So: define “Vintage”…?

April 5, 2014

Here’s a subject that comes up quite often: what is the actual definition of “vintage” and how do you know if something really should be described as such?

 

Google’s definition, which I rather like, is, “denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.” Really the word belongs to the world of wine, and simply denotes the year a particular wine was produced, but like many another good & useful word before it, it’s leaked out into other areas and the connotations of quality and age have gone along with it.

Not wine, but surely vintage?

Not wine, but surely vintage?

There is no official “age” that an item (or a style) should attain before it can be considered vintage. At the market I regularly trade at, the agreement is that things should be, to the best of our knowledge & belief, 25 years old or more. Which brings the huge shoulders of the 1980s firmly into the “vintage” rearview mirror, but to someone of my age, that’s hardly any age at all; it was only yesterday! And that, I suppose, makes me too somewhat vintage, provided I can dredge up a bit of quality from somewhere. But to the young fashion students who often buy from us, the 1980s are out of the Ark – practically prehistory!

 

All of us will sometimes have items that we don’t know the age of; we can’t (economically!) carbon-date clothing or fabric, for example. But we do know quality, or quirkiness, or classic styling, so we will usually describe things as “retro” rather than vintage if we know or suspect them of being less than 25 years old. However we could, with justification, use the word “vintage” to describe something only 5 years old, if it ticks the “high quality/best of its kind” box. Needless to say, some vendors elsewhere exploit this to the fullest & will happily label any old secondhand stuff as “vintage” which rather muddies the waters & is in danger of bringing the whole game into disrepute. And there are things, and plenty of them, which may well be more than 25 years old but will never be vintage, just old tat. Mind you, I’m assuming that that phrase probably originally comes from the use of “tatting” as an inexpensive substitute for more complex & expensive bobbin lace, so I’d actually be very interested in genuine old “tat” anyway!

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

Old tat? A tatted doily from a 1970s Golden Hands craft compendium.

 

I have some “Golden Homes” magazines from the 1970s somewhere; you could swap many of the room sets into a current IKEA or Habitat catalogue and I genuinely doubt that anyone would even notice, because good design doesn’t have a sell-by date or built-in obsolescence. Not that everything IKEA sell is good, but we have things we bought from them way back when they first opened in the UK, over 25 years ago, and they are still doing the job we chose them for, and still look good. They have now, in my understanding, become vintage; perhaps they always were.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

Classic 1970s styling from Golden Homes magazine.

 

When I’m challenged about the exact dating of something, I have now learnt to say that vintage isn’t about an exact date; it’s about quality, design & style from the past. Quality doesn’t vary, but each stallholder will have different ideas about style, and that’s just how it should be; each of our customers will have equally different and equally valid ideas too, and will combine, wear, use or display the treasures that we’ve found for them in a myriad of different ways. Many of those undreamt-of when the item was new, and often mixing & matching the best of old & new. The best of both worlds, in effect, carrying our past forward into the future…

Lace? Tatting? Actually, crochet - and definitely vintage!

Lace? Tatting? Actually crochet – definitely vintage!

 

Viva vintage!

 

Synchronicity at work…

March 21, 2014

Wikipedia’s definition of synchronicity:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time.”

Well…

I often get asked, “Wherever do you get all these treasures? You must spend all your weekends at car boots & jumble sales!” Which I would love to be able to do, but alas, life doesn’t always work out like that; I have lots of other calls on my time, though I do have two jumbles on my “hit list” this weekend. So in order to maintain some kind of flow, some continuity on the stall, from time to time I resort to buying stuff in from the wholesalers. It doesn’t necessarily work out cheaper, and I’m always aware that they will have cherry-picked the really good stuff for their own “headline” stores, so although they are reliably good value, I’m not getting the very best bargains, and am thus not able to pass them on. However sometimes I strike lucky… this little lot arrived today, from the wholesale arm of a well-known charity:

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50 magnificent vintage hats, which should keep my stall buzzing all summer long! Provided, that is, that not too many of them end up on my daughters or my trainee-daughter-in-law… This elegant confection has already made its debut on Facebook:

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and they are clearly going to provide us with days of entertainment!

I’d already decided to make some major alterations to the layout of the stall at Molly’s Den; books are selling steadily down there, but aren’t very visible from the aisles. And the kitchenalia on the shelves at the back might as well be in Outer Mongolia; despite being clearly visible, things just stay put there, but usually sell within days when I move them forwards towards the aisle. So I thought I’d find some bookshelves, put them along the back with some interesting vintage titles & reasonable prices clearly visible, and possibly some of the more dramatic hats too, and see if that tempts people further in. But no inexpensive bookcases turned up, for weeks on end, on Ebay, Gumtree or Freegle/Freecycle. Reluctantly, I decided to invest a whole £30 in a pair of cheap & cheerful bookcases from that well-known Scandinavian emporium, which I happened to be virtually driving past yesterday. They had 16 in stock when I checked online a couple of days beforehand, but by the time I got there, they were all gone, and they’re not going to have any more in for weeks! So, back to the drawing board… 

Luckily, last night, there was a small pine bookcase, just the right height, for £10 on Gumtree, which I was able to pick up this morning. It was close to Molly’s Den so has gone straight onto the stall, although it’s not yet in its final position and won’t be filled up until after the weekend. And an hour or so later, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found the following Scandinavian item, marginally damaged but perfectly safe & sturdy, in the wood skip at the Recycling Centre – and look what else was there, too!

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Cat not included!

More hats! And all for less than I’d have paid for one new bookcase. If that’s not synchronicity at work, I don’t know what is.

Ooops, I may have committed sacrilege…

March 10, 2014

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I was hurtling round our local market yesterday hunting for something to supplement a handmade birthday present, when I happened to pass a house-clearance stall we’ve bought from many times. I asked after the stallholder’s wife, who I know is unwell, and we were chatting away when I spotted something in one of his boxes; an old and very tatty paper fan. Being a  bit of a magpie, I couldn’t resist the bright colours, and couldn’t help asking how much. “Just take it!” came the reply; one end was literally hanging off. Delighted, I thanked him & scurried off clutching my “treasure”, completed my errand and went off to the party.

It was dark by the time we got home, and I knew I’d need to wait until daylight until I could see whether I stood any chance of repairing it. Then a family health-related issue gobbled up most of my day, so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to sit down & look at my fan, though I should have been elsewhere by then, but had had to cancel. Anyway, it seemed as if it would be repairable; it’s a pretty thing and I could see that it wasn’t a mass-produced item. There was a huge rip, crossing several staves, at one end and a smaller rip at the other, but just about all of the paper was still present & the staves unbroken.

I’ve hunted before now for information on repairing fans online, as I have a bit of a fascination for them (not to mention a small collection) but without much success, so I just set to and did my best. I used cigarette paper as I know it’s good strong stuff but almost invisible, with Gum Arabic glue edges, which is pretty natural stuff and probably not far removed from the glues originally used in the fan’s construction. It looks to me as if someone had attempted a previous repair to the big rip, using a glue which had discoloured & left a brownish stain, and clearly hadn’t worked for very long as there’s a lot more rip there now, and I soon found that Gum Arabic didn’t seem to stick very well; there’s some kind of finish on the paper. So I used careful smears of Mod Podge to stick the cigarette paper down. I’m quite pleased with the result; I now have a fan which looks reasonably complete, still folds easily and works, and would otherwise have ended up in a bin.

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BUT soon afterwards, having got the bit between my teeth & looking for some information to help me repair another fan, I finally managed to stumble across the International Fan Circle’s website… which advises using a starch-based glue with no additives. Mod Podge, I’m pretty sure, is posh but very effective PVA. Oh dear! And reading their history pages, the fan might well be rather older than I’d originally thought; it’s clearly not a mass-produced item from the time of the People’s Republic or the days of heavy industrialisation since, but hand-painted, with delightful little birds & rounded mountains painted on the 30-odd staves and drawn in ink up the guards. (And oddly, “6¾” written in pencil on the top of one guard.) It seems to me Chinese rather than Japanese, though I don’t know why; the mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji is the best reason I can think of! So I hope I haven’t ruined something of real interest & value, but in my defence, I did rescue it from an almost certain doom. And I will know better next time, and hopefully do a proper job…

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Please, do actually look…

February 27, 2014

Several times lately, I’ve been restocking my stall at Molly’s Den when ladies of roughly my own age have drifted in & rummaged through the clothing, looking wistfully at the floaty 70s maxi-dresses, comfortable kaftans and cheesecloth tops. Then they usually sigh deeply and say to me,

“Oh, I’d so love to be able to wear things like these again! It’s such a shame I’ve put on so much weight; we were so much smaller in those days, and vintage clothes are all so tiny!”

Erm, no, actually. NOT all vintage clothes are tiny. Quite a lot of mine aren’t; they have come from America & Germany, two countries where people have traditionally not been built like pixies. And I’m in great danger of clearing my rails of all the larger sizes and chopping them up to make bags with the fabrics; I thought people would be delighted to find vintage clothes in normal sizes, but actually, they’re not even looking! Now it may be that people are just being nice, and they don’t really want to revisit their youth and float out of the door in psychedelic glory or swathed in cheesecloth, but there are plenty of ordinary-sized vintage clothes out there; maybe not with the nipped-in waists and tulip skirts that we did wear back then, but you’d find plenty to fit & suit you on the rails if you actually looked.

Undoubtedly the sizings have changed several times over the span of years that my clothing covers, and from country to country too. I have clothes & dressmaking patterns ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s. (In case you’re surprised at that, to an 18 year-old fashion undergraduate, which a number of my customers are, the 80s are pretty much pre-historic & certainly count as vintage. They do love a batwing sleeve…) In the 40s a 36″ bust meant you were a size 18, now you’d be a 10. Or so it is in the UK, but not in the US; you’d be a size 6 there, and something else altogether in Europe, where inches are not overly popular anyway.  So I don’t bother with size tags, especially not as a fair number of the garments are handmade; I provide a tape measure & a mirror and there’s a changing room elsewhere.

Quite a few of the top-quality, pristine-looking vintage clothes are in fact tiny. This is because they were bought back then, quite probably in the sales, by people thinking, if I lose half a stone, I’ll be able to get into it. But they never did, so the item has languished unworn at the back of the wardrobe for 50-odd years. However, if you don’t mind that something isn’t completely unworn – and if you did, you probably wouldn’t be looking in a vintage shop anyway – most evening/Sunday best/party clothes will only have been worn a few times, and hence they have survived, when the everyday items were worn & mended until they disintegrated, and may well have been cut up & used for rags or patchwork after that. So yes, the things you see in the windows of the coolest “Retro” shops in the high-rent locations may well be tiny, as well as horrendously expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find anything to both fit & suit you.

So, get yourself down to a vintage shop like Molly’s Den or market near you – there’s one in Boscombe this Saturday, as it happens – and have a good hunt around; you will almost certainly find something to fit you, provided the stallholder hasn’t given up stocking them! And you may well save a vintage treasure from being chopped up & turned into a bag, if it’s been on the rails for 6 months because the customers the right size to wear it have assumed there won’t be anything there for them, and haven’t even looked…

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Catching the moment…

February 9, 2014

It’s halfway through Sunday afternoon & I’m about to drift off upstairs to my new “sewing station” & try my hand at free-motion quilting. On one of my trusty old Berninas, rather than on the beautiful new-to-me Pfaff computer-that-sews, because I don’t have a darning/free motion foot for that yet! So far today, my feet haven’t touched the ground, so I’m due some down-time, although Sunday is a day most people associate with rest. But sometimes you have to make the best of what comes your way, and catch the moment… make hay while the sun shines, sort of!

We’re just back from an invigorating walk in the sunshine down at the riverbank. As we turned for home, we could see the storm clouds piling up once again on the western horizon, but we were ready for anything it could throw at us, wearing wellies & waterproofs. First thing I did this morning on seeing the sun was to whack the washing into the machine & set it off; the clean stuff went out on the line before 10am and came back in at 2pm, dry as a bone in the stiff breeze and early Spring sunshine. Not that it’s at all warm down here! But the bulbs are up & the flower buds are forming, my chickens are laying fit to bust, the garden birds are pairing up and pottering off with twigs and straw, and although there’ll undoubtedly be some icy bits to get through yet, as well as yet more rain, it’s increasingly obvious that the year has turned once again. I’ve cooked a big roast dinner, which will reappear under various easy-cook leftover-dish guises throughout the week, and trotted round to the local market to hoover up £4.50-worth of last-minute-bargain fruit & vegetables to make soups & puddings with, or to dehydrate & use at another time if I don’t have an immediate use for them. There was even a bag of 18 limes for £1; I can feel some Lime Curd coming on, which will use up some of the egg glut, and maybe I’ll also chuck a few limes into the marmalade I’ll be making in the next couple of days with my pristine little vintage Spong marmalade cutter (£5 at the car boot yesterday, works beautifully) and the two boxes of on-their-sell-by organic Seville oranges I found at the supermarket for £1 the other day.

There is a point to all this rambling on, and it’s this: I could easily have justified having a bit of a lie-in this morning, and thought, well, I’ll do the washing tomorrow. I could equally well not have bothered with the market; we have enough F&V in to see us through the next few days. We could have stayed indoors in the warm, rather than hare off down a sodden pathway in the stiff cold breeze. BUT then I’d most likely have ended up drying the washing indoors, possibly even with electrical help, so it didn’t end up going smelly. I’d have had to pay full price for top-ups of fruit & veg later in the week, and I’d have felt very guilty on the exercise front, as well as stir-crazy. And I’d have missed a bargain sewing box full of intriguing vintage sewing, knitting & crochet patterns, not to mention the sparkle of the sunshine on the racing water and glimmering through the golden skeleton reeds. And that’s exactly what I would have done, without even thinking about it, just a few years ago; just stayed indoors, in the warm. My family will tell you I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator & day-dreamer. But somehow I seem to be learning, at this late juncture, to get up & get going

I know I’m very lucky to be able to seize the ideal moment to do some things now – like I’m carving out 5 minutes to write this – and believe me, it doesn’t always work out this way. But it certainly does feel good to think you’re on top of at least some of the tasks in your life, possibly even a little ahead of the game! And it frees me up, in my head, to go & do something now that I actually want to do…

vintagesewingbox

A new paradigm…

January 12, 2014

I have  a big task before me. I have to learn a whole new way of living. From now on, I do not need to buy enough food to provision a small army on a weekly basis. I won’t need to chase around the house trying to locate enough plates to feed said army at every mealtime. We won’t be tripping over piles of muddy boots in every doorway, or surveying the massive washing mountain with dismay. Yes, DS2 and his long-term girlfriend have moved out. It’s just us and the two girls under this roof full-time now, and DS3 back for the holidays. It’s going to seem very quiet…

They’ve moved into a bright, warm house shared with another young couple, for whom he was Best Man back last summer. They all seem to rub along very well together and three out of the four are offspring of big families, which means they know the ropes when it comes to the inevitable times when tempers flash, and how to let things simmer down again. And whilst he may have pushed the boundaries & got away with blue murder on the tidiness front here at home, I don’t doubt that he, like his two brothers before him, will somehow manage to be reasonably civilised when the chips are down. He may not always have obeyed them, but he knows perfectly well what the rules of civilised living are. And I expect Madam will keep him in order anyway; I have every respect for her managerial capabilities! It’s a shame they can’t yet afford a decent roof over each couple’s heads, but they are getting far more for their money by sharing; instead of a cramped little studio flat over a shop with no garden, no parking and a kitchen that would be better described as a cupboard (which they would be stretching themselves to the very limit to afford, round here)  they are in a very pleasant 4-bedroom house with a lovely, big, well-designed kitchen, a pretty & practical garden, parking and a garage. So they can have friends over to stay, space for their musical instruments, and room for money-saving devices like a chest freezer. It’s an ideal compromise, if such a thing exists. It may not last very long, as the house is on the market to be sold, but fingers crossed they will have long enough to find somewhere similar, if the arrangement suits all concerned.

I suspect that energy, resource and financial constraints may mean that the days of the nuclear family in their little suburban home are limited, anyway, and we need to look for and accept a range of different solutions if we’re not to develop tent cities or shanty towns; people need homes but simply can’t afford them on average wages round here, where the jet set meet in summer to play polo on the beach. Multi-generation living is one of those solutions, as is house-sharing, taking in (or being) lodgers, or even communal living. All of these, to some extent, have always gone on quietly in the background; several members of my family back in the 1800s were named after a lodger, who one daughter/sister had married, and one of my own brothers still carries that name. When we moved here, there were two dear old ladies, ex-missionaries, house-sharing around the corner, which was quite a common set-up for those who had never married, and often worked very well, with none of the smutty innuendo that people attach to such an idea now. And I can see that the idea of a “companion” was a very good solution for older people who didn’t want to leave their homes & gardens to go into residential care or tiny “sheltered” flatlets, and a younger person who didn’t earn enough to afford a roof over their own head, or might not have wanted to live alone. In medieval times, very few people lived in nuclear families; you were part of your master’s household, if an apprentice or a servant, or a monastery/convent (not all inhabitants were religious; less than half might have taken vows, in most cases) once past childhood. And in your turn, you would shelter an assortment of other people’s teens or other waifs & strays, as you achieved masterly status yourself. And harems are an example of communal living, though not one that most of us would find acceptable, but life in one might have been better than for a young Victorian servant girl the master took a fancy to.

What seems normal to us would seem extraordinary to people elsewhere in the world or living at another time; and one day our current living arrangements might well cause incredulity & laughter to our descendants. And different solutions will suit different people. But it’s not just people; as DS2 leaves us, we have gained a new four-legged family member. The feral cat we’ve been feeding for the last year has finally decided to come indoors. And very polite & unassuming he/she is being about it, too; the resident moggies haven’t objected at all so far, not even when it turned up for breakfast with them this morning. It’s played a very long game, and clearly isn’t taking anything for granted; we still don’t even know whether it’s a him or a her! But it has evidently decided that this is home, and we are its people, and it will tolerate our eccentricities like wishing to brush it, as long as there’s food in the bowl & a blanket in a box to sleep on. It remains to be seen whether it’ll be any cheaper to run than an energetic & lively 24 year-old and his young lady!

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like – a frugal Christmas!

December 18, 2013

Once again that certain date is racing up towards us and the bank account is groaning under the strain of buying for a big family. We don’t go over  the top with presents or food, and never have done, but the sheer quantities involved mean there will always be a distinct bulge in the budget at the end of December. And I’ve been sad to read people panicking online this week that they can’t afford to give their loved ones a “real” Christmas, which they seem to imagine looks like the one you see on the adverts, with lots of plastic toys, plastic decorations, plastic-looking food & a plastic-looking family. So a few ideas to cut the cost (and the plastic – horrible stuff!) whilst retaining the joy and good cheer might be timely.

The catering itself isn’t very much different to an average Sunday dinner round here; a few more faces, a few more trimmings and a few more hours with the cooker blasting away, perhaps, but plenty of willing hands to help, too. Good solid food & plenty of it, followed by treats like nuts and a well-chosen cheese board, but no dubious “gourmet” delights that no-one will actually eat, only stuff that can be eaten cold with salad, made into leftover dishes or frozen for later reference. I rarely have to do much shopping after Christmas until well into January, apart from fresh fruit, bread & dairy stuff.

But the setting does need a bit of adjusting, we can’t fit 11 round the kitchen table… however, we can run two market tables end-to-end down our conservatory and use the folding wooden chairs we use for doing the markets. This year’s festive board will be dressed in 5½ yards of pure vintage silk – an elderly & slightly damaged sari, before you panic that I’m about to ruin something priceless – and I’m really rather proud of my planned centrepiece. I came across a handful of mismatched tall crystal glasses at the Tip yesterday, and some old floral decorations; I can just see the glasses lined up down the centre of the table, with tea-lights glowing & twinkling inside, and pale silvery, slightly glittery hellebores laced around the bottom of the stems. Something like the picture below, in fact, but with sparklier glasses & less OTT greenery, when it’s all cleaned up.The china will be my parents’ old China Tree set, I found a set of 12 matching glasses at the Tip recently, and I don’t suppose anyone will even notice if the cutlery doesn’t match; hopefully they’ll be too busy eating, chattering & laughing.

We’ll be using our “fake” tree, acquired at vast expense – part of £1, if I remember correctly – at the Tip some years ago, in about May. It’s a perfectly nice one, even if it doesn’t smell like a real one; then again, it doesn’t make me come out in a rash like a real one does. I’m not quite sure why people find it necessary to buy a new fake tree in the latest “fashionable” colours every year; seems somewhat wasteful to me, but I know they do. And I’m not really happy with the idea of real trees being sacrificed for such trivial reasons, even if they’d never have been grown otherwise, and I’m certainly not happy to pay £35-40 for one. Decorations will be much-loved old favourites, home-made or foraged from the garden & the riverbank; the hallway is always adorned with big star sequins dangling on cotton pinned to the ceiling, which sway & glitter in the breeze whenever anyone walks down there. They cost 50p for a large tub, many years ago; I’d meant to use them for card making, but never did. In amongst them is the odd bigger star, bought for pennies in sales after previous Christmasses, never before. I’m afraid I buy my cards that way too, from charity shops; it’d be nice to give them the full price, but I know they still make a small profit on them half-price & I get to feed my family too!

We’ll be making paper chains for the living room. It’s a small space and big brash tinselly things are far too dominating; chains made from wallpaper samples or free printables from the Web are just right. There’ll also be a garland of evergreens over the fireplace; branches & ivy from the garden & riverbank woven into a tube of old chickenwire & decorated with fir cones, cinnamon sticks and berries from the berberis and cotoneaster bushes. We’re lucky enough to have a female holly tree too so springs of holly will be poked behind all our pictures & mirrors. If I’m organised enough, we may even have home-made crackers; I can do a LOT better for cracker surprises with the cash that one box of bought crackers would cost, never mind two. Paper hats are easy, but sadly the home-made jokes will probably be even worse than usual. I might try decorating the tree with broken bits of junk jewellery this year; single dangly ear-rings & broken glittery & pearly necklaces I have a-plenty & I’ve always thought that might look rather nice. I’ll report back, maybe with a picture. Or not…

For many years we’ve had a strict upper limit on what we can spend on each other in the wider family, and we all stick to it. It’s just plain sensible; Christmas presents are meant to be a token, not to beggar us all. And some of us have agreed not to exchange anything at all now; it doesn’t mean we don’t love & respect each other, but that we all have enough stuff & don’t need or want any more. If money must be spent, let it go to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped or Sightsavers, not to buy more stuff to further clutter my home with. Unless, of course, it’s a timeless vintage treasure you simply know I’ll love…

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Erm, please someone explain, why might it be immoral…?

November 19, 2013

… to buy something in a charity shop, then sell it on at a profit?

It’s a discussion I was having with my elder daughter this morning, and have had with others online over the last few years. Once or twice things have got quite heated. Why do some people feel that we are somehow cheating the charity, if we’re paying the price they are asking for an item? Most of them are pretty savvy these days & aren’t likely to sell an original Picasso for the same price as a fake Constable print in a plastic frame. I will only buy stuff in a charity shop (thrift store, to our American cousins) if I actually need it for myself or our home, OR if I’m certain I can at least double my money on it. But that doesn’t actually mean that the charity could have got twice as much for it, and I’m cheating them. Nor does it mean I’m doubling my money with each purchase.

For a start, many of the things I have picked up from them over the years have needed work put into them to achieve the higher price. They’ve needed cleaning, servicing or mending, maybe some parts supplied & fitted. Clothes may have needed a bit of surgery; for example, a 1970s Lurex jumper is actually more valuable without its sleeves at the moment, as the students like to wear them as tunics, with a belt. For another thing, part of my expertise, such as it is, is knowing what my customers are interested in & will buy; charity shops by & large are very general, selling a bit of whatever comes in in saleable condition, but a large proportion of their stock is of no interest to me & my customers whatsoever. You have to hunt quite hard for “treasure” and be prepared to pass by a lot of dross on the way, although one man’s trash is, of course, another man’s treasure. So part of my “mark-up” is because my customers, by & large, don’t have the time to hunt through twenty-odd shops for one piece of genuine 1950s fabric for their vintage caravan renovation project. But they know they will likely find 4 or 5 pieces to choose from on my stall. One or two of those may have been picked up in charity shops, but the rest have come via car boot & jumble sales, house clearances and other contacts, so that’s another reason why I am not just a parasite leaching money away from charities; they would never have seen a penny of the money for those pieces in the first place. And some of my stock is bought from charity shops that have failed to sell it in the time they allow things to be “on the sales floor”; at least they are getting something for it from me, and usually a fair bit more than the ragman would have given them.

I have expenses I need to cover, too. Stalls don’t come free, and people are often shocked when they find out what the stall fees are; yes, it does cost more than a car boot pitch, or a table-top at a school sale. This is because the organisers will have expenses they need to cover too, like staff, proper advertising & rent. I use fuel to find stock and more to get it to where it needs to be. My washing machine uses energy & consumables and I go through coat hangers, safety pins and even price labels at an alarming rate. So it’s not just a matter of buying something for £1 at Oxfam, carting it off and selling it on for £2 at Molly’s Den or Boscombe Vintage Market.

Can someone please explain to me why people get so upset about the idea that I can buy something in one place and sell it on at a profit in a more appropriate place, if there’s a charity involved? I would not take the bread from the mouth of a starving child to sell it, as one slightly hysterical online commentator once accused me of; it doesn’t seem equivalent at all to me, but am I missing some important idea or concept here?

“Shopping” in your own home…

November 2, 2013

I’ve been puzzling over where to put my bread maker. Although my kitchen’s quite big, at 12′ x 15′, I don’t have a lot of worktop. One reason for this is that it’s always covered with clutter, but another reason is that there really isn’t very much, just a 4′ stretch between the cooker & the sink. For many years my trusty breadmaker has shared this with the enormous fruit bowl & the spill-over from my woefully inadequate spice rack; am I the only cook who could do with a full cupboard-sized spice rack? I really do use them all regularly! The breadmaker is in regular, if not constant, use, but I’d become increasingly aware of how much its great white plastic dome intruded on the rustic look of the place, such as it is. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I moved it onto a small table on the other side of the room, where it looked much more at home. The problem was, the rackety little plywood table, with a crumpled, water-damaged top, was a “sacrifice” picked up specifically & needed for its parts; the legs are now installed on a workbox/footstool and the leg connectors have rescued my lovely pink Lloyd Loom chair. But I couldn’t think what else would be the right size; the space isn’t in use for anything else, but it’s pretty small.

Until I noticed my Swedish-made step-stool in the utility room, that is. The top is just the right size & the footprint’s not too big for the space. A good height for a breadmaker, too. But – it’s in constant use, as a step-stool! So I’d made up my mind to pop into my favourite Viking emporium when I go to pick up son no. 3 for a dental appointment next week, and invest a whole £11 in another one.

One of the very minor precautions I took before last week’s storm, which luckily passed us by with very little damage, was to fill both our big camping water containers with tap water in case of any interruption or contamination to the supply; it’s not unknown for our local river to burst its banks. I emptied these early this week, let them dry out & went to replace them in the shed. On – surely, that’s an Ikea step-stool…? I did a proper double-take; I hadn’t a clue I owned two of them! A vague memory surfaced of having picked one up for someone who’d mentioned that they wanted one, but had got one literally the day before I found this one; I must have stuffed it out there soon after & was just using it to keep some camping stuff off the damp concrete floor.

This wasn’t the first instance of finding I’d already got something I thought I needed to go out & buy. It’s always happening with fabric and kitchen utensils – I’ve lost track of the times I’ve spent good money on a modern minor electrical appliance, only to discover that the old hand-operated one was better, quicker & easier both to use and to wash up afterwards – but has also happened this week with lamps and suitcases, oddly enough. I’ve been really busy moving my stall at Molly’s Den into the main warehouse as well as preparing for Boscombe Vintage Market, and didn’t have time to go shopping for things I thought I needed. Which was lucky really, as it turned out I didn’t actually need them, so would have wasted both my time & money. And I do now “shop” my existing wardrobe before even thinking of buying anything new, and look at how I could team things up differently or tweak details to make a “new” outfit. Not just for financial or indeed ethical reasons: I’m an odd shape & when I find something that both fits & suits me, I need to treasure it & hang onto it as long as possible!

I expect most people are much better organised than me, and don’t lose track of their possessions & clothing, but to anyone else whose home resembles the storage area of a secondhand emporium (which in our case it actually is) – don’t wear yourself out running up to town to buy a whatever-you-think-you-need – you’ve almost certainly already got one somewhere!

Interesting!

October 19, 2013

Earlier this week, I did a Ebay listing for a spinning wheel that was being sold for charity. Which sold, within two hours, for a price the previous owners didn’t dare dream of, to a lady who has got a great bargain. And as you do (well, I do) I thought I’d have a little peek at what else was around locally; something I don’t normally do any more, in order to avoid temptation. I was amazed to find the next closest listing was for a wheel that I myself had had for sale down in Molly’s Den, which had still been there that very afternoon. Normally I’d have been delighted to think I’d sold it on, but it had been listed at a very high price with what I felt was a very misleading description; it was described “very old” and made of “oak or walnut” when in fact it’s from the 1980s and whilst bits of it may be oak and/or walnut, the base is MDF. The problem with that was that it was pictured on my stall… I really didn’t want any of my regular, knowledgeable customers associating such a misleading description with me! So I messaged the seller to point this out & asked them to change the picture. Nothing doing; no reply…

Next morning I trotted down to Molly’s with some new stock, and was amazed & appalled to find the wheel still there, unsold. The blighter had listed MY wheel for sale, without my knowledge or consent.  I have no problem with a) people selling things on behalf of other people, I do it myself sometimes, or b) people buying items from me, then selling them on at a profit; that’s what we’re all doing and it’s fair enough. If they can get a higher price than I can, no problem. But I do have a problem with someone selling on something of mine that doesn’t yet belong to them, at a huge profit & with a misleading description; apart from the element of fraud, to me it’s completely unethical for a number of reasons. Eventually I did get a fairly incoherent response from them, telling me to “get a grip(!), you get your money & I get mine, where’s the problem?” The problem is, mate, you are selling something that’s not yours to sell, with a misleading description & without the owner’s knowledge or consent, and if you can’t see what’s wrong with that, the problem is with you. Anyway, I’ve physically removed the wheel and he has “removed” the listing (eventually, under pressure, and by dropping the price drastically & presumably getting a friend to “buy” it) but the story’s not over yet as far as I’m concerned.

But I’ve found it rather interesting to see & hear other people’s reaction to this. Half of them have understood instantly why I’m outraged, but the other half have been unsurprised & basically said, “Erm, what’s wrong with that? It’s what our bankers do all the time! And if he can get more for it than you can, well…” And it’s not the split I would have expected, with other traders being unsurprised and everyone else being appalled; most of the traders have been horrified (and rushed off to see whether he’s listed anything of theirs) but some of my perfectly-nice friends have failed to see why I’d have a problem with this. I’m still trying to get my head around this; not sure whether they just haven’t taken on board the implications, or whether my entire worldview is hopelessly old-fashioned & innocent. But at the very least, it has huge implications for anyone who regularly buys from Ebay; no wonder some sellers are so vague & unhelpful! And – why is it so hard to report a genuine problem to Ebay?

Would be interested to hear what my regular readers (OK, any readers, really) think of this conundrum: is it morally OK to offer for sale goods that aren’t yet yours, without the owner’s knowledge or consent?


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