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Op-shopping for fun and profit

Updated on June 25, 2016
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!

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

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.

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.

925 Silver jewellery - not such a bargain

When op-shop personnel find the 925 marking on an item, they price it very 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 manufacturer or 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.

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.

Photo by Allan
Photo by Allan

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 Cecelia
Photo by Cecelia

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 dress (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.

Rubber kewpie doll for sale on ebay
Rubber kewpie doll for sale on ebay
Restored celluloid from:
Restored celluloid from:
Hard plastic dolls for sale on:
Hard plastic dolls for sale on:
Image from:
Image from:


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.
  • 19602 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.

Have your say:

What do you like to look for in op-shops?

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Why look for the best price?

You may ask why I speak as if being more diligent or more knowledgeable than op-shop staff in order to find under-priced treasures is a good thing. Surely the money goes to charity anyway?

Yes, the money goes to charity and does a good work. However, many charity run op-shops appear to have lost sight of the fact that they serve the less fortunate of members of society amongst their customers as well as amongst their charity recipients.

I would argue that if they can give discounts to students and pensioners one day per week, they could give discounts to genuine students and pensioners every day of the week. And if an item can be sold at 50% discount because the colour of it's tag has come up that week, it could have been sold at 50% discount to a needy customer at any time.

Op-shop prices aren't always cheaper!

Without getting too personal, I can say I remember a time when I was a "mum" clothing a family and could not afford op-shops! Department store track suits in school uniform colours were discounted at $7 an item. Op shop children's clothes were similar prices and half worn out! Novelty items were not very high on the agenda.

I also have an issue with the way they price discount brands such as Millers. I am a great Millers fan, but I know if I go to Millers on a sale day, dresses and jumpers are very reasonable. And they have a points system so that when I spend enough a $5 reward voucher issues. When I see the Millers tag on a dress similar to what I bought for $8 in Millers priced at $12 in an op-shop, I simply pass it over...


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