Professional Secrets for Finding Treasure at Garage Sales

Shannon Quinn - June 21, 2021
Some people collect rare mason jars. Credit: Shutterstock

16. Mason Jars

You can go to any Walmart in the country and buy a 10 pack of Mason Jars for $10. So what makes one worth $1, and another worth $1,000? The Mason company was founded in Vineland, New Jersey in 1858. This area is famous for its glass blowing experts, and a tinsmith named John Landis Mason invented the screw-on top. Ever since then, the world has used his jars for canning air-tight fruits and vegetables to help them store food for the winter.

Sometimes, antique niches are localized. Something that’s worth almost nothing in one area of the country can fetch a lot more somewhere else. I live in southern New Jersey, so it’s actually very common to find antique Mason jars here. Antique dealers will take them to far-away antique shows, and make a lot more money selling them elsewhere. One of the most valuable mason jars were used for dispensers, and they go for about $1,000 each.

You’d be surprised how much cookie jars go for. Credit: Shutterstock

15. Cookie Jars

Recently, there was a huge resurgence of popularity with the TV show Friends. On eBay, one of the most expensive cookie jars selling right now is the vintage clock shaped jar that says “Cookie Time”, seen in Monica’s Apartment. If you can find the right green color as seen on TV, people are selling them for $800 to $1,000. 

In general, many vintage cookie jars go for $50 to $100 or more, depending on the subject matter, and the brand. Like most things in life, you need to make sure the cookie jar is in good condition. Also make sure you package it safely so that it doesn’t break in transit.

A select few VHS tapes have sold for a lot of money. Credit: Shutterstock

14. VHS Tapes

Over the past couple years, people went wild on the Internet talking about Disney’s “Black Diamond” VHS tapes, and how they are selling on eBay for thousands of dollars. Here’s the thing…Just because someone lists something online for thousands of dollars doesn’t mean it’s actually worth that much. There are also people out there selling the identical Disney Black Diamond VHS tapes, brand new in plastic, for only $25 instead of $12,500. The consensus is that these must be fake listings where money laundering is the true motive behind the sale, not the item itself.

With that being said, there is still money to be made with VHS tapes. If you can find a brand new, sealed in plastic Black Diamond VHS for $1, you’re still going to make a $24 profit. And there seems to be a grading system in place, similar to comic books and pokemon cards. For example, this IGS graded tape of the Super Mario Bros movie just sold for $10,000.

Vintage microphones can be worth quite a lot of money. Credit: Shutterstock

13. Microphones

We now live in this era where almost everyone has a podcast. Anyone with a Macbook can create their own studio-quality music, as long as they have a good microphone. So there is a big surge in popularity when it comes to audio equipment. Successful musicians and music producers also have the big bucks to spend on collectible vintage mics. A Vintage Neumann U 67 Large Diaphragm Multipattern Tube Condenser Microphone recently sold on eBay for $14,000.

It’s rare to find vintage mics in good condition. Years ago, it was rare for anyone to own a microphone, unless they were professionals. So if you see vintage microphones in good, working condition at a yard sale, it’s almost always worth snatching it up. Just make sure you do the research, test it out, and communicate openly with the buyer.

Don’t pass up fishing lures when you go to garage sales. Credit: Shutterstock

12. Fishing equipment

Fishing lures are actually very easy to find at garage sales. This happens a lot when someone’s husband has passed away, and the widow is just clearing out his belongings. Believe it or not, vintage fishing gear is highly collectible, and can be worth a ton of money. Some vintage lures are even worth thousands of dollars apiece.

With that being said, the vast majority of vintage fishing lures you see on eBay are selling for only $5 and up. But if you can find a big collection at a yard sale, it still might be worth buying in order to take home and do some research on each piece. Worst case scenario, you can resell an entire lot of fishing lures for around $100.

You would be shocked to learn how much a walkman goes for nowadays. Credit: Canva

11. Walkmans

Back in the 1980’s, nearly everyone had a walkman cassette tape player. And into the 90’s and early 2000’s, many of us graduated to the walkman CD player. Now, with iPods and iPhones, we no longer need a dedicated music player. After the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy, the blue Sony Walkman TPS-L2 featured in the film began selling online from $500 to $3,000. Now that the movie hype has died down, you can buy one for as low as $200.

This is a great example of how things you never knew would be popular again can sometimes have a resurgence. Unfortunately, though, the popularity really only came back for this particular model of walkman. Others are selling for only $10 online.

There is a huge market for rare car parts. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Automotive Parts

Car parts are never cheap. And when someone is trying to restore a vintage vehicle, that means they need to find the parts from scrapped vehicles. Some collectors are very particular about finding an original part, rather than a modern remake. 

Hood ornaments are a popular collectible, because they’re like a work of art. After a quick search on eBay, I see that they go from $100 all the way up to $2,000. Years ago, a collection of Lalique hood ornaments sold for $805,000. There were 30 hood ornaments in the set, but that’s still an incredible price to get for them!

Vintage trunks are aesthetically pleasing, and sell like hotcakes. Credit: Canva

9. Trunks

Nowadays, people love to use their modern rolling suitcases at the airport. But there is something very classy about leather trunks. A lot of people will use these for coffee tables, or to store things at the end of the bed. There are a lot of brands out there easily selling for hundreds of dollars online. Since these trunks are so heavy, it might be better to sell these on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

One of the most expensive brands by far is Louis Vuitton. A brass Louis Vuitton Explorer trunk from 1888 sold at auction in 2019 for $159,200. However, if you find a Louis Vuitton trunk, be careful. There is a chance that it could be fake. 

Silver cutlery may be worth more than you would imagine. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Sterling Silver Flatware

Back in the era where dinner parties were the most exciting thing you could do in life, your cutlery really mattered. Anyone who has seen the Downton Abbey movie already knows how long it took the household servants to polish the silver before a big party. Nowadays, people aren’t so serious about their forks, knives, and spoons. But if you can find a set made of real silver, that’s always worth buying.

Certain brands of silverware like Tiffany, Stratford, and Georg Jensen are much more valuable than others. This set of Stieff silver flatware regularly sells for $15,000 while Wallace Sterling Silver sells for $7,000. Obviously, these luxuries are more commonly found in Europe, rather than the United States. But if you’re lucky enough to find one at a yard sale, snatch it up.

Keep an eye out for guitars. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Guitars

Vintage guitars tend to hold their value very well. This is especially true for brands like Gibson and Stratford that are highly sought-after. Check out this 1956 Gibson Les Paul, which recently sold for $18,300. Many other guitars regularly sell online for thousands of dollars if they’re rare, and in good working condition. Having the original case is also a huge plus. 

But unless you play guitar yourself, or have at least done a ton of research, it’s hard to know if a guitar is actually worth something or not. I’ve struck out buying cheap string instruments like guitars and violins that weren’t worth anything, simply because I’m not an expert on the subject matter.

Tools are commonly found at garage sales, and they’re a good buy. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Tools

Modern tools do very well at garage sales, and typically sell right away. It always seems like someone is breaking something, and looking for a cheaper alternative secondhand from their neighbor. But antique tools are a different story. A lot of people pass these up, without realizing that it could be worth thousands of dollars.

If you want to learn more about which tools are worth something, check out this article by The Family Handyman. In 2009, a John Deere wrench sold for $15,000. Wow! That’s more expensive than buying a whole John Deere tractor.

Handmade cuckoo clocks are always valuable. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Cuckoo Clocks

If you find any cuckoo clock from a yard sale, grab it and ask questions later. Even the quirky small brands can sell for $100 for more. There are some clock fanatics out there who literally have an entire wall or room of their house dedicated to clocks. If you can find a clock that has some other special value to it, that’s worth buying as well. For example, I bought a Disney Snow White clock at a yard sale for $1. It was signed by Adriana Caselloti, the actress who played the voice of Snow White. After having her signature authenticated by a Disney expert, I was able to sell it for $150.

The most expensive cuckoo clocks you can find are the German Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks, which go for thousands of dollars. I found a German Black Forest cuckoo clock at a yardsale, and paid just $5 for it. The clock wasn’t in working condition, and missing parts. I was still able to sell it on eBay practically overnight for $350. The person who bought it probably fixed it up and resold it for over $1,000. There is a Swiss Black Forest cuckoo clock from the year 1900 currently listed on 1stDibs for $30,000.

There are a few vintage computers out there that are worth a small fortune. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Computers

Nowadays, it seems like computers become obsolete pretty quickly. After just a few years, your old laptop or desktop may be too slow to handle all of the newest programs and games. So it’s actually very common to see people selling their vintage computers at garage sales without thinking twice about it. If you’re lucky, you just might hit the jackpot and find a rare and expensive computer.

The 1976 Apple 1 had very few models made, and most of them were located in California. One of these sold on eBay for $1,750,000. And if you look for the Apple II and beyond, they still sell for thousands of dollars online.

Some carpets resell for hundreds of dollars. Credit: Canva

3. Carpets and Rugs

Believe it or not, there is a big market for used rugs. Handmade antique Persian rugs are one of the most sought-after. Companies around the world have tried to replicate the style, but it’s not exactly the same. The most expensive rug ever sold was for $33 million in 2013. Crazy, right?

The great thing about rugs is that they can be shampooed and cleaned so that they’re in great condition, even if they’re used. The eBay podcast hosts of Scavenger Life, Jay and Ryanne, regularly sell antique rugs for hundreds of dollars. When you think about it, a lot of rugs from high-end brands go for $1,000 or more. So if you can find one at a yard sale and clean it, you would probably have great luck reselling it on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. The only issue is finding a place to store it.

Always do research before you get rid of grandma’s bone china. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Bone China

Fine Bone China is different from your average porcelain. It’s made with bone ash, and has a semi-translucent quality if you hold it up to the sun. If you ever find a piece like this when browsing garage sales, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to sell each piece for $100. Always check the bottom for marks. A golden crown usually indicates that it came from England. British Bone China tends to be the most valuable.

Other types of china are valuable, as well. Many of the ultra-expensive pieces are European. But plenty of American brands, like Lenox, sell for decent amounts of money on eBay too. Lenox has patterns that come out for a limited time. So if someone breaks a piece, they often go online to find replacements. Because of this, there is a huge market for selling older china patterns. For example, I recently bought my mom a replacement Lenox mug, and I had to pay $40 just for the one piece. For all I know, this person may have found it for $1 at a yard sale. However, be warned. If you plan to sell anything breakable like china, make sure you pack it very well!

Some people collect vintage ephemera. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Papers

Collectible papers, also known as “ephemera” are bought for all kinds of reasons. Some people like to see newspaper stories of historic value, postcards of their hometown, and so much more. However, please don’t get into the habit of collecting every single paper you find. (That’s called hoarding.) 

Sometimes, you just might hit the jackpot. One man found a paper stock certificate from 1917 of an oil company, which merged with Coca-Cola. (Weird combo, but okay.) The man paid just $5, and found out later that it was now worth $130 million!