Thrifty Treasure Hunting with Friends

I love a bargain. I love it even more if it is something I covet and I happen to covet cast iron skillets in most all forms. I also love a variety of vintage and antique items ranging from funky industrial molds and one of a kind architectural salvage to fine china vanity sets and depression era green glass. I love them all. Luridly colored glass vases and bowls from the 1960s, love them. Delicate Chinese patterned covered containers, love it too. So, this is one of the perks of frugal living, I can occasionally indulge my love of certain things vintage and even antique.


But I don’t go it alone. That would be obsession in my case and far too costly. I only treasure hunt with a close friend by my side. Jill C. is an expert on china and other treasures and keeps me from buying things with the random tiny chip or flaw, anything that she deems not worth the price. She sees it all where I only see pretty. She knows all the best vintage haunts and thrift stores, virtual holes in backwoods locations. She has patience too. She knows digging through junk and cast offs takes time and patience which is another reason why I never fly solo on my treasure hunting missions.

The first thing I do prior to embarking on another treasure hunt is set a budget. I pull out cash (because cash really talks in these situations) and then I meet up with my friend and we go treasure hunting for real. I normally don’t even have much of a shopping list, just a vague idea of what I want/need. As I said, I have a thing for cast iron skillets. This last excursion I went hunting for smaller skillets, the kind where you can serve up an individual pot pie or a small batch of sweet and savory corn bread or even a Dutch pancake. This time around, I hit pay dirt and found three of various sizes, all costing between $6 and $8. New ones are generally in the $25 to $30 range. One needed some de-rusting but that was a matter of white wine vinegar and a bit of soaking. I also found a couple of items for my fairy garden, most notably an adorable baby hippo sculpture made of metal whom I instantly christened Wilbur. He now has a place of honor in my fairy garden and I now have a whopper of a story to tell my grandbabies about how some wayward fairy found him wandering alone around Africa and brought him to my garden to give him a forever home. They are still young so they tend to buy my tales.

This past trip, my friend brought me over to her oldest friend’s house for a nice visit. They are both named Jill so Jill C is my friend and Jill L is her friend. Anyway Jill L is a devoted collector of fine china and her entire home is decorated with, walls and walls, built-ins upon built-ins of amazing china. So delicate and colorful, so pretty and refined. I was dazzled and not only because I could never stage a home literally chock full of living art. I learned a lot from this pro. First, there is something actually called shelf wear on china so Jill L. recommends using plain old cheap coffee filters to buffer and protect each plate stacked in storage. Very useful. Jill L. also was able to explain me what the delicate china triangle shaped plate with the hook was. A cake server. Who knew? As Jill L.  explained, they used to make such useful things.

I agree whole heartedly which is why I now want a cake server just like it and a tiny covered butter dish and a fine bone china vanity set for my granddaughter. Treasures yet to be found. But I have the time and patience and a friend to advise me and keep me from impulse buying. Jill C. is also retired and on a budget herself so we keep each other honest. Our tips for treasure hunting follow:

  1. Set a budget and, as if you are going to a flea market or garage sale, carry cash. Even thrift stores may be wiling to negotiate.
  2. Stick to a short list of collectables, things you truly love. Don’t be seduced by some vintage trinket that is not part of your collection or is not something you don’t routinely hunt for. Stay focused. You are on a limited budget, after all.
  3.  Develop expertise on a few key items or within a single collectible category. My friends are experts on vintage china, bar none. They have a wealth of knowledge, to say nothing of impressive collections. They can also spot a fake or remake a mile off.
  4. What you love to collect doesn’t necessarily have to be a collectible in the sense that it is something that sits on a shelf to be displayed. My modest collection of cast iron skillets are used every single day.
  5. Map out your regular haunts and hit those first. We have a list of favorite consignment shops and thrift stores that we patronize on a regular basis because we know the merchandise changes frequently and there are deals to be had.
  6. Don’t be afraid to venture outside of your normal haunts. My friends recently found a new shop in the next town over that has become one of our absolutely favorites. It is worth the extra 15 minute drive.
  7. Think outside of the box. Antique shops and consignment stores are, by far, more expensive than plain old thrift stores. The best bargains I have found on depression era green glass just happen to be at a thrift store I almost didn’t stop at because I was in Virginia visiting my boyfriend and had limited time that day. Still, I had a few spare moments and decided to check it out with fabulous results. The depression era green glasses I bought there cost a dollar each and I’ve seen them in antique stores for more than $15 each.
  8. Sign up for any newsletters or sale notices at your favorite haunts and make friends with the sales people. We used to frequent a barn type antique store (since closed, alas) and never minded flirting shamelessly with Ernie, the elderly man who ran the store for the owner. He gave us great deals. We miss you Ernie!
  9. Garage sales and estate sales are other options. We have never hit it huge at either of these but occasionally, we’ve picked up a treasure here and there.
  10. Sometimes you find something you can’t possibly pass up. And despite
    vintage-china-1956914_1920 my frugal nature, I say don’t. There is a parish thrift store that my friend and I never had any luck at until one fateful day, we ventured in (they are located near a deli that serves cold drinks and it was very hot outside) and my friend stood over a box of china, seemingly astonished as she pointed down at it and asked me in a whisper if the contents contained therein were actually my good china pattern. It was. My pricy ‘good’ Noritake china goes for about $100 a plate and is very hard to come by. The box had no less than 10 complete table settings in the box with a few extras besides. For $59. We were stunned and I snapped it right up. Clearly, this was not something I was on the hunt for or even thinking of buying but it literally doubled my good china settings and cost me about half of what a single plate would have cost.



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