April 7, 2015

10 Tips for Collecting Vintage Christmas Tree Ornaments From a Flea Market Pro

Posted by Jennifer Perkins in The Treetopian Lifestyle | Treetopia Christmas Decorating Ideas

How to buy vintage holiday decorations.

Buying Christmas ornaments in spring may seem odd to some people, but not to me. If you collect vintage Christmas decor, the off-season is often the very best time to buy. Take it from a seasoned antique/flea market/thrift store shopper – I know what I am talking about. Through the years and 100 Christmas trees later, I have learned a few things about collecting vintage Christmas tree ornaments. These are my top 10 tips!

Vintage beaded Christmas decorations

Christmas in July
Oftentimes, dealers hold on to seasonal items to put out closer to the actual holiday when they can charge top dollar. When you do find holiday decorations in the off-season, they are typically cheaper than during the holiday rush. This is why I love to buy vintage Christmas ornaments at flea markets in the spring and summer.

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Just Because You Don’t See It, Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t There
Finding vintage Christmas tree ornaments for sale in the spring and summer is more difficult. Just because you don’t see Christmas decorations out, does not mean the dealer does not have them. Be sure to ask the vendor if they have holiday decorations. They may have just decided not to unload it from the truck this show, but would be happy to sell it to you. Trust me, I just came home with a giant box of unopened vintage Halloween decorations because I asked the guy if he had any Halloween. He did, in a box in his truck.

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Buy in Bulk
Flea markets are a lot like Sam’s or Costco. If you buy in bulk, the price gets better. If you happen upon a dealer who has tons of vintage Christmas decor, of course ask them what their best price is, but you might phrase it like, “Will you make me a better deal if I make a pile, or buy them all?” Most times they will. If you’re like me, why would you buy one tacky plastic Christmas corsage when the dealer has 15? Remember that they are there to sell things, not display them, and they don’t want to pack it up and take it home.

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Vintage Tree Ornaments are Fragile
My favorite flea market is outside in a cow pasture. Twice a year, I walk over grass and gravel from dawn until dusk to find treasures. I’m often far away from car and can’t run every purchase back. That means I need to be careful when toting my scores. I may buy vintage glass Christmas ornaments from one dealer and a ceramic bust from another. Just like rock, paper, scissors – that bust is going to squish those glass ornaments and win every time. If you know you are going looking for fragile things like vintage ornaments, take a hard sided box and extra newspaper with you. These packing materials will help ensure your ornaments make it safely to the car, your home, and onto your tree.

Collecting vintage Christmas elves

Giving Your Ornaments a Bath
When you get home with your vintage ornaments, they will not be as clean and shiny as the ones you bought brand new from Treetopia. Clean your ornaments very delicately and very carefully. Spot clean with a barely damp cloth. Start on an inconspicuous spot on the ornament to make sure no paint will come off. Soft makeup brushes are great for dusting. Hard plastic ornaments from the 60’s will withstand more cleaning than a delicate glass ornament from the 40’s.

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The Importance of Storage Labeling
Remember my diatribe about labeling your Christmas decorations when you pack it away for the season? If you buy all year long like I do, this is even more important. If I find new additions for my vintage angel tree at a flea market in June, I know exactly which box in the attic to stick her in.

Storage bags in the attic

Speaking of Storage
Some very old ornaments are made of malleable early plastics. In the heat of a Texas attic, these ornaments may melt or distort. Keep this in mind when storing your vintage ornaments. If you are like me and have a soft spot for vintage holiday crafts, remember that the heat will also melt glue.

Made in the Shade
You have come this far and carefully toted your ornaments through rocky outdoor flea markets. You gently bathed them to restore them to their former glory. You stored them somewhere temperate all year. FINALLY it is time to display them. The arch-nemesis of fragile ornaments, new or old, is small children and curious cats. If you have either, I recommend putting your better, more delicate ornaments higher on your tree. Another villain in the world of vintage ornaments is sunlight. If you are going to have your tree in a particularly sunny area and plan to display it for longer than a month, consider the effects of the sun on fading your ornaments. Again, this will depend on the age of your ornament and the material it is made from. A celluloid ornament from the 20’s should not be put in a sunny window in Tucson.

Online Shopping Vs. In Person
Vintage holiday decorations are often cheaper online in the off-season, just like they are in person. Don’t be afraid to ask an Etsy or Ebay dealer if they will give you a better price, combine shipping, or consider a bulk price if you buy more than one thing.

Estate Sales and Garage Sales
If you want to skip the middleman altogether, start going to garage sales and estate sales. Antique dealers are not selling their family heirlooms. They are marking up and selling you things they found at garage and estate sells. Check Craig’s List, cruise neighborhoods on a Saturday, and remember – the early bird gets the vintage holiday decorating worm.

Santa’s smile is just as big in July as it is in December.  It’s hard to think Christmas thoughts when you are dripping sweat at a flea market, but trust me, in 6 months you will be so glad you did.

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