Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to Go Antiquing (A Survival Guide)


(Photo taken in Sugar Chest Antique Mall.  Pompano Beach, Florida)


Antiquing is one of my favorite hobbies.  I love searching for items for my MCM-themed home and rockabilly myself.  I am always on the hunt for mid-century wares whether it's online (Etsy.com) or in brick and mortar stores like the Sugar Chest Antique Mall.  My mother-in-law lives in Boca Raton, Florida and every time my husband and I visit, I make sure to spend one afternoon browsing the aisles in this huge place!  Navigating the vast rows of cases and shelves displaying antiques from various eras can seem like a gargantuan task.  If I do not have a plan or even know what I am looking for, I get sensory overload.  In many antique malls, you can find stacks of vintage postcards, political memorabilia, lamps, furniture, china, costume jewelry, fine jewelry, statuary, clothing, prints, paintings, ceramics, electronics, chandeliers, pianos, and Barbie dolls.  Let me tell you, there have been times I have left stores empty-handed simply because I was overwhelmed.

There are a few factors that can contribute to what I call, "antique meltdown."  Here are some circumstances that can lead to a lackluster antiquing experience:

1. Lots of cases in one storefront.  Many antique malls are a large, single space with several square footage.  The owner of the mall rents out sections of his floor space and/or cases to various dealers/sellers.  The individual seller (renter) pays the owner rent and the owner also gets a percentage of each seller's sales.  There is typically many sellers in one storefront.  Navigating/browsing from case to case can be a challenge.

2. Poor organization of displays.  Some, but not all, antique malls have so many cases and displays in one space so they are almost smooshed together.  "Clutter" would be the key issue here. Not to worry, I will help you figure it out.

3. Treasures galore and "what on earth is that?!   This is not usually a problem but expect to see a lot of weird and funky wares amongst vintage treasure.  This can be a fun aspect of your shopping experience and yet it can add to your frustration.  Again, I will share my secrets to finding that lucite dream in the pile of velour sweaters.

Here are some fun pictures depicting a few of the wild things I have found while antiquing:

So, how does a gal figure it out?  How can an afternoon sifting through the immense layers of vintage history and mystery lead to shopping nirvana?  Here are my tried and true methods.  After years of trial and error in the aisles, I promise these suggestions will help!

1. Go with a plan.  Have a basic idea of what you are looking for.  Need a table for your MCM kitchen?  Looking for that gravy boat to match your dishes? Want a Sputnik light for the dining room?  Desiring a pair of ceramic cats for your shadow boxes? Pining for a carved bakelite bangle to add to your collection?  Before venturing out, make a list. You may not find EXACTLY what you are looking for but if you ask the staff, their renters/vendors may know.  Finding your dream piece can be as simple as a phone call or getting a business card.  Vintage through networking is a beautiful thing.
2. Ask the staff for help.  If you find yourself feeling the beginning twinges of "antiquing meltdown," stop.  Breathe.  Relax.  Ask for assistance.  The staff are very familiar with  the layout of the mall and they usually know where to find various items.  Just ask.  For example, the very first time I visited The Sugar Chest, I was in search of Bakelite bangles.  I am always collecting. I am an addict.  Nevertheless, I had been walking up and down the aisles peering into case after case.  I couldn't find any bakelite and I was like, "Forget it. I will wait until I go back to DC so I can just look on Etsy."  Then, like an angel, one of the amazing staff members appeared and she kindly and promptly took me over to this glorious case of color-blinding bakelite.  It was like I found my shrine. I ended up buying three pieces that day:
3. If you find funky wares, have fun!  Part of the allure of the antique mall is all the funny and wild stuff for sale.  I have seen nude male paintings, Leather Ken Barbie dolls, velour hats ala Dr. Seuss (see above), and tacky holiday sweaters.  Sure, you may encounter a beige,  1980s Members Only Jacket or a pair of cracked, unwearable shoes but just keep looking.

4. Be patient.  This is very important.  When it comes to antiquing, do not rush.  Get lunch before you go and make an afternoon out of it.  Enjoy the day browsing and taking it all in.  I was once at a flea market and I found a basket of various plastic and wood bangles.  Each bangle was listed as 6 dollars.  I almost passed it by because there were so many bracelets jammed in that basket.  But I decided to patiently sort through the bangles and lo and behold, I found an orange prystal bakelite spacer.  I quickly (and sneakily) did a friction test and yes, it was the real deal.  I nearly missed out on scoring bakelite for 6 bucks.  See? PATIENCE.

5. Ask about that price tag.  Sometimes you may find something you have been looking for but the price is insane.  I once saw a simple red bakelite bangle listed for $110.  It was about 1/2 thick, smooth, and had no special carvings.  Yep. Way too high for a bangle like that.  I kept on going.  If your gut is telling you a price is too high, go on instinct.  Do not buy if you think you can get a better deal somewhere else.  Remember, patience.  If you wait and stick to your budget, you will find your treasure.  However, you may encounter a situation where the staff is willing to negotiate a better deal or try to get you 10-20% off.  They will offer to call the vendor and ask for a lower price.  This is especially true if the item in question has been on display a long time and thus, hasn't sold. 

So, those are my tips for surviving the antique mall!  What are your methods?


  1. These are great tips.

    I've had horrible experiences in the Reno Antique Mall. They treat you like you're there to rob them and all constantly hovering (in a bad way). I' even had the unfortunate experience of hearing the manager demean and verbally abuse one of their sellers. That was the last time I shopped there.

    1. That is awful!! I would have never gone back either.

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