Five Tips to Help You Score Big at Flea Markets and Garage Sales

Whether you’re the type of person who spends a sizable chunk of your expendable income at the record store, on jewelry, at the bookstore, at the comic book store, or on any other type of collectible, you might frequently find yourself on the prowl around town, on the lookout for items that you can add to your germinating collection. Flea markets, garage sales, yard sales, auctions – whatever you want to call it, they house something that you might want to get your hands on. From vintage records to cars once owned by a prominent mobster, there’s no telling to what you can find in these places.

Arrive Early

If you are the early bird, you will be rewarded with the choicest of worms. Aphorisms usually contain a grain of truth inside them, and this one is no different. If you are planning on raiding a flea market or a yard sale, then this is one of the golden rules. If you are especially eager, after following a lead for an advertised garage sale in your neighborhood, you can always pay a visit to the seller a day before the event. Keep in mind, though, that it’s always best to call ahead in these situations instead of dropping in unannounced.

A lot of deals at such events go down before the event actually commences, in backlots and parking lots. However, it is always entertaining to visit flea markets and yard sales at any time of the day. There’s always the off-chance that a real gem might get pulled out of a dusty box, as the sun is setting, or the dealer might have forgotten to unload something before the event. But more often than not, the good stuff is found under an unblemished and untouched stack of antique trinkets, early in the morning.

Equip Yourself

Consider equipping yourself with some instruments and tools that will help you on your treasure hunt. If you have a weakness for emerald jewelry, then it is a good idea to carry a loupe. Genuine emeralds will have several inclusions or elements inside them, which reveal themselves under the stern glare of a loupe. A loupe can also help you with silver. You can use it to spot the sterling mark which corroborates its authenticity. Similarly, carrying a few magnets with you can help you with the metal items. For instance, silver is not magnetic

Your phone flashlight can assist you in seeing those pesky distinguishing indicators better, as well as for seeing the finer details when in indoor shows where the lighting is poor. You can use your phone to send photos to someone who is better equipped to appraise certain items, too. You can also Google additional information about the item, like knowing the latest prices on websites like eBay or Reverb, or take a photo to inspect later on. Also useful is a writing pad, with which you can jot down bullet points about the object, the starting price, the booth number, or the seller’s name

Look For Authentic Aging

A popular trope in the show Pawn Stars goes that if an object has a nice patina on it, chances are that it has been urinated on. Gross, but it’s true. If you come across any objects and their sellers proudly displaying the patina for all to see, you should pull out your loupe or a magnifying glass and closely inspect the said object. Credible signs of age should be deep-seated. If you are able to dislodge “years” of dirt, rust, or patina, then something is not right. 

Common objects that fall prey to this could be military paraphernalia, playing cards, firearms, statues, and jewelry. Rusty nails should bleed into the wood, scratches should be dull and discolored. If you suspect that the object that you purchased from a seller is, in fact, a reproduction, then you should calmly approach the seller and explain to him why you think that the item or items are reproductions and point out the telltale signs. In most cases, they will corroborate it with an independent source, and make a decision. If they become hostile, it’s best to back off or contact the authorities.

Talk to People

While shopping, the best person you can have on your side is a dealer that you trust. And the best way to find such a person is to talk to people attending these events. They are passionate people, the dealers who deal in antiquities and memorabilia. And in most of the cases, they are willing teachers who are not averse to parting with some of the knowledge that they have acquired over years of coming to these events. So don’t be shy, approach these connoisseurs, even if you are not purchasing anything from them. 

They will infect you with their enthusiasm and guide you to find the best from the items on offer. This also helps promote a positive culture which can help dispel the general assumption that flea markets and antique fairs are esoteric and niche. Once you get hold of a dealer who seems to know their stuff and is trustworthy, stick with them. This person can also be on the watch for items that you might like or add to your collection.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal

Your senses are your greatest assets, as there are actually other ways to authenticate an object rather than by just looking at it. If you’re purchasing pottery or glassware, softly tapping the item against and putting it against your ear can help reveal cracks and damage that is invisible to the naked eye. Resonant frequencies travel along the cracks and come out as “pings” that can sound off. For wood, you can use your nose to ascertain if the aging is authentic or not. If the wood has been smoked recently, then you will be able to detect its smell. 

For synthetic materials like Bakelite, rub your fingers lightly on the material and smell it. If it smells oily, then it is real. Newer plastics don’t release fragrant oil when lightly warmed by touch. In the end, though, it is always advisable to choose quality over quantity and buy fewer but better products. You will appreciate those few items more than a throng of useless items collecting dust as a result of making impulse purchases. 

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