After years of collecting holiday decorations, one becomes a bit of an expert. I’m sharing a few of my favorite tips for collecting vintage Christmas ornaments. Serious collectors know to always see the world through holiday-colored glasses. They shop all year long and never forget to ask for a deal.
#1 Buy During the Off-season
Wherever you are, always have vintage decorations at the back of your mind. Whether you are at a thrift store in July, the flea market in May or garage sale the week after Christmas. Santa may not be top of mind in April. But, shop all year long if you want a stellar collection of vintage Christmas ornaments come December.
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 during the off-season, they are typically cheaper compared to the holiday rush.
#2 Just Because You Don’t See it, Doesn’t Mean it isn’t There
Just because you don’t see vintage Christmas decorations during the off-season it does not mean the dealers don’t have them. Always ask the vendor if they have holiday decorations. Many times, flea market vendors have a small selling space.
If it is the middle of June it might not be top of mind to unload the bulky vintage Santa blow molds from the truck. It never hurts to ask. You might be surprised about what they have but haven’t unloaded yet. They might 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 for Halloween. He did. In a box in his truck.
Maybe the dealers didn’t bring their holiday decorations to the flea market. But, they might have a nearby store or booth in an antique mall in the area. Ask if you can see the vintage Christmas ornaments there another time.
#3 Check Online, Too!
Let’s say it’s Valentine’s Day and your favorite eBay or Etsy dealer has vintage hearts galore for sale. They might also have Christmas decorations they have yet to list. For example, say you like 1950s Christmas decorations and the dealer has a similar aesthetic. It never hurts to ask.
Don’t underestimate Facebook Marketplace and Craig’s List as places to shop for vintage holiday decorations.
#4 Buy in Bulk
One of my favorite things to hear while shopping at a flea market is: “Make a pile and I’ll make you smile.” 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. Phrase it like, “Will you make me a better deal if I buy them all?” Most times they will.
Here’s some advice if you shop at a flea market towards the end of the last day. Remember that dealers are there to sell things, not display them. They don’t want to pack it up and take it home. I hope this tip brings you luck.
#5 Make it Your Own
Traditional Dickens Christmas villages are not my style. However, they are easy to find at flea markets and estate sales. In my opinion, there aren’t many things a can of hot pink spray paint can’t fix, including a ceramic Christmas town. Consider customizing pieces to fit your aesthetic.
Keep this in mind before using a can of spray paint on any piece. Make sure it’s not highly collectible as any custom additions will lower the value greatly.
#6 Keep an Eye Out for Unexpected Holiday Decor
When you are vintage shopping try to look beyond the obvious. For example, a coke bottle crate that you can transform into an advent calendar. Other ideas are stacking globes to make snowmen and vintage toys to style as a tree collar. And, even an old dollhouse that you can turn into a mini Christmas village.
Decorations that live around the house year-round can look like Christmas decor in the right vignette.
#7 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 the car and can’t run back every time I make a purchase. 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 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.
Getting the ornaments home safe is half the battle. Keeping them intact all year long is the next challenge. Hard-sided ornament boxes and lots of bubble wrap are a must.
#8 Store Your Ornaments Properly
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 ornaments. If you are like me and have a soft spot for vintage holiday crafts, remember that heat also melts glue.
Keep your storage containers labeled well. So, if you buy a vintage tree topper in September or an ornament in February it’s easy to find.
Sure, it’s hard to think about buying 200 bulk ornaments in the off-season. Or, to think Christmas thoughts when you are dripping sweat at a flea market in the summer. Trust me. In six months you will be so glad you did.