Don’t throw that out!
You knew vintage toys could be valuable…but empty toy boxes? And you can probably guess that rare posters of famous rock bands can be valuable.
Take care the next time you clean out your attic or scan the dollar table at a flea market—some objects that seem like junk actually can be worth hundreds of dollars.
If you find one of the following items, enter its description into eBay.com or a search engine to see whether other people have sold similar things online and how much they fetched. It might be worth posting your item on eBay, too, or perhaps selling it to a local antiques store or through a consignment shop or flea market.
Empty boxes from collectible items. Collectibles often are worth more if they’re in their original boxes. That’s good news if all you have is a box—someone who has only the collectible might buy your box to put the two together. Boxes from collectible toys tend to be especially desirable.
Also: Empty Tiffany jewelry boxes can be worth anywhere from a few dollars to $50 or more depending on age and size—people have been known to put jewelry not purchased at this prestigious store in Tiffany boxes to make gifts seem more impressive. Any vintage box can have value if its graphics are very attractive—even if the item itself is not tremendously valuable. The box can be displayed as art.
Warning: If you sell the empty box from a particular product on eBay, include the phrase “empty box” or “box only” very prominently in the item description. Otherwise a buyer might think that the product is in the box and feel scammed when only an empty box arrives.
Posters from unknown psychedelic rock bands. It’s no secret that rare posters from famous rock acts of the 1950s and 1960s can sell for thousands of dollars and are still going up in price. But vintage posters from virtually forgotten bands can be valuable, too—if these posters have attractive psychedelic graphics. Buyers are drawn to these as artwork and mementos of the 1960s, not necessarily for the bands. Prices can range from less than $50 to more than $1,000 depending on the condition and quality of the artwork. Any psychedelic poster, especially glow-in-the-dark designs, sell in the hundreds. Obscure bands didn’t usually sell posters in the 1960s, but they often stapled advertising posters to walls to promote upcoming performances. Some music fans took these promotional posters home.
Old electric fans—even rusty, broken ones. Electric fans from before World War II often are worth $50 to $100 or more if they’re in good working order. Perhaps more surprisingly, even vintage fans that are broken and beaten up have gone up in value to hundreds of dollars for rare, old examples that can be repaired. Fans of fans buy these because they enjoy restoring them. Electric fans that have brass blades are especially desirable.
Old fountain pens. It’s not news that high-end vintage pens, such as those made by famed penmaker Montblanc, can sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. But most people do not realize that relatively common fountain pens can be worth decent money, too—often $40 to $100. Even badly damaged fountain pens can have significant value if they feature solid gold or silver components.
Example: The Parker 51 was sold in huge numbers for many decades. It’s among the most common fountain pens—the sort of pen high school students often received as graduation presents in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet Parker 51s can be worth anywhere from $40 to more than $500 depending on the specific model. Models from the 1940s featuring solid 14-karat gold caps can bring $750 or more.
Tiny tins. Very small consumer products such as phonograph needles, spices (now usually packed in cardboard boxes or bottles), pills and condoms were sometimes sold in miniature tin boxes in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Some of these tiny tins were barely big enough to hold a quarter. These undersized tin boxes have become very collectible— particularly those that have attractive graphics.
Example: A tiny phonograph needle tin from the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company featuring a picture of a dog listening to an old-fashioned record player recently brought $177.50 on eBay.
Colorful graniteware kitchen items. Graniteware is a type of enameled tin or iron that has been on the market since the 1870s without attracting a lot of attention. Most graniteware is an unexciting white or gray color. It is most closely associated with bedpans—an item wanted by collectors of medical devices. Yet in the past few years, the collecting market for certain graniteware kitchen items has gone through the roof. Graniteware in rare colors and patterns is desired by collectors—red, green, turquoise or patterns such as “checkerboard” or “chicken wire.”
Example: A coffee boiler with a chicken-wire pattern was priced at $900 at a graniteware convention.
Griswold cast-iron cookware. Old cast-iron toys and doorstops aren’t the only cast-iron collectibles. Old cast-iron cookware can be valuable, too. The cookware made by Griswold Manufacturing of Erie, Pennsylvania, is particularly desirable. Even a standard-sized Griswold pan from the 1940s can be worth $100 to $200 in good condition, and older and more obscure Griswold cast-iron products can be worth even more. The pans are sometimes featured at flea, some still with the desired seasoning from use.
Example: A Griswold Erie Spider 8 Skillet with a Griswold Large Slant Logo that dates the piece to the 19th century sold for $872 on eBay.
Helpful: Enter the words “Griswold” and “cast iron” into a search engine to find websites that can help you date Griswold items based on their markings. Some Griswold items are marked “Erie,” rather than “Griswold.”
However, the Griswold name was sold to a different cookware maker after Griswold went out of business in the late 1950s, and “Griswold” items that were not actually made by Griswold might not be especially valuable. There are counterfeit old Griswold products on the market today, too. These fakes can be hard to spot, so don’t pay a lot for a Griswold item unless you are confident that you can trust the person selling it.
Men’s vintage high-end suits and jackets. There has long been a resale market for used women’s clothing. A robust market has developed for certain used men’s clothing as well—though generally only garments of extremely high quality. Used suits and jackets from prestigious Italian designers such as Brioni or Zegna…and used suits custom-made by Savile Row tailors can bring $500 to $1,000 or more.
Vintage clothing generally will fetch the best price not online but at a high-end clothing consignment shop in a fashion-conscious city such as New York. People like to try on clothes before they purchase them. Put “consignment shops” and the city name in a search engine, then contact the shop to see if it is interested in the clothing you have.
Men’s vintage Hawaiian printed sport shirts with the original coconut buttons sell for hundreds of dollars, a little more than the recent copies. And men’s precious metal cuff links are back in style, selling for thousands of dollars if made by an important maker, are made of solid gold, have three dimensional figures or are set with precious gems. Be sure you have the shirts with two buttonholes in each cuff that you need to wear them.
More Popular Collectibles
The most unexpected finds today are vintage or even barely used women’s handbags, by name designers including Hermes, Dior, Gucci, Judith Leiber and Chanel, selling used for thousands of dollars, or the slightly less expensive used Nantucket baskets, Whiting & Davis, Coach or Vera Bradley. Also wanted are Lucite bags and Enid Collins box bags, but they must have the original labels.
Another recent collectible is Pyrex kitchen bowls and dishes. They are collected by pattern, and some rare patterns sell for hundreds of dollars. Old milk bottles from the 1940s with patriotic slogans (watch out for fakes), tie-dyed clothing and denim that can be remade with patchwork or embroidered appliqués and of course very old blue jeans are popular now as well.
In 2018, the first video games made news. An unopened 1985 Super Mario Brothers video game for a Nintendo system sold for a record price of $100,150. That started the collectors looking for other video games, and prices are unpredictable. Vinyl records with the right music in excellent condition including the sleeve also are attracting buyers. Of course, that means record players also are going up in price.
Mexican silver jewelry and costume jewelry made and marked by the best of the makers but not by factories are being seriously collected, and pieces can be found in the box lots at flea markets or house sales for low prices—sometimes even a quarter—or in major auctions for hundreds of dollars. Unmarked pieces are ignored.
The main features to affect the price are original condition and the fame of the maker.
The best change in the market since 2015 is “brown furniture,” which is once again attracting buyers. Reproductions of past styles by top makers in the 1950s now sell for an almost-new price, since 18th-century examples are scarce and new furniture is often made of plywood and plastic, not wood and metal. The one-drawer Sheraton bedside table that was not worth taking to a flea market is now on display there for $150 to $200 or more and sells out early in the day. There also is a demand for bookcases and chests of drawers in old styles.