Hello everyone - I was all prepared to start writing some "thrift tips" last night. However, thinking about it the last few days, I really feel like this series of posts shouldn't be limited to JUST the thriftstore. I really wanted to write about starting/running an online vintage business as well. Not that we're experts or anything, but I thought it would be fun to put some of the ideas out there in case anyone is interested.

But I do still want to talk about the thrifting angle. And I was thinking of making a habit of doing these posts on Tuesdays. At first, I considered calling it "Thrift Tip Tuesdays", but then it wouldn't make sense to talk about the vintage biz side. So - I think it's just going to be "Tuesday Tips" for now. I know - quite an original name, LOL.

Anyhow, I wanted to kick it off with a List. I've been thinking of doing this one for awhile. It's 10 things you may be missing at the thrift.

I know our fellow thriftpickers might be groaning at this: "Are you insane? Why'd you have to go and make this info public?" Well, I'm only going to give up TEN things to look for at thrift stores, that some people might miss. Truth be told, there are HUNDREDS of things we look for as thriftpickers. And I'm sure that other folks have hundreds of items they look for that we have no idea about.

The nice thing about thriftpicking is that it's a constantly evolving skill. You can keep learning about different items, companies, designers at your own pace. I used to pass by this stuff all the time (and still do). I found out it might be worth picking up from other nice vintage thrifter folks. So, I hope that this post might help out someone who's new to the game - like we once were.

1. Taylor & Ng Mugs

This is one of my fallback searches when all the housewares are "new" at a thrift. Taylor & Ng made a host of different items from the 60s all the way up till the 80s. We mostly look for mugs, but there are canisters, boxes and other items you might find. The thing is that the mugs often look "new", so they're passed over. However, some of them are highly collectible. You do have to be careful, because some of the mugs have been reproduced. But even those may be worth picking up.

2. Vera Neumann Textiles

I have to admit that I don't really look through clothes and stuff at the thrift. But I do usually check and see if there's any Vera Neumann scarves. They also have napkins, tea towels and tablecloths with the Vera name (not to be confused with Vera Wang please). They were made from the 50s all the way up until present day (Anthropologie and other stores sell some Vera Neumann things). We just picked up the Vera book actually, but have't had a chance to look through it. There's also a guide to dating Vera scarves on the official blog.

3. Heller Massimo Vignelli

Used to pass over the "plastics" section completely at thrift stores, thinking that they were all cheap modern housewares. Then I discovered the minimal plastic dinnerware made by Heller and designed by Massimo Vignelli. Looks very unassuming, but again fun to collect and there's so many different colors it was made in. Again, be careful of repros - they have near identical pieces that are made in Hong Kong or China. If it doesn't have some sort of Heller / Vignelli marking on bottom, I usually won't pick it up.

4. Couroc of Monterey

Couroc trays are almost always made out of a very hard, black phenolic resin. These trays were made in Monterey, CA from the 1940s up until the 1990s, and most feature some sort of inlay done by hand. While there are a good number of collectors as well as a Flickr group dedicated to Couroc, not as much is known about the company. I personally think it's currently flying under the radar - I know these trays were not cheap when they were sold. However, if you look for them at thrifts, try to get examples that don't have too many scratches and marks - you can afford to be picky since the trays aren't that rare yet. The trays were nearly always marked, either inmold or with a gold sticker.

5. Cathrineholm Enamel

OK, so the ship has probably sailed long ago on Norway's Cathrineholm. What with the Lotus pattern line being featured everywhere from Rachael Ray's shows to Martha Stewart Living Magazine and having tons of attention on Flickr. We were lucky to have found out about it a little earlier than the current collecting wave, so we've picked up a few examples.

However, I still meet people online all the time who've never heard of it. In addition, many Cathrineholm items are unmarked, or they're only marked on the lids. So, it's still possible to score one. Also, there are many other different designs by the company. While they're not as popular as Lotus, they're still worth picking up if you can find them.

6. Dorothy Thorpe Glassware

Dorothy Thorpe glassware has gotten insanely popular because of one thing - the Mad Men show. The round "roly-poly" whiskey glasses star prominently in nearly every episode - indeed, it's so iconic that it's even featured on the cover of the Season 3 DVD.

As a result, prices for it have skyrocketed through the roof. One thing to remember is that the most popular items are the silver band roly poly glasses - people want those because they're featured on the show. Another thing to remember is that Dorothy Thorpe did not actually make these glasses - she only decorated them. As a result, any number of companies made similar looking glasses using the same stock glass (the "silver-fade" ones are a good example of non-Thorpe). Other companies often did not use real silver for the silver band and it's often thinner in width (though, Thorpe also did make some using non-silver material).

All that said - people don't seem to care as much what's real and what's not. The best thing about these glasses: they're fairly easy to recognize at thrifts, and 90% of time completely unmarked!

7. Lane Acclaim

I'm always looking for midcentury style furniture at the thrift, but rarely come across anything worth taking home. In general, I guess that's a good thing since we don't (yet) sell furniture in the shop and we have NO space at home. Still, if there's any Lane Acclaim furniture for sale, I usually take a look to see if we can fit it in somehow. These dovetailed pieces of furniture (actually, fake dovetails made out of an oak veneer) are pretty popular with the midcentury crowd but still turn up. Most often, we see 'em with damage like the one shown above. However, I've been meaning to take on a restoring project one of these days, especially if we can find a long coffee table. Here's somewhat of a guide for Lane Acclaim.

8. Eva Zeisel Dinnerware

Eva Zeisel is an amazing designer, and even more amazing is that she's still involved in the design process over the age of 100! I won't get into the whole history thing here (there's books on her worth reading - she had a very interesting life alongside her design prowess), but I'll just mention two of the lines. The first is Town and Country from Red Wing and the second is Hallcraft Century and Tomorrow's Classic. We always keep an eye out for these, heck, ANYTHING by Eva Zeisel, at thrifts. But we come across these lines the most.

Hallcraft is actually marked most of the time, but some people might think it's new (interestingly, Crate and Barrel re-released some of her work as "Classic Century"). You might be able to score some - remember that there are quite a few different patterns on it as well besides plain white. Town and Country is a bit tougher since most pieces aren't marked as far as I know. However, that same fact might enable you to score some if you keep an eye out for it.

9. Iittala Glass

We have a huge bias for Scandinavian items here on A La Modern. I could've probably filled this list entirely with items from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. However, I picked Finland's IIttala to feature here because there's such a good chance of coming across their glassware at thrifts, sometimes in the original box.

Iittala's also still in business (website is here, believe they are currently under the Fiskars umbrella of brands?), so a lot of items you might find are newer. I still pick them up, as long as they aren't that damaged. The variety of items, number of great designers and relatively obscure name makes the company a top search for me at thrifts. Keep in mind that many items will have no markings, except for the little red Iittala sticker that often comes off.

10. Russel Wright

I'm going to end this list with one of our favorites - Russel Wright. But I'm going to leave it up to you to do the research on him if you don't know anything about this famous designer. Chances are that you've already come across him on your own if you do a good amount of thrifting.


OK, hope everyone enjoyed this tips post. I'd be curious to hear if anyone has favorites of their own that they look for at the thrift store. Of course, I'm not saying you have to spill all your thrift secrets! But I'd like to hear about them if you're willing to share.

The next Tuesday Tips will probably dive into the whole starting up a vintage business thing. Not sure if I'll be able to get these type of posts every Tuesday, but will give it a shot.

  1. Scott Lindberg Says:

    Oh, you’re killing me! ;-)

  2. D R E W Says:

    what a great post! i still am waiting for the day i score some cathrinholm pieces.

  3. Hilary Eklund Says:

    Nice post Bryan, and I look forward to your Tuesday series.
    You hit some excellent notes of things to look for. (now please do not add to this list – haha) The Zeisel and Iittala are great additions to the more well-known Vera and RW.
    There is an amazing amount of interest in cathrineholm enamelware. I still get more google search hits on my blog from that than any other one thing, from posts I wrote in Jan. 2009!
    Best – Hilary

  4. Susan-LiseVintageLighting Says:

    Love where you are headed with your posts on Tuesdays. Though I am generally looking for lamps/shades/lamp parts when I hit the thrifts, I am always on the lookout for gift ideas for my collector friends and family! If I happened upon any Catherineholm, however, it might have to stay with me..!

  5. A La Modern Says:

    @scott – Hehe… well at least I didn’t go into too much depth about Russel Wright? =) Seriously, I’ve been thinking of writing this post for months. Hesitated for so long but then I realized, man, no one person can be at every thrift store every minute of the day. And I just felt like writing something controversial LOL.

    @drew – I think the last time we found Cathrineholm at a thrift was a half year ago!

    @hilary – Probably won’t have another post w/ more things to look for =) But, you’re right about the Cathrineholm – wish we had written up a post on it when we first started collecting. I’m sort of used to keeping things “close to the vest” in general, but we decided to be more open w/ A La Modern.

    @susan – I’m really a newbie when it comes to lamps, but I’ve definitely started looking for them. Problem we usually run into at thrifts is condition is less than stellar. I dunno about refurbishing them, maybe I should look into that more.

  6. Scott Lindberg Says:

    I was really just joking, Bryan. Mostly ;-)

    Actually, lots of the items you talk about have become significantly harder to find in thrift shops over the past several years (the “Mad Men Effect”?). Catherineholm is probably the prime example. I used to see it on a weekly basis. Ever since Rachel Ray started using it on her TV show, though, I’m lucky to see a decent piece every year or two.

  7. A La Modern Says:

    Yeah, I agree: the Mad Men effect, the Martha effect, the Rachael Ray effect, and I guess now the Pawn Shop/Thrifting Reality TV effect. This goes back to that convo we had about Antiques Roadshow telling people to go to the thriftstore to look for midcentury modern items. We’re like, what the hell? But at the same time, I guess it’s to be expected.

    I was probably even more agitated about it than anyone else. But I realized – I’m not going to fight it. I’m going to join it, even enable it. I’d rather be at the forefront with giving out information about what to look for at thrifts on this blog, so more people come and visit. Sort of a weird way to think about it, but I guess we’ll see!

  8. Van Says:

    Bryan: Thanks for sharing these trade secrets with us mod beginners. I don’t know many mod designer’s names by heart, so information like this is helpful and fascinating.

    I thrift to find household necessities I stubbornly refuse to buy at retail price and to hunt for those odd bits my eclectic soul can’t resist.

    Looking forward to more Tuesday Tips!

  9. Nicole Says:

    Bryan – This is gorgeous! I run a blog called Thrift Store Confidential, and my boyfriend is a mid-century nut who seldom sets foot in them. I get heat at times from die-hard thrifters who don’t want the secret to get out, but at the same time, it’s kind of all for the greater good. Kudos, and looking forward to Tuesday Tips, which I will faithfully retweet!

  10. monogirl Says:

    Thanks for all the great info. Tell us more!
    You know I bet those props folks at Mad Men kick themselves every time they have to buy replacement glasses now! :)

  11. Alyssa Says:

    Thanks for the list. There’s so much out there, and I’m always interested in hearing more about the actual items people find.

    You know, I really do think the balance of thrift items is somewhat different depending on where we live. Scandinavian things are very thin on the ground here. (hah! maybe if I say this, I’ll luck out with a hidden cache at a local thrift shop.)

    Looking forward to your Tuesday Tips!

  12. A La Modern Says:

    @van – it’s been a long road figuring out these designers, I almost feel it was like going back to school LOL. More like a never-ending school class, there are always new designers and companies to learn about!

    @nicole – hehe, you need to get the BF into the thriftstore. If he starts finding midcentury stuff, I’m sure he’ll get hooked!

    @monogirl – funny you mention the Mad Men prop folks, I believe they shop at the same thrift stores that we do occasionally – the Salvation Armys in Pasadena, CA.

    @alyssa – I think that’s true – we find quite a lot of California pottery (like Heath and Bauer) but I don’t find stuff from Glidden, Hyalyn, Martz, etc. very often because it’s more midwest/east. Scandi stuff, I love it, but also not as common too.

  13. Jane Says:

    I think that the best advice you’ve given is to keep your your eyes open, be willing to do your research and be open to looking at different ” stuff”. I know I’ve learned an enormous amount over the past few months and I really owe a lot to your Flickr pages and your websites.

    Not everything you find is available here – although I’m sometimes surprised what does pop up. Sometimes it’s so disheartening. You find such wonderful things – yes! I do realize that this is VERY hard work – the stuff doesn’t jump into your cart!!!! I know that your wonderful photos of lovely pieces probably represents lots of time driving and hours in stores, searching through greasy, grimy junk.

    Love your blog and the new direction is awesome – thanks1

  14. Happyflowerhead Says:

    Thanks for the fun and edifying post. I have mixed feelings about sharing this kind of information myself, but mostly I think it’s harmless. It takes time and effort to learn what to look for – there is no replacement for that effort, even great advice!
    I’d add other quality plastics, such as Rosti, to the list. They are beautifully designed, high quality, and somewhat available.
    I have been planning to open up shop so I am really looking forward to your next post.

  15. A La Modern Says:

    @jane – thanks, we’ve learned so much from other Flickr members too. A lot of thrifters and pickers have mentioned that it is definitely not easy, but sometimes it appears so – because we primarily post pics and blogposts when we DO find things. We never post a picture of an empty table when we DON’T find stuff. But maybe I should! =)

    @happyflowerhead – I’m looking forward to seeing your shop! You have some great finds and I’m sure you’ll do well. I agree w/ Rosti, that nearly made the 10 Things list.

  16. Jane Says:

    The sheer hard work can be a little overwhelming. I think most people who do this have a strong emotional attachment to this “stuff” and the process of “treasure hunting”….so when it doesn’t go so well it can be very depressing. I’ve had a couple of experiences this week where I’ve gone into thrifts to be greeted by overpriced garbage. It’s disheartening and I sometimes wonder if my plan to start selling will ever come to be. (Maybe just have a big yard sale in the Spring and call it a day!) Then I find something interesting and unexpected and away we go again.
    I also think that people have no idea of the research and prep work that goes into this. I struggle with taking pictures and that is so important to marketing vintage items, I think. I have spent weeks cataloguing and organizing. I work full-time at a stressful job and with the exhaustion I experience from that, sometimes there is nothing left.
    ….at the end of the day……..it’s still fun and that is what matters.

  17. Shara Says:

    Thank you for doing this– I’m so looking forward to every Tuesday’s new post! I spent quite a bit of time in thrift stores this past weekend & heard people talking “Mad Men” at each stop–made me laugh.