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Opportunity Shopping For Fun

Updated on June 9, 2021
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Cecelia has researched H.P. Lovecraft and fairy tales. Working with kindergartens, Cecelia became interested in speech development.

Photo by Allan
Photo by Allan

Bored with everyday retail therapy? Try Op-shops.

Sometime it is hard to get just what you want in the prescribed retail malls. The specific item you want may be out of fashion, out of production, or out of your price range! Or you may have browsed the air-conditioned and catalogued isles of supermarkets and department stores until you have seen it all!

Op-shops (short for opportunity shops) are full of treasures donated by people who do not want them anymore. These shops sell their items and the proceeds go to charity. They are often staffed by volunteers, who get pretty good at pricing and valuing antiques and vintage items, however, they will still charge less than a registered antique dealer. they may even miss identifying some special item, and you may find a prize!

1. China

Op-shop staff are pretty good at identifying really famous china patterns, and Royal Albert and Royal Doulton will probably have a hefty price tag. (Although it could still be better than in an antique gallery).

  • However, they may miss lesser known patterns of value. For example, I have passed over Johnson Brothers that had been identified and priced at around $10 a piece and found unidentified Johnson Brothers items at $1 a piece at another store.
  • You may be able to complete Grandma's heirloom dinner set by searching through op-shops. We had a nice blue and white pattern I was sad because a few plates had gotten broken before we inherited them. One day in an op-shop, I found enough matching odd pieces to complete the set.
  • You may find pieces you enjoy for personal use and display around the home.

Collectable anchor-hocking. Photo by Cecelia.
Collectable anchor-hocking. Photo by Cecelia.

925 Silver jewellery - not such a bargain

When op-shop personnel find the 925 marking on an item, they often price it high. (925 is an identifying mark which means around 92.5% silver content. The rest is an alloy). I have seen silver rings marked at $25 when local jewellery stores are having sales and pricing new sterling silver rings at $20.

The worst I have seen so far, is $50 for a silver chain, when Michael Hill jeweller was having a sale and comparable chains were around $29 new. You could argue that being vintage adds some value, but many items are not from any particular era and may even be quite recent.

That said, I have found silver rings and identified them by the characteristic tarnish silver accumulates. If they are not cleaned, staff may miss the hallmark and assume they are fading plate or old junk.

Buyer Beware!

This is silver look, not even Sterling Silver and Salvos are asking $35 for it.
This is silver look, not even Sterling Silver and Salvos are asking $35 for it.

Silver plate - a better buy

Op-shops get a lot of bric-a-brac, and may even have "discount sales" in an attempt to offload it. Silver plate has a potential antique value and reading the blade or handle of cutlery is a time consuming process. Therefore some items marked "plate"or "ËP" (electroplate) remain unidentified.

Do not get confused with "nickel silver". Nickel silver or German silver is a copper alloy with nickel and often zinc. The formulation is around 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc.It contains no silver. It may be antique and have historical value, however, it does not have great monetary value. I recommend having a few pieces for fun.

Staff are likely to have recognised larger items such as teapot and tray sets. However, there is a chance they still will not have priced them as high as an antique dealer would.

Designer Clothes

Everyone op-shops for the clothes. This may range from teens who want a fab style with limited pocket money, to older people who want warm coats for winter. If it fits and you can get good wear out of it, that is great.

Some people, however, turn hunting for clothes in an op-shop into a search for sophistication. High value items such as designer label evening wear, leather jackets and faux fur coats can be purchased for a fraction of their designer price. This is particularly true if the staff have not recognised the designer label and priced the item alongside the regular clothes.

I have noticed some peculiarities amongst op-shop clothing pricing. Some stores price all clothes beyond a certain length (mini, or sometimes knee length) as evening-wear. This means some quite casual longer dresses are over-priced. I am tall, so this is a disadvantage for me. Some women wear ankle length skirts for religious or cultural reasons, so this is also a disadvantage for them.

You definitely need to "play the game" with op-shop clothes. Some stores have a coloured tag system, where certain tags are half-price for a week. Others have a discount day for pensioners and another for students. This means a dress may be $14 one day, but if you go in on the right day or week, you may get it for as little as $7.

Photo by Allan
Photo by Allan

Antique Furniture

If you are a lover of antique furniture you may find some prize pieces at op-shops. Op-shop furniture comes as-is and may sometimes need some repair. If the staff have recognised something as antique they may have priced it a bit higher in recognition.

For example, an ugly old wardrobe may be $150 while a nice pine one only $100. I also saw a retro-kitchen dresser (with all the hallmarks of 1960s styling) painted an ugly flat white with coloured sliding glass doors priced at $250; while a nice pine one with three glass doors went for $200.

Some of these items would be worth a lot more in an antique store. If all you want is nice furniture, I recommend the pine. Pine is a special favourite of mine anyway! If you enjoy owning antiques, watch for them to come into op-shops old and dingy looking, take them home and give them a touch of sand paper and polish.


Dolls are highly collectable items and often sought after by the young at heart. China dolls are clearly worth a lot of money and will have been identified by op-shop staff. Modern imitation china dolls are less valuable, but may still command a good price due to the labour that goes into their creation.

Other dolls that are collectable include:

  • Antique rubber dolls - (not to be confused with blow up dolls). These preceded the development of plastic dolls and included the famous "kewpie". Manufacture began around 1849 using material developed by the Goodyear company (established 1835).
  • Celluloid dolls - Celluloid doll manufacture began in the 1860s and continued into the early twentieth century. Early dolls may have had a cloth body, similar to some china dolls. In the early 1900s, the manufacture of celluloid improved and whole dolls were made from celluloid. Celluloid is flimsier than plastic and can be crushed by rough handling. It can also be damaged by the sun. Celluloid toy manufacture was banned around 1940 because the toys were considered a fire danger.
  • Hard plastic dolls - hard plastic doll manufacture commenced in the late 1940s, when plastic materials developed during the war became available to civilian manufacturers. Vintage hard plastic dolls often had joins (seams) that showed. They also were brittle and could be smashed if dropped or hit. This brought them into dis-favour for being dangerous.
  • Vinyl dolls - improvements in plastic manufacture led to the vinyl doll in the 1950s. These often had mohair wigs.
  • 1960s and 1970s - retro dolls such as mattel dolls are also collectible.
  • Some action figures, barbies and movie spin-offs become rare due to their popularity.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Cecelia


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