I was video chatting with a client who was showing me his finds from a thrift-store shopping spree. He asked me a question that many people ask at my events or during my video-chat sessions about shopping for antiques at thrift stores, estate sales, yard sales, etc.

He wanted to know: “What should I be looking for?”

It is a typical question. The answer is not as straightforward. There is not one “correct” answer.

I usually answer, “Look for quality,” but quality isn’t always easy for novices and other newbies to the antiques world to recognize.

Quality is evident in different ways in different objects. For instance, quality traits found in an oil painting are not the same as the quality traits found in a piece of pottery.

So, since each object requires its own instructional video, like the ones I post at youtube.com/drloriv to teach folks what’s valuable, let me give you a primer for thrift-store shopping.


1. Look for brand names of well-known artists, makers, or manufacturers. If it is pottery, look for Limoges, Staffordshire, Wedgwood, etc.

If you are shopping for jewelry, look for Cartier, David Yurman (DY), or Tiffany. If you are shopping for prints, look for famous-name artists and printers like Picasso or Edward Hopper.

Don’t believe you’ll find a famous artist’s work at a thrift store? Think again. A client of mine purchased a painting at a thrift store for $12.99 and sent me a photo of it.

I identified it as being made by a famous British Abstract Expressionist artist who has similar paintings in the collection of London’s Tate Museum of Art.

My client’s $12.99 thrift-store painting is worth $75,000.


2. When it comes to precious metals, look for marks on the inside of a piece or on the back of a piece, such as “14 karat” on gold or “925” on silver pieces.

Another client of mine who sent me a photo of one of her thrift-store finds bought a pair of candlesticks for $3 at a thrift store with an 835 mark on them.

I informed her that her candlesticks were Scandinavian midcentury modern, and the 835 mark was the silver standard for Scandinavia.

They were valued at $500 for the pair from a mere $3 purchase.


3. Don’t overlook condition. Condition is very important when assessing quality and value.

On the other hand, if you find a well-made wooden table of quality materials but it is in poor condition, you are more apt to have success restoring it.


Audience members at my nationwide appraisal events have found some great objects at thrift stores and estate sales, such as a $7,500 painting found at a Goodwill store in Seattle, Washington; a $1,200 Art Deco lamp discovered at a thrift store in Tampa, Florida; and a $50,000 Picasso drawing found at an estate sale in Kansas City, Missouri, for $2.50.

Quality is out there, and I’ll show you how to spot it in art and antiques.


Dr. Lori Verderame is an author and award-winning TV appraiser on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. With a Ph.D. from Penn State and experience appraising international art and antiques, Dr. Lori shares appraisal information and values at www.DrLoriV.com and youtube.com/drloriv.

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