I’m not easily overwhelmed, but consignment stores get me every time. Even the good ones tend to be jammed like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, which makes finding and evaluating an item a considerable challenge.
But don’t let this stop you. The hidden value found shopping consignment stores is worth the headache, err, challenge.
Rush to your nearest consignment store with a budget in mind and a shopping list in hand. Then, use these tricks for spotting high quality furniture, clothing and more amid the heaps of junk.
Look for furniture made of oak, maple, mahogany, teak, walnut, cherry and birch, which are all durable hardwoods. Is the wood type not labeled? Lift the item. How heavy is it? Hardwood is, you guessed it, heavy.
Pine, fir, cedar, and redwood are soft woods, and generally lighter by comparison. Hardwood furniture tends to be durable and sturdy, while softer wood is more prone to nicks and dings.
Press your fingernail into a smooth surface. Did it make a mark? Small scratches can be sanded off, or kept for “charm,” but deep gashes will remain. Newer pieces may be made of plywood or engineered wood, which are not always an indication of low quality. If the piece has a veneer outer (look for a large, repeating pattern), keep in mind that you will only be able to refinish it so many times.
How is it put together? Get on your knees and look at the underside, or better yet, flip the piece over. How are the joints held together? Never buy furniture that is stapled together or held together solely by glue.
Dowels and screws often indicate strong joint construction. Dovetail and mortise and tenon are the strongest joints possible. Are any of joints loose? If so, are they repairable? If you see dust or dirt, it may be an indication that the piece was not well taken care of.
How has it held up? Lift one corner of the item and listen. Hear any groans or squeaks? You want it to be quiet. Also, the item should be level when flat on the floor.
Is it blemished? I can’t tell you how many jackets, blouses, and dresses that have caught my eye at a second hand store, only to be summarily returned to the rack for a tiny rip or stain. Inspect clothing very carefully, as the odds are slim that you will be able to remove a mark at home.
See loose threads? Loose threads are an indication that the clothing was not well made, or is not holding up well. If you’re handy with a needle or sewing machine, this may not matter. But be aware of the difference between buying a sweater and a home ec project.
Does the zipper work? Never buy clothing with a broken zipper. Similarly, check for missing or loose buttons, reinforced stress points, and extra buttons. Finished seams, when the edges of a seam are stitched to prevent fraying, indicate high quality.
Is it discolored? Inspect the edges and seams of jewelry for where plating may have worn off. If you see different colored metals, you’ll know the piece is plated, not solid.
Is it gold? Gold is not attracted to magnets. Also, look for an underside stamp sharing how many karats it is (though not all gold is stamped).
Is that pearly strand made of genuine or imitation pearls? Rub the pearl lightly against your teeth. It should feel grainy and mossy. A smooth feeling means it is manufactured.
Finally, look very closely at a string of pearls. Are there small variations, even blemishes, from pearl to pearl? Fake pearls are picture perfect, while real ones have natural variations.
The best way to judge the value of an odd piece of home decor or memento is to have an idea of how much it would cost new. Got a smartphone? Search Bed, Bath & Beyond, Amazon, or Etsy for a comparable item.
Are you paying for its antique charm? Is it cheaper because it’s unfinished? Unless you are handy, skip anything that is loose, missing parts, or coming apart. Ultimately, the value of a knick-knack comes down to how long you’ve been looking for something just like it.
You’re not likely to come across a truly famous and valuable painting at a hole-in-the-wall consignment store, so determining the value of a piece of artwork comes down to more practical considerations.
How much do you like the piece? Do you have somewhere to hang it that fits its size and content? Will your spouse/partner/housemates like the painting as well?
Is it in good condition? Are there any tears in the canvas or medium? Is the paint damaged in any way? If it is dusty or dirty, that’s an indication that it has not been taken care of. Plus, you’ll have to clean it.
What is the frame made of? Do you plan to remove and frame and refinish it? Is the frame sturdy enough to hang the current artwork? Does it have the necessary hardware to hang?
If you want to determine whether a painting was made with oil or acrylic paint, look for a fine web of cracks across the entire painting. Very old oil paintings will crack, while acrylic remains smooth and does not yellow with age.
The texture of the painting will also yield clues. Thick, goopy strokes that show individual strands of the brush indicate the piece was created using oil paint. Acrylic paint has a smooth finish, although it’s possible to add products to achieve a more textured look.
Julia Scott founded the money and freebie blog, BargainBabe.com.