A Holy Trinity of Bargains

A Holy Trinity of Bargains

Vignette of antiques including a worn chalkware statue of the Madonna, a sacred heart watercolor painting, a Schiaparelli perfume bottle in the shape of a woman's lower half, and wax millinery flowers.


Lately, kindred spirit Rebecca (Find her on IG @harlots_and_trinkets) has been talking about her collection & offering transparency about what things actually cost. Not that this is necessary or obligatory- but as a working class person, I’m keenly aware that success in the antiques world is greatly dependent on money. The more you “advance” as a collector, the higher the price tags get, and not everyone is a trust fund baby with the cash & connections to buy out museum collections or do private deals behind closed doors. I never had a lot of money to invest in collecting & I still don’t, but here is some little proof that you don’t have to be rich to have a collection that makes you really happy & that you are proud of. All you need is patience, a little luck, & a keen eye.

In my last blog post I named this exquisite sacred heart watercolor from the late 19th century as one of my favorite acquisitions of 2023. It’s one of the best ones I own, but I found it by chance in a booth full of contemporary junk for only $4. You can’t even get a latte for $4 anymore! Tip: Don’t judge a booth or a table at first glance. Take the time to look through stacks & piles of frames: The dealer priced this low just hoping to move what they thought was a worthless old frame. They gave no thought whatsoever to the beautiful artwork inside.

I always stop to look at perfume bottles, too. Sometimes I’m just looking for opportunities to buy old formulations of vintage fragrances I like (Dior’s Poison, for example) but I’m also always on the hunt for Schiaparelli. I really got lucky with this bottle of Zut! While her better known bottle for Shocking! (designed by Leonor Fini) is in the shape of a bust, Zut! is the female form from the waist down. Her skirt has fallen into a puddle at her ankles. This rare treasure only set me back $18. Again, the dealer just figured it was the same as all their other bottles & set a low, arbitrary price. Vintage Schiaparelli bottles are rarely less than $100.

The early 19th century chalkware figure of Mary has seen better days, it’s true. But I loved her: To me, it’s moving that she was kept even though she’s battered & worn. She must have meant something very special to the original owner, & at least several other people after that for it to reach my hands. I bought her at Brimfield, where she was sitting just above a $1,000 salesman sample invalid bed. Tip: Don’t presume that something is going to be out of your price range, even if you see lots of other things at that booth that are well outside said price range. You never know, & it never hurts to ask! Dealers often buy in bulk, from boxed lots to storage units to entire estates. We’re always left with extras we don’t really want because they’re not the right fit for our particular shop or customer base, & we’ll often price these things low to move them quickly. The dealers who sold me this statue only charged $25. They don’t deal in religious antiques & didn’t value her. Another dealer who specializes in this area might get a few hundred for her on a good day.

I just threw in the wax millinery flowers as an accent but I guess you could call them a bargain, too. $12 at a favorite multi-dealer shop in Maine. Final tip: Don’t presume things are going to be expensive if they’re in a locked case. Those kinds of shops are so big, they can be hard to monitor for loss prevention, even if the store can afford a decent sized staff to take customers’ finds up to the register. Many dealers simply prefer a locked case to an open booth for security- the actual stock won’t always be pricey. I scored a first US edition of Peter & Wendy from a locked case at this same shop… I think it was $28?

Whether you’re a new collector or have been at it a while, I hope I’ve offered you a little encouragement that you don’t have to break the bank to build a collection you love. As you can see, some of the pieces that please me the most cost me the least.

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