Flea Market Fun: 5 Tips to Shop Smart
It’s that time of year when flea markets sprout and we go forth to find great glass. Flea market shopping isn’t for the faint of heart but yes, you can find great glass – sometimes. Here are 5 tips to make your shopping fun and smart.
Tip #1 Research First
Some flea markets are great places to find vintage goods and fun neat things. Some mainly have overstock or returned goods and seconds.
Research before you drive far. Try websites like your state’s travel website (look for events, antiques or shopping if you don’t see a listing for flea markets). Other sites are http://fleaportal.com, http://fleamarketfinder.org, http://americanfleas.com
I tested these websites looking for 6 Michigan flea markets. None of the websites listed all 6 and one market wasn’t listed on any site. Ask friends or when you go to one market, ask the dealers where else they go.
Tip #2 Dress Right and Bring Wrapping Materials
Be prepared for smoking and dirty merchandise and dress accordingly. I never wear sandals or white. Bring money in your pocket or bag around your waist and leave the big purses at home. It’s too easy to have a purse swing into the display and knock something over.
Bring wrapping materials and reusable shopping bags. Most vendors have newspaper at best. If you are looking for my favorite bubble bags try here: Bubble Bags for Sale
Wrap your own merchandise and bring it back to your car. It’s safer in your car and won’t get broken. Bring boxes so the glass doesn’t rattle around and don’t hesitate to re-wrap. You want the glass to be snug but not squished.
Tip #3 Look at Everything
You went to have fun, and half the fun is to look at all the weird junk people bring. OK, maybe used tires aren’t your thing, but sometimes even strange booths have something interesting.
Sometimes people use bowls or compotes to display stuff. They don’t recognize the glass as valuable. Don’t forget to check out the display props. I got a gorgeous etched bowl that one vendor used to hold kitchen gadgets.
Tip #4. Bring a Wet Rag and Use It
I like to bring a wet dishrag in a baggy and wipe off glass that I’m considering. Then you can check for wear. It’s almost impossible to check for wear when the glass is dirty.
Always check for damage. Beware of glass with haze, chips, cracks and wear. Run your fingers along the edge to feel for chips and hold plates to the sky to see haze and cracks.
Flea markets are Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware. The onus is on you, the buyer, to check before buying
Tip #5. Avoid Repros – Know Something about What You Like
Be aware of the patterns that have been reproduced. You don’t have to be an expert or know every repro of every pattern, even a general knowledge will help you.
That way, when you see the the clunky repro Madrid cake plate made from gluing repro candle holder to a repro plate, you can say “no”.
Get a good glass reference book and learn about your favorite patterns so you can recognize a fake – if there are any in your patterns. Don’t worry too much about fakes because most are easy to spot once you know they exist. A few points to note about the reproductions you are most likely to see:
- Madrid and Cherry Blossom have many pieces reproduced. Learn these patterns carefully if you decide to collect them. I see more pieces of reproduced Madrid, aka Recollection, than all the other reproductions combined.
- Colored Fostoria American is likely a reproduction
- Floral, Adam, Miss America, Mayfair, Avocado, Iris, Florentine, Royal Lace have one or a few pieces reproduced, most often shakers, cookie jars, butter dishes or pitchers
- Sharon has reproduction sugar, creamer, cheese dish and candy dish. Most are easy to spot.
Tip #6. Pricing
Ahhh. Prices. Half the allure of flea markets is the idea of getting a bargain. Nonetheless, there are some things to consider when you want to buy.
Prices are seldom firm and rarely marked. Sometimes I’ve gotten great buys by not saying anything, just standing there checking the glass. The dealer will say something like “That’s $10.” A little later “I can go lower. How about $5? Or if you take both those items, $7?”
Sometimes dealers do have firm prices. Then decide whether the price is worthwhile, but don’t take anything personally.
One dealer in Bay City had signs all over “Ignore the Marked Prices”. He got merchandise from estate sales and the price stickers were left on. When I’d ask him how much something was he would look at the sticker and ask half – and seldom budged. I rarely bought from him. If you find dealers who are over priced, just walk away.
Some dealers know nothing and mark everything way high, others have ridiculously low prices. If you know a little bit about your glass you’ll know the right price range.
Haggling is your call. I will ask if the dealer can do better if a piece is good but price is marginal. But I have learned to leave a little money on the table. You’ll be far more welcome the next time if you leave the dealers a little richer.
I hope you have fun shopping!