize, but it’s easier than starting from scratch.

    photography studio
    You don’t need a professional studio to start creating appealing photos.
  2. Create a Mini Photo Studio. Photos are very important to marketing your products but can also be expensive and time-consuming to create. My first photos were pretty mediocre and could still be improved, but I’ve learned a few tricks to make my products stand out without paying a professional photographer or renting studio space. First, I try to take all my photos against similar backgrounds. My backyard, where I have a mini rock garden with a variety of oddly shaped marble-like slabs, is my current go-to spot. It’s turned out to be a nice staging area for things like purses, jewelry, and collectibles. Although natural light produces the best results, the weather isn’t always conducive to outdoor shots. For those days, I created a makeshift light box in my basement using a cardboard box, tissue paper, and a spotlight (check out this simple tutorial on YouTube). It works well for smaller items. Someday soon I will invest time in making a bigger one.
  3. Work in Batches. I’ve found that taking multiple photos at once is easier than getting out my camera every time I have something to list (tip: an iPad camera works fine to start). I typically take photos of 5-10 things, then edit them in one batch. That way, they’re ready on my computer whenever I find a few minutes to create a new listing.

    how to start etsy shop
    Be careful of switching labels when you’re packing multiple items for shipping.
  4. Develop a packing and shipping process. The importance of this step will become clear the first time you inadvertently switch mailing labels and send customers the wrong order (as I unfortunately managed to do early on–hopefully you will avoid this!) Problems arise when you’re packing up and printing out shipping labels for multiple orders. It’s fairly easy to put the wrong label on a package if you’re not careful, so I now take a couple of precautions. First, after packing an order, I lightly write the name of the item and first name of the customer on the box or envelope. Next, I put the packing slips into the corresponding packages and tape them up. At this point, I cannot see the contents of the box or the packing slip, so my previous labeling is a big help in matching the correct label to the correct package.
  5. Pay attention to what sells. Some of the things I bought in my first few months in business are still sitting on the shelf. I’ve learned that not everything old or antique-y is desirable or conducive to easy shipping. For example, vintage kitchenware is popular but only for certain patterns or brands, such as Pyrex/Corning Ware and
    vintage teapot
    Novelty kitchen items like this Sadler teapot sell well but sets of vintage china often linger on the shelf.

    Fiestaware. Dinnerware is generally difficult to sell but ceramic or novelty mugs are quite popular. Weight is another consideration as many customers are deterred by the expense of shipping, which can be as much as or more than the item itself in some cases.

  6. Be patient. There’s no way to know everything from Day 1. Paying attention to what sells, listening to customers’ feedback, and learning about the products you sell takes time. I now feel more confident looking for new inventory at estate sales because I have a better feel for what customers want and how to set prices. I’ve noticed myself passing over things that I would have snapped up six or eight months ago. Similarly, I’m getting better at looking beyond labels and trusting my own judgement about what items will appeal to shoppers.

    vintage kitchen
    Quirky best sellers: This set of owl measuring cups sold months ago but still gets lots of customer views.

As I write this post, I realize that I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s like to own and grow an online shop. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more first-year insights and lessons learned as I continue on my entrepreneurial journey. I welcome your suggestions and comments!