Whenever I go junking, I love the language that surrounds the scene. Upscale shoppers refer to the process as antiquing, and they’ll point out the difference between vintage, retro, and true antiques. Frugal shoppers call it thrifting and bemoan the fact that their favorite consignment stores have become popular with Gen Z. The pickers use words like hunting, as if they are capturing animals in the wild and dragging them home. You can see a hungry gleam in their eye.
You meet wanderers who browse without ever buying. They contrast resellers that consult a firm inventory list for their shop. They’re all connected by that thrill of finding something special.
It reminds me of scene from Gilmore Girls. Rory invites Emily to go antique shopping in Stars Hollow in the episode Emily in Wonderland (S1 E19). Instantly, Emily falls in love with the unique finds at Kim’s antiques. Her pleasure radiates at the newfound, hidden shop. Emily’s shocked at some of the prices for the items, proud that she’s finding treasures at aggressive Mrs. Kim’s rates.
At one point, Rory points to a piece she likes and asks, “…is it something special?”
Emily responds, “Do you like it? Then, it’s something special.”
Finding something special ties together all the types of pickers. Below are a few of my favorite people I find at thrift stores and rummage sales.
The Five Types of Pickers You’ll Meet at the Junk Shops
At the last market I attended, I overheard someone talking about that time they found a Picasso for $1 at an estate sale. “The auctioneer had no idea and pronounced it Pic-Aye-SOO,” she explained with glee. The group laughed as she described tucking it behind a pile of junk during the preview and quickly bidding on it during the auction. She explained that it was part of his sketches for pottery and its value was only a few hundred dollars. But, the ratio between what she spent and the value of what she received made for an amazing story.
I refer to this type as The Collector. They stroll through auctions and markets with the phone out to quickly research the markings on pieces. Inspecting damage and noting use, they know how much a piece is worth. They tend to enjoy history and know the common categories of popular items like milk glass or pounded tin. They know the difference between Fire King and Pyrex.
The curator usually works around an aesthetic, unique to their own taste. They care more about the look, usually associated with an era than the monetary value of a piece. They don’t move systematically. Instead, they experience the shop. Their shopping basket usually revolves around a theme like copper or watercolors.
These people talk about chalk paint and look for good bones. They’re quite controversial, as their projects take old pieces and turn them into something new. The Collectors gasp in horror at the idea of pouring mustard paint over a Bentwood rocker. However, The Flipper buys with a vision of what something can become.
Some people simply like the ambiance of shops with old things. We don’t judge them. The Browser makes a perfect shopping companion because they can fetch coffee to sustain the hunt.
The Designer aims to bring old and used pieces into new spaces to add a unique touch. They look for authenticity, bringing imagination to how an object can be used. Similar to The Flipper, they don’t see things as they are. They envision junk as what they could be.
What type of Picker are You?
For most of my life, I’ve been a bit of a Flipper and mostly a Browser. I like to wander into rummage sales and thrift stores to find weird things. But, I don’t buy much and I’m slightly intimidated by serious antiquers.
Lately, I’ve been curating a collection of pencil mugs for my space at Ashwood Manor Designs. I also bring them to local market and events. They’re nothing valuable but, I like to think they’re special.
You can see some of my fun finds on my Instagram page, where I document my eavesdropping and wandering.