Good eye by Peggy Whiteneck

Discover Vintage America - AUGUST 2018

It's always hard to tell just what will sell

Just finished my second flea market of the season (business at the antique mall being a bit slow at the moment), held on one of the hottest days ever seen in a normally temperate Vermont summer. Luckily, the market was indoors in a large church hall that was blessedly air-conditioned, and the day started out cool enough for us not to suffer too much in unloading our cars early in the morning for a 9 a.m. opening.

I didn't bring this old hat box with original advertising and graphics, part of my mom's estate, but I may bring it to the next flea market considering that one of the vendors this time was doing a brisk business in vintage ladies' hats!

We were afraid the outside heat would keep people away, but not so. Traffic flow was healthy the entire morning and through the noon hour.

Most remarkable to me about this flea market was not only what sold but what didn't. I had brought a little of this, a little of that, some cheapies and some higher priced lovelies, mostly glass and porcelain. I even brought a few "this-for-a-quarter" items for the inevitable kids at such events, who sometimes come up to me asking if I have anything to sell for 50 cents or less.

I did manage to make a sale to a child... well, to the mother of a begging small daughter who had been smitten by a Teddy Bear with a jacket whose hood had slits to accommodate the bear's ears, priced at just $5. (I was gratified to see the little girl hugging it to herself for the rest of the day.) Also sold a couple of modestly priced Fenton pieces ($10 and under), and a $5 book of the music of James Taylor. But the hot sellers of the day came from my overgrown stock of film DVDs, which, at one dollar apiece were flying out the door.

Yes, it was an oddly eclectic, not to mention unpredictable, mix of sales. I managed to make my table rent that day and earn a very modest profit though for me, as a casual flea market vendor, the profit motive matters less than the "getting rid of" motive!

My neighboring vendor across the aisle was doing very well indeed. It was her first flea market, and she had brought along lots of items from an estate she was settling. She had a beautiful green carnival pitcher with matching tumblers, offered at a giveaway price.

Surprisingly, there were no takers for that, not even the carnival collectors who'd stopped at my tables and bought a small marigold carnival dish. What my fellow vendor did sell, though, was a marvelous menagerie of "stuff," much of it heavy enough that I'm sure she was immensely glad not to have to lug it home again: an electric guitar and case sold to a young girl who didn't yet know how to play it but was determined to learn; an old portable Singer sewing machine (in its case) that needed repairs, sold to a man happy to tinker with it; a solar-powered radio; a coiled length of thick hose; an old pair of wooden snowshoes the seller had actually used as such but that a guy bought for home decoration; and a whole bunch of smaller items, several of them antiques.

Earliest and most surprising sale of the day, however, went to the church's 71 year-old pastor, who, even before the sale started, was utterly delighted by a three-foot, three-dimensional advertising figure of a chubby professional chef, decorated with glasses and white chef's hat and apparel, which the pastor said would make a great marketing prop for church bake sales. For a few minutes after he bought it, he carried it around in his arms, showing it off proudly. I couldn't stop laughing as I saw the sheer joy on the pastor's face at this odd but marvelous find; I don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy with a purchase!

Peggy Whiteneck is a writer, collector and dealer living in East Randolph, VT. If you would like to suggest a subject that she can address in her column, email her at