The Grandmillenial’s Guide to Five Vintage Collectibles

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Are you a Grandmillenial? Do you have a secret love for your grandmother’s decorative china, lace-trimmed linens, overstuffed chairs and colorful décor? Do you find yourself following Instagram influencers that feature a highly decorative traditional or cottage style? If so, you may be one of the many young people moving away from a contemporary, austere approach to decorating and learning to love the benefits of upcycling vintage style for a modern lifestyle.

Over the past ten years, the Marie Kondo approach to organization, smaller living spaces, Ikea affordability and function and a rejection of parental style have led many to a minimalist approach to décor. This style was a solid fit with a busy lifestyle that included long hours at the office, travel and dining out.

Recently, there has been a noteworthy trend to move toward interior environments that focus on color, comfort and tradition. With more of us spending time at home, working, entertaining and improving our surroundings, it’s a good time to consider adding a bit of vintage, grandmillenial style to our environments. Here are our top picks to consider.

Vintage China and Dishes

Mismatched vintage china

If you are lucky enough to have inherited family fine china, you have a head start to a valuable vintage collection. Family china is often passed down as a full set, and obtaining place settings to serve six, eight or even twelve persons should be appreciated. Take advantage of your family heirloom and bring it out on holidays or any special occasion, and do not let it languish in your storage unit, closet or kitchen cabinets.

If you don’t have family dishes, it isn’t hard to find stylish but vintage sets with enough place settings for your table. The best places to look for complete sets are estate sales and garage sales. You can also find complete sets on online sites like Facebook Marketplace, and for this particular item, it is best to buy local. Shipping costs can add up quickly for china, and receiving pieces in pristine condition can be a challenge.

An exception to buying local is when you need just a few pieces to complete a set. Many china patterns have been discontinued over the years, and the best way to find your missing pieces is to search on sites like eBay or Replacements.com.

If your style is more eclectic and you have an eye for mixing colors and patterns, your options for collecting vintage china are expansive. This is where picking up partial sets at thrift stores can be a very economical way to start building a collection. Choose pieces that are similar in material, weight and size, and combine solids with other dishes that have more decorative designs. With a bit of creativity, you can pull together a “set” that is uniquely yours and put that contemporary twist on vintage goods.

No matter which approaches you take, there are a few things that you should look for when considering a purchase. First, check that there are no chips on the rim or any evidence that the dish broke and was glued back together. These flaws in condition will severely limit their utility as they will not withstand dishwasher temperatures. Plus, it’s unsafe to eat food from chipped dishes!

Look on the bottom of the china for a maker’s stamp or manufacturer’s name and pattern title. This can give you information regarding the value of the pieces and will also be helpful if you want to add to your collection later on.

Many early 20th century plates are not marked with a stamp because they were hand-painted by hobbyists. These are usually colorful, floral designs and may not be suitable for food service. However, they are beautiful when displayed on the wall or shelf. These pieces are usually found at antique stores or malls, occasionally at thrift stores and are available at a wide range of prices.

Related: 15 Do’s and Don’ts of Thrift Shopping [Get Your Thrift On]

Traditional Oil Paintings

Vintage oil paintings can be a fun way to build a collection and add color and interest to your home. Shop at places like Etsy, eBay, Chairish, One Kings Lane and flea markets to find affordable pieces.  

To create the best decorating impact with your collection, narrow your choices to a small field of subjects. Buy what speaks to you— if you are a dog lover, vintage oils of dogs are easily found. Other popular types of oil paintings are equestrian paintings that feature hunt scenes or English riding, vintage portraits (instant relatives!), particularly those of beautiful women or men with character, or colorful landscapes. Floral still-life paintings also have a great traditional vibe.

When choosing your art piece, pay particular attention to the condition. Avoid rips, tears and cracks as restoring vintage oil paintings requires expertise, and that comes at an expense. For the most impact, choose pieces that are well framed in a compatible style. The style should match the era of the painting. For many vintage oils, this means an ornate, gilded frame. However, you may find pieces with other frame styles that will work for your collection.

Many oils are painted on stretched canvas; however, you will also find some painted on board. Both will work for your collection, so buy what you love based on subject, color and condition.

Check to see if your piece is signed by the artist. If you are buying from an antique shop, ask if there is paperwork about either the piece itself or information about who owned it before. Check the back of the painting for information that would indicate more information about the subject, artist or occasion. These are things that may add value to your purchase.

To display your collection, consider its “wall power.” Larger paintings have a big decorating impact in your room, but often they are more expensive, difficult to transport safely and have limited utility in a smaller residence. Instead, consider a gallery wall approach with your collection by grouping smaller items of a similar subject together for an artful impact.

Vintage Typewriters, Travel clocks, Radios and Cameras

Mid-century modern room. Some of the room decor includes vinyl records on the wall, a shelving unit with books, plants and a camera and a woven rug.

These formerly functional items make for beautiful displays in the home. Consider choosing one type of item and collecting several. Or, as an interesting design twist, assemble a sample of each kind of item from the same time period, and display it as a vignette on a desk or bookcase. Whichever route you go, you will be able to find these items at antique malls, estate sales, on Etsy, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and thrift stores.

Purists like to collect items that are fully functional, however, that decision comes with a price tag. For example, a 1940’s typewriter that works can sell for $800 or more, and a non-functioning display piece can be snapped up for less than $50.

Popular vintage travel clocks and radios come in a variety of colors and materials, and Catalin radios, made from a molded plastic (sometimes referred to as Bakelite), are particularly stylish due to their mid-century lines and trendy colors.

For photographers, collecting vintage cameras can be born out of a love for using film. Usually, these serious collectors have specific models and brands in mind to enhance their collection, and they seek working cameras to use. However, finding a vintage camera in an antique shop or thrift store, working or not, that captures a bygone era can be a fun addition to your décor. You may have family memories of grandpa using his Brownie camera to capture holiday gatherings, or mom’s Instamatic or your big brother’s Polaroid. Adding a few of these to your office shelves can create a fun décor.

Toys, Games, Comic Books and Dolls

Three vintage stuffed bunnies in a greenish metal basket and a knitted white blanket

Collecting items in this category provides an opportunity to enjoy the nostalgia of childhood items and the chance to build a valuable collection. Over the years, rarity and popularity combine to create perceived value for vintage toys. Trends are difficult to predict, values ebb and flow, but if an item has sentimental importance to you and you’d like to display it in your home, you have the opportunity to collect items that may double as an investment.

Here are some of the most popular categories for collecting: comic books, dolls (Cabbage Patch, American Girl, Barbie), action figures, board games (original with packaging and all pieces), Star Wars collectibles, trading cards (Garbage Pail Kids, Pokémon), Beanie Babies, Pez dispensers, Hot Wheels cars, Lionel trains and vintage game consoles (special edition Gameboy) and cartridges (Atari).

You can imagine that displaying these types of collectibles will add a quirky, playful sense to your décor. Of course, items are most valuable if maintained in original packaging, but if you are seeking style rather than monetary investment, then they can be displayed in whatever manner matches your decorating style.

Sources for these items include flea markets, specialty stores, specialty websites, eBay, Amazon and estate sales. 

Related: 21 Decoration Ideas For The Kid’s Room [A Perfect DIY Guide]

American Pottery and Glassware

Vintage blue ceramic dishes with wooden spoons

During the late 19th century, several popular decorative pottery manufacturers produced beautiful hand-made artistic pieces. Based in Ohio and Massachusetts, many of these companies were eventually forced out of business due to economic pressures of the depression, or in later years, competition from mass producers.  

American pottery works include pieces such as vases, pitchers, planters, baskets and many, many others. Colors are generally muted, and glazes range from matte to glossy. The styles most closely associated with these pieces are Arts and Crafts, Art Deco and Mid Century Modern, meaning that these pieces can fit nicely into today’s decor. Their simple shapes and variety of colors add to their appeal with today’s buyers.

Well-known makers include Roseville, Rookwood, Van Briggle, Weller and McCoy. The names are generally found on the bottom of the pieces. Some are marked USA, and most are of a hefty weight.

Since many of the firms producing the pottery were either sold or shuttered by the end of the 20th century, a collection of American pottery can grow in value since most are no longer made.

If your collecting style veers more towards utilitarian instead of decorative, you may want to consider American glassware. Most of these pieces are still usable in a way compatible with their original purposes, whether it’s a casserole, measuring cup, mixing bowl or dishes. 

Items that appeal to collectors include patterned Pyrex mixing bowls and lidded casseroles. Another popular item is the beautiful mint green Jadeite made by Fire King.  

Since the 1960’s collectors have enjoyed the kitsch of Depression Glass, mass-produced dishware was given away for free or at a meager cost during the depression. They are found in translucent colors of pink, green and yellow, among others. Although some purists consider it of marginal quality, its molded patterns and colors, as well as its limited period of production (1929-1939), create interest among collectors.

Both art pottery and glassware can be found at antique stores, eBay, Etsy, thrift stores and flea markets. Pieces are also often found on estate auction websites such as Everything But The House.

Why Collect?

As we decorate our homes, our personal style evolves over the years. We are influenced by popular colors in fashion, trends from our favorite online stores and catalogs and our decisions about what types of textures, colors and styles we want to live with on a daily basis. By looking to the past, vintage collectible items can reflect our interests, family history and personal style in a unique manner, making your house truly your home.

You might also be interested in: 9 Items From Etsy To Elevate Your Home Decor [Buyer’s Guide]

Patrice Devereaux

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