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Where To Find and Buy Vintage Jewelry

I get asked fairly frequently where I get my vintage costume jewelry. Below is a list of the different sources I use to obtain jewelry. I’ve listed the sources in descending order based on my personal success in finding quality jewelry there.

1. My Contacts — over the years I have cultivated different people who I’ve met while conducting business. These people know that I am always looking to purchase jewelry. I contact these people every couple of months to see if they anything to sell me. Most often, these “pickers” are my best and most reliable source for jewelry. These pickers are often out in the market doing the same thing I’m doing…working their own contacts, attending sales and auctions and garage sales.

2. Auctions — I read the auction section of my local classifieds each week and also check a website named Both of these sources advertise local auctions in my area each week. I only attend auctions which advertise a decent amount and quality of jewelry. I like because sometimes photos are posted that allow me to preview the auction. I have a pet peeve about auction listings, though….if an auctioneer is going to feature jewelry as one of the main highlights of an auction then he/she should PLEASE post some photos!

3. Local Jewelers — Sometimes local jewelers (I’m talking about independently owned jewelry stores, not mall stores or chains) come across vintage costume jewelry in the course of doing business. I’ve fostered relationships with a few local jewelers who do not consider me to be competition and are happy to sell me costume jewelry in bulk. I try to reciprocate by telling everyone I know how wonderful these jewelers are. I respect these guys and have confidence in their honesty and am happy to refer potential business their way.

4. Pawn Shops — I’ve visited local pawn shops and have found very good deals in the past. Again, pawn shops sometimes end up with vintage costume jewelry in the course of doing business. The only way to find which particular shops do deal in this type jewelry is to go in and ask.

5. Scrap dealers (AKA Jewelers and Coin Dealers) — Some jeweler and coin dealers will be happy to let you pick through the scrap jewelry that they originally intended to sell at scrap value. Lots of jewelry is scrapped when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it other than scrap value has, at times, exceeded the value of the jewelry itself (but jewelers don’t know costume jewelery and will scrap a real treasure). Don’t be embarrassed to go into a store and ask if they are willing to sell you scrap jewelry. The worst thing that they can say is “no”.

6. Antique Stores/ Antique Malls — I do walk through antique stores in the hopes of finding unidentified or underpriced “treasures”. This technique takes a lot of patience since it’s typical that once something is being merchandised in a store that there’s not too much profit margin there for me. But if I have time to kill and really need jewelry, I will visit stores in my area. I have found some wonderful things over the years.

7. Craigslist — I look at Craigslist every day and most of the jewelry there is not what I’m looking for. Every once in a while, though, I’ve been successful in contacting a seller and making a good deal.

8. Goodwill — Not usually a good place in my experience but I still visit periodically. Usually low end items are there.

9. Garage Sales — I don’t attend too many because I’m not interested in getting up at the crack of dawn and fighting other people for jewelry. I haven’t found too much good jewelry at garage sales. But when I do attend a garage sale, I ask the seller if they have any additional jewelry. Surprisingly, the answer is sometimes “yes” and then they bring out the jewelry still in the house.

10. Estate Sales — I went through a spell where I attended these for a while. However, estate sales often require you to get there and line up to get a number hours before the sale starts — only to get into the house and see that there’s nothing there. It can be a crap shoot but is an option.

11. Online auction sites — there are sites that conduct auctions in real time online. I’ve had some excellent but spotty results at these auctions. Read the terms of the auctions closely so that you are aware of shipping costs and additional charges.

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I Hit The Jackpot Buying Storage Unit Contents…NOT!!!

I’ve heard over the years that buying the contents of storage units can yield unexpected treasures. There are urban legends of people who find diamond rings inside boxes of junk.

A while back there was an auction of the contents of abandoned storage units near me so I decided to check it out. It was a cold winter’s day. Auction-goers milled around, sipped hot coffee and slapped their hands together to stay warm. At 10am sharp, the auctioneer emerged from a warm hut and handed out a list of the unit numbers to be auctioned. We were not allowed to preview the contents of the units or inspect anything prior to the sale. We literally followed the auctioneer from unit to unit…he’d pull up the door….we’d peer inside and the auction would begin.

The first sale was of a large unit full of mechanic’s equipment and tools. I’m not a tool girl myself so I watched the proceedings. The crowd mumbled that it was a good unit with a lot of “money in those tools”. A man won the unit’s contents for a few hundred dollars and he seemed happy.

We proceeded to the next unit. The auctioneers slid up the door and showed a space packed from floor to ceiling with neatly marked moving boxes. Boxes were fitted in the space like puzzle pieces. Well, in my head, if anyone took such time and care to pack the unit so well, there must be something worth saving in there. I won the contents for $250.00.

The crowd strolled away and left me staring at my new belongings. I opened one box. A dirty “pleather” coat. I opened another box. A greasy George Foreman grill. Another box. Fifteen-year-old tax returns. Squelching my rising panic, I wondered how I was going to dispose of this mountain of junk. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that buyers had to have everything gone by day’s end and weren’t allowed to use the dumpsters on the property. And, I’d come to the auction in a small convertible. (Great planning on my part, huh?)

An “angel” showed up to help me…. This little old guy, wearing an army coat and a ratty hat, wandered up and asked me if he could have a box of stuffed animals. I said, “Do you want this, and this, and this?” He took 90% of the storage unit’s contents off my hands. We spent hours sorting and loading boxes in his old van. He saved me.

Would I buy the contents of a storage unit in the future? Heck, no!!! I sped away from there, feeling lucky that I got away as easily as I had….laughing at my own stupidity.