Tips for Vintage and Antique Shopping

vintage, antique

Is it the thrill of the hunt or the love of the collectible that keeps us antique shopping? 
Well, a little from column A and a little from column B I would say. I also think that antique or vintage shopping gives us an opportunity to fill our homes with bright, colourful and interesting objects, all without breaking the bank.

Sometimes it's the only way to find a truly well made and functional item. I just bought the best wooden spoon at a vintage shop and I want to produce them because it is so much better than anything on the market! Other times, it's the only place to find another piece for our collection if it's no longer being produced or is not considered "trendy" and available in stores. 

Right now is actually my favourite time to go antique and vintage shopping. The mornings are cool, the afternoons are warm and vendors know that we here in Canada only have a few short months before the snow starts so now is their last chance to clear out their stock, which of course means savings for you! 

I received a DM on Instagram from an IG friend asking for my advice on antique shopping. That lead to me posting a poll asking if anyone would be interesting in a post like this and the result was a resounding YES! So here you have it, my tips for vintage and antique shopping and as always, feel free to send me an email or leave comments/questions below. 

Happy hunting! 

What is the difference between antique and vintage? 

Technically speaking antique is something that is 100 years or older and vintage is something that is at least 20 years old. When it comes to cars, 25 years old is considered historic and you can get plates and specific automobile insurance. 

Antiques can be expensive, but so can popular vintage items. It's all about what the vendor is willing to part with it for, and what you the buyer is willing to pay. 

What should you be looking for? 

This is entirely up to you! My rule of thumb is to buy what you truly love, not what is popular and trendy. If you build a collection of trendy items, what happens when that trend ends? You're left with items you didn't really love in the first place. It also might have cost you a pretty penny to build and you won't be able to resell them. 

Think about the things you see out in the world that you really like. Are you drawn to a certain colour, or item, or even era? I love all things 80's but I try to buy only things that I once had as a child so that I don't end up with collection that takes over my house. 

My personal collections are blue and white plates and pottery, transferware specifically brown and red (right now I'm loving the old Spode 'Tower' pattern), tin picnic baskets and thermoses and silk scarves. And I always keep my eyes peeled for back issues of Martha Stewart Living. 

AMH collects old license plates and anything related to Ford Motor Company. The Oldest loves old cigarette tins and old (think 1930's) baseball memorabilia and The Youngest collects old soda cans (he goes especially crazy for anything Pepsi) and musical instruments. 


As for research you can approach your new collection in one of two ways. Buy what you love or buy what you know is valuable. I've done both. When my boys were very young, I had a side business where I bought and sold household items for a profit. It was very early days of eBay and I sold mostly china and silver pieces. One time I had someone who didn't quite believe in this based on the fact that they didn't see any point in antique hunting in Canada. 

The funny thing is, I think Canada is the best place to be looking! Not only do we have our own great Canadian vintage and antique items, but we are so close to the United States, and have had so many Americans move here over the last 200 or so years, that it is really easy to spot a great American treasure. But that's not all. People have been moving to Canada from Europe and Asia since the beginning of our country, all the while bringing their possessions with them. This means that you can shop here in Canada and literally find antiques from around the world! 

It's hard to sit and research and know everything before you go out hunting. Which is why bringing your cell phone along is quite handy! Just a few weekends ago I was looking at what appeared to be a Chanel silk square scarf for only $25. But would I be getting a deal or getting ripped off? I asked the vendor and they said they believed it was real, but then he let it slip that his daughter had previously posted it to eBay and they asked that it be removed because they couldn't prove it was real. A quick Google search on my phone of how to spot a fake Chanel scarf lead me to the dead giveaway that this was a fake, the font of Chanel. It was totally off. As was the stiching. 

If you have your heart set on collecting something specific like silver pieces, try and do a little research before heading out. The best piece of advice I can give with regards to silver is to know the difference between real silver and silver plated. Bring along a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it's silver plated and not true silver. English silver is the most highly coveted. The bottom of the item will have a lion figure and many include details such as the year it was made and who the ruling monarch was at the time. I bought and sold many of these pieces while selling on eBay, they were my biggest profiting items since I found many of them at Goodwill for under $5 a piece. 


Spending a leisurely morning at an antique market is a lot of fun. You can bring a friend and chat while walking the aisles, or you can be like me and treat it like your hunting. AMH and I go antiquing quite a lot (I even have an "antiquing" highlight on my Instagram account!) and we usually start out together but then we go our own way. I like to hit each and every booth and give it a quick scan top to bottom. If anything sticks out, I'll investigate, otherwise I move on. 

It helps that my husband and I know what the other person would like so we always give each other a heads up through text (thank goodness for cell phones!) 

Try not to get overwhelmed. Some vendors will cram all of their items in their booth and it just looks like a hoarders attic. This sight used to being me so much anxiety, but now I just focus on one side of the stall, before moving to the next. This also helps ensure that I don't miss any little treasures hidden behind something else. 

Can you negotiate?

This is all about comfort level. I will fully admit that I am in the camp of I rather not even try to negotiate but I do my best to get the best possible price for that treasure. When you're at an outdoor market/flea market the best way to go about it is to ask the price if one isn't posted. If it is posted, then move right into the next phrase "Is this your best/final price?"

But let's back up a little. There are a few things to consider before you try and get a better deal.

Vendors are more willing to give a price break at the end of the day. If you're an early bird, which I am, you have the best selection but you may give up a little in the way of negotiating. In the morning, the vendor knows there are still other people who will stop by and may pay top dollar. At the end of the day, vendors don't want to load this stuff back into their truck and are much more willing to give you a deal.

If you have your heart set on one item, take a look at the other things that vendor is selling. Adding a few more items to your total bill can get you a break. This is the one I have had the most luck with. Heading to the antique market is a family activity and with three other people, we are sure to find another item or two to add. My greatest score was a vendor who gave us such a break on the total bill, I got my $40 Gripstand bowl for free!

These tips also work for yard sales, Kijiji and Craigslist finds but there are some places where you usually* can't negotiate. That would be indoor antique markets where the vendors rent the booth and the staff are there just to cash you out. You also can't negotiate with stores like Goodwill or Value Village (even when they have grossly overpriced an item. I know. I've tried.)

*I put an asterisk on 'usually' because while shopping at a local indoor antique market I did manage to get a really good deal. A vendor who sold only art had a piece that AMH and I both fell instantly and deeply in love with. It was a bit of a splurge and because we felt that we were putting a lot of money out for it, we wanted to know any and all details. There was no artist signature and no date. The owner of the market happened to be in that day and while asking these questions he decided to call the vendor, as their store policy is to provide all details for art pieces. The owner promised to contact us as soon as he heard from the vendor.

We left without the painting and the more time away, the more we loved it and decided we didn't care if we ever got any details. The owner called us the next morning and said the vendor was less than forthcoming on any details about the piece and since they had broken store policy they were able to sell the painting to us for a significant discount. The owner wouldn't be making any money on the sale and sounds like the vendor wouldn't be either (the only information we did get was the vendor either owned it himself or bought it from someone who last purchased it in the 1960's). It's one of those once in a lifetime scenarios. So while I did say above you can't negotiate, sometimes good things happen if you just ask.

What should you bring with you?

First let me say to dress for comfort. Comfortable walking shoes are a must! Ladies, bring a hair tie (good advice no matter where you are!) and gents bring a hat for outdoor adventures.

A tote bag is a necessity no matter what you are searching for. It holds your change purse (yes, I am a geezer and have a little zippered change purse) a bottle of water and maybe a snack. Your tote can also hold small treasures you buy. I swear by my zippered L.L. Bean tote (with long handles).

If you're on the hunt for larger items, such as furniture, bring a measuring tape and the measurements for the spaces you plan on placing them in. Nothing worse than buying a lovely table only to find out it won't work in your space.

Cleaning your treasure

You've bought your vintage or antique item and you safely transported it home. But it needs a little TLC before you can display it. For any antique rugs or furniture, I clean them with my Bissell Little Green Portable carpet & upholstery cleaner then let them sit in the sun to dry.

Silver or brass items can be cleaned easily with polishes (my favorite is the cream based ones) and plates and pottery usually just need a good hand cleaning. But sometimes they need a little more. I just bought a set of Spode plates and tea service from an auction house and they did warn me that it came from a smoker's home (which is why I got it so cheap!) They were not kidding. When I got them they were covered in a yucky brown film and looked as though someone ate on them 10 years ago and never washed them. I filled both of my kitchen sinks with hot water and added a healthy amount of bleach. You won't find any website that will tell you to put such old china into bleach but I'm telling you it worked and frankly, it was the only way I could truly know they were clean.

After soaking for 5-10 minutes, I put on rubber gloves and using toothpicks, I scrubbed all the nicotine staining out of the hard to reach grooves. Once everything was off, I put them in the dishwasher on my sterilizing cycle. I was worried I was ruining the plates but I'm much more of a germaphobe then an antique purist. They came out sparkling clean and ready for use! It's also a lesson to not overlook something just because it isn't perfect. A good scrubbing, or a little repair can bring an old item back to life!

Occasionally I will buy some vintage clothing. If it looks like I can manage it myself, I'll give it a good hand washing, otherwise it's off to the drycleaners. I buy silk scarves all the time and just give them a quick wash with some Woolite, hang to dry and then iron flat.

The very last piece of advice I can give is to remember to have fun out there. These items are to bring you joy, so let the shopping experience be just that. I can't think of a better way to spend a fall morning than with a PSL in one hand and a new antique or vintage item in the other.

My favourite shops in Kitchener-Waterloo:

Southworks Antique Market, Cambridge, Ont.
St. Jacobs Antiques, St. Jacobs, Ont.
Aberfoyle Antique Market, Aberfoyle, Ont.

Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village in any town


Waterford Antiques Market, Waterford, Ont.
Prudhommes Antique Market, Vineland Station, Ont.
The Country Doctor, Lewiston, NY
Mohawk Antiques Mall, Mohawk, NY (near Herkimer, NY)


  1. Fab post Rox-Anne! Some great tips and I will be checking out some of the places on your list.

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