Memory lane: Why antique giftware can hold its own in the retail market

October 5, 2018

By Sonja Sanders

All photos courtesy Jewellery by Sanders[1]
All photos courtesy Jewellery by Sanders

Many jewellers welcome estate items from clients who are looking to not only liquidate or consign, but also consult with them on other items of interest. Often, retailers find selling smaller, manageable non-jewellery items in their stores to be a successful stream of income, as popular television shows have glamourized the market for pre-owned items. Brick-and-mortar businesses can leverage the current interest in the sale of estate items to help bring a new type of traffic into a store and compete with Internet shopping.

When times are tough in the retail sector, one should be aware the public has items to sell. (Also, many jewellers and appraisers see so many vintage items anyway that some acquire a curiosity and passion for antiques and items of interest.)

Further, many appraisers are meeting clients who are handling family estate items and looking for contacts to sell to. If you are looking for opportunities to expand into estate items or to collect, then the potential exists for a new wave of clients to connect with your store. However, it is important to know where to look for these items.


Weekend collectibles markets are growing stronger within communities both small and large, and even attract tourists in search of fascinating items. Websites—especially eBay—also sell collectibles, with the most popular focusing on specific manufacturers, design, and rarity. (Popular categories include Waterford, Baccarat, Coca Cola, Hot Wheels, and Harley Davidson.)

Vintage watches are often sought after, and there are many avenues for seekers to look down. Several clients have told me they love buying these classic watches (such as Rolex, Cartier, Piaget, and Omega) from Florida specialty dealers or when visiting Great Britain. A directory listing antique shows across Canada and their dates is also available online[2]. In the Toronto area, for example, one popular option is Heritage Antique Shows, which takes place at Centrepoint Mall.

Antique stores, vintage clothing stores, and gift shops usually stock vintage items. During warmer months, outdoor antique and estate fairs often pop up, and it is possible to visit weekend markets where collectibles are a specialty throughout the year.

Which items spark strong interest?

Selling manageable non-jewellery items can be a great way to boost your income.[3]
Selling manageable non-jewellery items can be a great way to boost your income.

Popular items across vintage markets include vinyl records and extended plays (EPs); collectors of these items look for original covers and, of course, big names like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Original movie posters from any genre are also seen in stores, markets, and fairs. The key to these is simple: the more popular the film and the better the poster’s condition, the more valuable it is. Sewing enthusiasts look for vintage thimbles, decorators pick up early pen-and-ink desk sets, and Christmas lovers have a ball with selections of antique ornaments, tree stands, Victorian-style greeting cards, and sheet music.

Recently, I spoke with Sharon Beaudry-Sanders, a weekend vendor at a market in Ontario’s Durham Region who buys from sources such as estate sales and people who are downsizing. She remarked on how steady business is and on how estate items and oddities that appeal to people looking for the unique, different shapes, and standout colours are doing well. Indeed, the trend to revert to mementos and sentimental items remains strong. She is now branching out and is involved in auction sales during the week, thanks once again to television shows making collectibles so popular.

Early toys in good condition are attracting many collectors, and English brand-named old china patterns also sell well. Victorian items are also popular—a trend Beaudry-Sanders believes is gaining ground because many people are having themed tea parties. Sometimes these events draw massive crowds, and not just small groups of people. Many people are also looking for any vintage item reflecting this period, as decor and unique gift items are popular for themed bridal showers. A few years ago, 1920s-themed items were all the rage, given the rise in popularity of The Great Gatsby.

Vendors and giftware sellers are always in search of silver or silver-plated cutlery patterns, china plates and tea sets, crystal dishes, traditional serving items, gloves, purses, and more for their businesses.

Steampunk enthusiasts are dedicated vintage collectors. They will wear beautiful traditional clothing, jewellery, headgear, and goggles, and they collect brass items. If a retailer can concentrate on these interests, too, it’s an added bonus—my own steampunk-happy cousin wore a huge smile as he carried a brass and copper purchase away from a recent estate buy.

Among the smaller antique items that sell well are barbershop wares such as straight razors, eyeglasses—especially the simple wire outline—and magic items such as cards and prints. Are you a child at heart, too? Many board games from my youth are available at markets in their original boxes. We can still enjoy a game or two on the original foldout Monopoly board with the familiar white-metal playing tokens, while our children play the same game with electronic banking cards.

Not all sellers have room for larger items that draw constant interest, such as jukeboxes, pinball machines, and vending machines. However, if you have the space, there’s definitely a buyer searching for that perfect Coca Cola fridge to show off on his or her deck at a barbecue.

Looking for functional items

Are there many retail stores left that actually sell linen? If so, I am sure it’s quite expensive. On the other hand, vintage linen—as plain or fancy as your customer could ever want—can be found at great prices. Since the linens are ‘gently loved,’ they can be more affordable than their brand-new counterparts. Decades ago, people overbought linens of varying styles, then liquidated them as estates were settled. As sellers are seeing a renewed interest in linens, prices are lower because the retailers who once gave up space to sell these items remember being stung when the interest in them dropped so drastically.

Victorian lace, hand-stitched crocheted doilies, or long white linen tablecloths for the family Thanksgiving table can be found at Victorian specialty shops, vintage linen websites, or at flea markets with dealers who appreciate handmade articles.

Other popular functional items include magnifying glasses and binoculars. Decorative door knockers are also top sellers. If you want to have cooking ware as part of your store offerings, there are great collections of cookbooks, scales, and measuring tools available.

I never tire of beautiful brass decorative lamps, especially Tiffany style. Made of metal or ceramic and large, small, fancy, or linear in design, these lamps are hidden out there in the estate markets and ready to buy and put on display. They’re guaranteed to make a room feel warm and cozy again.

If a jewellery store expands its interest beyond purchasing and selling estate/antique jewellery, it may invest in smaller, easily displayed vintage non-jewellery items, actual antiques, sculptures, and carvings. Large items take up valuable space for a retailer and are better suited to estate dealers and market locations.

Interest in the past

For every step forward, we seem to look back at the steps we have taken to get here. We have a fond interest in the items of the past. Over the last 10 years, our world has made rapid advances, so simpler machines and items from decades ago are viewed as unique now and seem to stand out to us more than ever.

Quite often, I’ll be walking through jewellery stores, shops, and markets in search of estate giftware and items of interest, and I will hear someone say, “Remember that? I haven’t seen one in so long.” It’s easy to look back in time at the items that once made life seem simpler and have a nostalgic appreciation. Is it any wonder they have attracted our interest once again?

Being an appraiser and enjoying antiques on a personal level, I am able to see many different dealers drop into our location and I have the chance to see the variety of items they buy and sell. As far as adding collectibles to my store, I stick with antique and estate jewellery, watches, and collectibles that are made of precious metals and are not too large.

Along with my family, I put a lot of time into research and being accurate in my information. We have two to three antique/estate sales each year and the items we photograph for our ads often sell before the sale begins. If you are interested in adding such vintage items to your jewellery store, I recommend you stick with what you know and don’t spread yourself too thin. We all need to take the time to enjoy doing business.

[4]Sonja Sanders grew up in a jewellery industry family, and learned goldsmithing and gem appreciation as a teenager. She now operates her family’s jewellery business with her husband Joe and two of their children—the store’s third generation. She is a master goldsmith, graduate gemmologist with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and teaches appraisal courses in Toronto. Sanders also enjoys her work on the Canadian Jewellers Association’s (CJA’s) board of directors as a chair involved with the accredited appraisal program and education. She is a lover of antiques and estate jewellery, and can be reached via e-mail at

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