For shoppers, the search for vintage is half the fun

Now is the time--along with hunting for antiques and finding yard sales

Story and photos by Marion Dunn

Each Christmas and birthday I like to give my daughters something “vintage” along with their regular gifts.  Notice the word “vintage”, not "antique"; if you are lucky enough to find an antique, that's great!

And now is THE SEASON.  Most multi-dealer antique shops are stocked up for summer trade.  Yard and estate sales are in full swing.  And auctions are abundant.  So just a few words in those departments might be worthwhile.

If the shop you are in is owner-operated, you might be able to "deal" somewhat.  For example, we recently purchased an item at a shop in Idaho, but we bought it for $100 less than the ticketed price.  It cost $65 at UPS to ship it (with packaging) back to New Hampshire.  So we were able to save the shipping and then some.  And the shop owner was the one who suggested the reduced price.  She surely had had that item in stock for a while.  If the shop is a multi-dealer, the standard bargaining price for dealers is ten percent off the ticketed price if it is over $20.  Dealers must sign a certificate and include their social security number.  So, that’s not a smart thing to do--part with your s.s. number--or lie about being a dealer.  However, you might ask, as a non-dealer customer, if you can have a reduction.  Often the counter person will call the owner of the article and make a deal for you.  This is especially true of a large or expensive item.

Old Italian pottery, yard sale find.
Yard sales are fun.  Go on line or buy a Friday paper and list the sales you want to attend on Saturday by starting time and geographical location.  Be sure to have a few five dollar bills in your pouch (no pocketbook) and some one dollar bills.  BE EARLY.  An hour before the published start is not too early.  Sometimes you are even welcome at that time.  But, be polite; it is the person running the sale who has the say.  If you see something you want and are unable to pick it up and carry it while you peruse the other items, be sure to speak to the owner and say you are taking it; if more than one person is running a sale, such as a husband and wife, make it a point to tell both.  Otherwise, one might sell it to someone else in all innocence. Keep an empty box in your trunk and some bubble wrap for small items.

Faience, Hubley auction.
Auctions are great, especially “on site” auctions.  Go early and preview.  Bring I.D. for registering.  This does not necessarily mean the auction company will accept your check, especially if it is out of state. You should settle that matter before bidding.  Do not bid on anything you have not previewed.  Set a limit—the hardest thing to do.  Just because everyone is bidding on an item does not necessarily mean it is a treasure (although it usually is).  Avoid auction “fever”; mentally add the ten or fifteen per cent buyer’s premium as you bid.  If you cannot stay the entire auction, ask one of the runners to bring up what you are waiting to bid on sooner.  At some auctions, each item is numbered.  It frees you up to leave and come back. Often the auctioneer brings in additional items which are not of the estate being auctioned; "with additions" appears in ad.

Remember, think positive reference repair or restoring.  We all know, from Antiques Roadshow, that we must NOT touch the finish on anything “of the period”.  That does not mean you cannot clean, shine, paint or refinish something vintage that is going in your own home.  You only have to please yourself.  Some hints and advice on how to spiffy up newly purchased but grungy items follow.

LINENS:  Hand wash in gentle soap.  Line dry.  If linens are white but yellowed with age, soak them in lukewarm water and dishwashing detergent.  Change the solution occasionally, then rinse thoroughly.  Line dry.  Mix liquid starch and water, immerse dry linen, lay flat in a turkish towel, then roll it up.  Iron it wet; if you cannot iron it soon, plastic bag the towel with linen and freeze it until you have time to iron it, wrong side up.

Battenburg, freshly starched and ironed and red reversible cloth.

The old German method can benefit colored fabrics.  Lay out the item, wet, in the sunny back yard with a sheet underneath to avoid grass stains.  Anchor the corners, of course.  I often wonder what my backyard looks like from the air!  Iron as above.
BRASS:  Never use brass cleaner if you can avoid it.  It leaves a residue of white powderlike deposit in the cracks, especially if the item to be cleaned is embossed.  Mix a solution of 1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar and a heaping teaspoon of table salt.  Put it in an appropriate sized glass or ceramic container, and forget about it for a while (an hour, a day, a week).
Do not put vinegar solution in a metal can; the combination of salt, water and vinegar produces a very mild hydrochloric acid solution that will eventually eat away metal seams.  (In earlier times, sailors used sea water mixed with vinegar to clean the brass on board ship.)  The solution can be used with drawer pulls, lamp finials, etc.  Let air dry or paper towel dry after removal from solution.  At this stage, it will look no better than when it was immersed.  When dry, buff with #0000 steel wool and it will have a lovely, vintaged shine.  If brass has been lacquered, this will not work so easily but will require a great deal of buffing to remove the lacquer.  On a lamp you might want to disassemble it (laying pieces on the counter in the original order) and immerse the brass pieces.  This is a good time to replace the cord and socket if needed.  Many things appear to be brass but are white metal to which brass has been electroplated.  These will not work.  Always carry a refrigerator sized magnet with you to test for brass (which repels the magnet).  Do not let the magnet anywhere near your credit cards in your pouch or pocket or near your watch.

IVORY:  Never use water on ivory.  Spray oven cleaner and wipe with clean soft cloth or (and I use and prefer this method) apply the hand cleaner mechanics use that requires no water, such as Permatex or D&L.  The #0000 steel wool may be used to apply cleaner on really stubborn dirt.  Wipe and buff with a clean, soft cloth.

GLASSWARE:  A minor irregularity on the rim of stemware can be ground out. Be careful where you take it and be sure the piece is worth it.  I have never had a piece of cloudy glassware that I was able to restore, so now I avoid it.

CANING:  Chairs with distressed cane seats are out there for almost no money.  Take a caning course.  
Or call Lori Larson in Greenland.

FRAMES:  Old frames make excellent mirrors and do not cost nearly as much as a store bought mirror.

Italian lamp, hand painted shade.

LAMPS:  Old lamps are like bicyles.  There is not much wrong with them that a new part won't fix.  I do my own, but think Cranberry Hill Antiques in Cape Neddick is a very fine source for all lamp needs, including doing the work for you.  They also have the largest and nicest selection of shades in the seacoast area.  Another source for parts is The Lamp Shop in Concord, New Hampshire ( Their catalogue includes retail as well as dealer pricing and lists instruction books and frames for shade making.   

FURNITURE: "Use Windex sprayed heavily on a cloth or paper towel to clean wood.  It will dissolve most dirt and build-up of polish.  Wipe dry and apply a coat of lemon oil the next day for a very gratifying result. Liquid polish is always better than a spray which will build up and become cloudy in time," advises Lori Larson, refinisher par excellence.  Hand cleaner, Permatex or D&L, also gets lots of grime off.  But, if you want an A-1 job done (including stripping and refinishing and replacing missing parts of wood), visit Lori Larson in Greenland who has a large following of designers, auctioneers, dealers and "regular people" who could not get along without her.  Call first.