A Promising (and Eye-Opening) Start to the Estate Sale Season in CT

Notwithstanding the unseasonably cold temperatures here in New England (at this writing in late March, highs expected in the 30sF), there are signs of spring. For one, there’s been a sudden spike in the number of listings for estate sales, which warms the hearts of vintage lovers and flea market scavengers like me. It’s the time of year when people start clearing out their attics and closets in preparation for a move or to wrestle control over their growing piles of stuff. There are always plenty of other people who feel they don’t have enough stuff and will swoop in to take it off their hands. Going to estate and yard sales make you appreciate the wisdom of  the old saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ I see this dynamic playing out all the time and heartily approve of it as a form of recycling.

Last weekend I mapped out several sales I wanted to check out on Friday and Saturday and they ran the gamut in terms of appeal. I live in Connecticut in a region dotted with quaint villages and incredibly scenic landscapes. Town welcome signs proudly proclaim their establishment in the 1600s and, after driving through a string of these, I start to think of those founded later, say the 1800s, as modern upstarts. On a typical drive, I pass by impossibly idyllic farmsteads bordered by stacked stone walls and white picket fences, with cows grazing happily in the pastures. As I follow the turns to the next sale dictated by Google Maps, I’m expected to drive up to a sprawling estate with lots of treasures inside.

However, there’s another side to country living and it isn’t as pretty. I looked around confusedly when the familiar Google Maps voice said, “You’ve arrived,” then noticed a small single-lane street with a few cars positioned along the edge. I parked a short distance away and walked toward a “house” where a few people were coming and going. It was really more of a shack with a few steps leading up to a one-room affair. Inside, stuff was piled and thrown everywhere and some people were picking through the dirt and grime in hope of finding something precious or valuable. One older woman lifted a colored glass bottle in the air, effusing, “My mother used to have all sorts of these but she threw them out” (for good reason I expect).  I’m all for scavenging but I draw the line at the risk of contracting airborne diseases or coming upon dead rodents in my search. It was the sort of place that should be wrapped in warning tape and condemned by the health department. Yet, the woman running the sale noted happily that she would be there all week bringing in more stuff from some unknown nearby stash. My husband doesn’t usually come with me to these sales but he happened to this time and I found him standing outside with his arms folded and a stern look on his face that said, “what are we doing here?” Needless to say, we left empty handed.

Happily, very few sales turn out that way. Most are located in longtime family homes that are being cleared out by relatives or estate sale pros. That’s not to say they are lavish estates. In fact, they are often modest looking bungalows or split levels but they’re stuffed with interesting treasures that the owners have accumulated over time. One sale was at a midcentury-style split level, the home of a recently deceased elderly couple who were enthusiastic collectors of southwest-style and Native American art. Another was at a lovely two-story colonial filled with nostalgic pieces from the early to mid 1900s. The owners were involved in the dairy industry and had these wonderful old wooden milk crates (which I didn’t buy because of the price, but will probably regret). I also passed on an antique sewing machine and a beautiful ceramic stove/oven with warming cabinets (too big). But I found some great old books, jewelry, and purses.

Below are some my finds from these particular outings (photos link to listings in my Etsy shop). All in all, a satisfying (and edifying) first couple of weeks of estate sale hunting!

luxart library classics
I love these miniature classics from the 1920s by Little Luxart Library. They’re part of a bigger set but I like the titles I found, including: Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge; Speeches and Letters by George Washington; and Barrack-Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling.

andersen studio ceramics
A set of ceramic stoneware vases by Andersen Design Studio, founded by the late Weston and Brenda Andersen in 1952, in Boothbay, Maine.
Continuing my fascination with vintage cameras, I picked up some Kodak Brownies. The Baby Brownie, which already sold (pictured above), was so cute. And I’m amazed at the condition of this No. 2 box camera from the 1910s.
Antique gold-filled wire rim spectacles made by American Optical in the 1930s.
A lovely Florentine leather compact from the 1950s, in pristine condition!
A 1960s hand-tooled leather cigarette case with the Aztec calendar etched on the back.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

My Latest Vintage Obsession: Midcentury Cameras

Early to midcentury cameras are popular now, both among practitioners of old-fashioned film photography and vintage collectors looking to create attractive displays. Many come with matching leather cases and straps and other accessories that add to their vintage appeal. I’ve picked up a few these cameras at estate sales lately and have been learning a bit about their history and features in order to list them in my Etsy shop.

Although I dabble in photography, I am by no means experienced in using old cameras or well-versed on their technical features. However, I did start my journalism career back in the days when young reporters often took their own photos with actual film. I never set out on an assignment without a fully stocked camera bag, which came to seem like my de facto purse. I wish I still had the Pentax 35mm I carried back then but alas I seem to have given it away during one of our many moves, not anticipating that they would come back into fashion.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite camera finds of late. I absolutely love the worn-in leather of the cases and straps!

Genos Rapid. The Genos Rapid is a German box camera introduced in 1950 that was made of Bakelite. Box cameras did not have all the bells and whistles of more technologically sophisticated cameras but their simplicity was a big part of their appeal for the general public and inspired many people to try their hand at photography. The earliest box cameras were made of wood or metal and allowed no control over focus, aperture, or shutter speed. The Genos Rapid offered a few more frills, such as a shutter button, a flash sync socket, and switches that allow you to choose aperture settings. For these reasons, the Genos is still popular among serious collectors who actually use the cameras they buy. However, it’s boxy appearance also gives it a very appealing vintage look. This one also came with its original leather case and sold quite quickly. I’m now on the lookout for more!

vintage camera
Vintage 1950s Genos Rapid Camera, with and without its leather case.

 

 

Argus C3. This lovely looking camera was introduced in 1957 and was nicknamed the “brick” for its boxy shape and solid construction. Rick Schuster, who writes about photography at Shot on Film, says the Argus C3 is “beautiful in its weirdness,” with strange design features involving dials, knobs, and lens stuck to the outside. However, it was a best-selling camera in its day and all the exterior gadgets were sometimes a selling point, making it seem more legit from a technical standpoint. It was also reasonably priced compared with other 35mm cameras. I love this one that I found at an estate sale because it was obviously so well cared for by its owner, who–judging by all the framed photographs and art books on display throughout the home–was an avid and skilled photographer. It also came with a very nice case in near-mind condition, as you can see in the photos below.

vintage camera
An Argus C3 Standard Rangefinder camera with original brown leather case and strap.

Voigtlander Vitomatic I. This model was made in Germany from 1957-60 by Voigtlander, a very old and established company that was founded in 1756. The first generation of Vitomatics were viewfinders as opposed to the rangefinder models that followed later. Made entirely of metal and glass, this camera is quite compact and extremely sturdy. A cool feature noted on the photography site, Lomography: the Vitomatic I never needs a battery because the selenium meter absorbs power from the light in front if it.  As for the technical details, this camera has a Prontor-SLK shutter and a color Skopar lens 2.8/50. It comes in it’s original leather case, although the strap is missing and there are a few scuffs on the leather–but I really like the worn-in look.

vintage camera
The Vitomatic I, a viewfinder camera produced in Germany in the late 1950s.
vintage camera
A few scuffs on the case gives it a vintage look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voigtlander Prominent. Voigtlander is a stalwart in the camera world and the company was known for its quality construction and technological innovations. It was the first to introduce a zoom lens and built-in flash units for 35mm cameras. The Prominent, a 35mm rangefinder, is among it’s top achievements but was probably been ahead of it’s time, according to CameraPedia, which notes that it wasn’t as popular as some of it’s competitors, such as Leica and Contax, when it came out in 1950. The Prominent was the most “intelligent” of the top German cameras but it’s quirky design made it less attractive to casual photographers. “The public was not ready for such a product,” says CameraPedia, “It needed some knowledge of optics. Today we can state that its basic design is still ahead of general top products.” Desirable features of this model include its Synchro-Compur shutter and Ultron 1:2/50 lens. This particular camera, which I purchased from the estate of an avid photographer, also includes a vintage metal film canister and cylindrical leather case. The case attaches to the leather strap, giving the photographer easy access to film while out on a shoot. Plus, it looks really cool!

vintage camera
The Voigtlander Prominent was technologically advanced for its time and quite collectible today.
vintage film canister
I love the metal film canister and case that came with this camera!
vintage camera
The Prominent has a Synchro-Compur shutter and Ultron 1:2/50 lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agfa Super Solina. This 35mm rangefinder camera by Agfa was made in Germany in the early 1960s. The Super Solina, also sold as the Super Silette, is part of Agfa’s Silette series that started in 1955. It has a flat top plate, a recessed rewind knob flush with the top, a top flash attachment plate, and a Prontor-SVS shutter. This camera comes with a nice weathered leather case that is missing it’s strap. Agfa is another well-known name in photography. The company’s roots extend back to mid-19th century Germany, when it produced it’s first box camera in 1930 and its first 35mm in 1937. The Silette series introduced more modern design elements, including  an autoexposure button and capability for 126mm film. It produced it’s last film cameras in the early 1980s and gave up production in 1983.

vintage camera
The Agfa Super Solina was part of the company’s Silette series.
vintage agfa camera
Comes with a leather case (sans strap).

How to Clean Vintage Pyrex

Vintage Pyrex
These classic patterns retained their vibrant colors, but be careful with cleansers containing harsh chemicals.

It’s a testament to the durability of classic Corning Ware /Pyrex dishes that you can still find relatively undamaged pieces purchased more than 50 years ago. Just as impressive is their resistance to permanent stains. While chips or cracks can’t be undone, dark stains from baking or scratches from silverware often can be removed with a little effort. I’ve purchased many pieces that looked pretty beat up on the shelf but that cleaned up nicely after I brought them home.

Vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware dishes are consistent best sellers in my vintage Etsy shop. Customers often tell me that classic patterns from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s remind them of their childhoods and baking in their mother’s kitchens. The classic Cornflower Blue casserole dish, for example, was once chiefly valued by the home cook for its durable construction and versatility. While we still value its practicality, we also love its midcentury style. Collectors of vintage Pyrex now proudly display their latest acquisitions and seek out rare sizes and patterns to round out their collection.

Vintage Pyrex cornflower blue
Corning Ware Petite Pans in the classic Cornflower Blue pattern.

Below are some of the cleaning methods I’ve used and found to be effective. Before you try any of these suggestions, first wash your Pyrex in warm soapy water using a mild dish detergent. I use Palmolive, which is inexpensive and very good at cutting grease. After a gentle washing, dry the piece and examine it for marks to see if you need to take tougher measures. If so, try one or several of the following:

 1. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I have come to find these little white sponges indispensable. They don’t last as long as regular sponges but you can buy them in bulk at Costco for a fairly reasonable price. The manufacturer attributes their power to a mix of chemicals that act as microscrubbers when activated by water. I’ve found them to be very effective for removing dark spots and silverware marks. However, use these with caution on your patterned dishes as too much scrubbing could cause colors to fade.
Pyrex grab it bowls
Vintage Grab-It bowls usually fly off the shelves as soon as I list them. It’s hard to find them with lids but it occasionally happens. These cleaned up nicely.

2. Barkeeper’s Friend. I started using this product after reading about it on Pyrex Love, a wonderful resource for researching vintage Pyrex patterns and related topics. I started with the liquid form but now prefer the powdered variety that comes in a can similar to the one used for Comet. It’s inexpensive and can be purchased on Amazon. As noted by Pyrex Love, this product is particularly good for removing metal marks. Personally, I have found this to be true. It’s helped me to remove seemingly intractable dark metal marks that wouldn’t even fade using regular dish detergent or the magic eraser. Pyrex Love cautions not to use BF on the colored or gold leaf portions of Pyrex patterns. It’s probably wise to use caution; however I’ve tried it on all types of Pyrex pieces without any problem. Just use common sense and don’t scrub too hard or soak too long. All of these products have chemicals that could possibly affect the color or finish of your piece if overused.

Pyrex cinderella bowl
A Pyrex Cinderella Bowl in the Spring Blossom pattern introduced in the 1970s.
Vintage pyrex bowl
A Pyrex Cinderella bowl with the Americana pattern from the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Baking Soda. This is an old standby when it comes to removing any type of stain. When stuck as to how to get rid of a stain, I often try a little baking soda mixed with a little water (about 3 parts soda to 1 part water). I usually pat a little of the solution on the stained area and wait a minute or so, then gently rub it off and rinse. I’m not sure why, but it sometimes works when other methods fail.

Petite Pans from the 1970s in the Spice of Life pattern.

In addition to the above, I’ve also used toothpicks or tiny straight pins to get baked-in food out of crevices. Of course, you have to be gentle and very careful not to leave scratches.

There are also a few things you SHOULD NOT try. Harsh cleansers such as Comet contain bleach which can lead to fading over time. Similarly, do not regularly put your Pyrex into the dishwasher if you want the colors to remain vibrant. Pyrex Love also cautions against heating a Pyrex dish on the stovetop before cleaning it, as some sites apparently have recommended. Although the strategy has worked for some, you risk shattering the glass.

I hope you find these tips useful as you add to your Pyrex collection!

Vintage Corning Ware
Corning Ware made its Centura casserole line briefly in the 1960s-70s.
Vintage Pyrex
A Pyrex dish in the Shenandoah pattern from the 1980s.

Vintage Gift Ideas for Men

Vintage Kodak

Finding the perfect gift for the special man or men in your life isn’t easy. After a while, we all get tired of buying another shirt, tie, or sweater no matter how striking it might look on the rack. Some men can get excited about technology gifts but will they think of you every time they open their … Read more

Estate Sale Finds: Some Recent Favorites

midcentury canisters

Over the summer, I spent a lot of time (some might say too much) at estate and tag sales searching for inventory for my Etsy shop. Truth be told, I enjoy browsing and would go to these sales even if I didn’t have a vintage shop. However, I can’t justify accumulating so much stuff in my own home. My … Read more