Urban Foraging for Vintage Stuff

Do you remember those days as a kid when you’d find a pretty stone or an interesting bottle cap or a four-leaf clover and get excited? I think every kids’ room had a shelf or a shoe box that housed these found treasures. (I kept the remains of a blue robin’s egg in my jewelry box for years.) And it dawned on me that we start life so curious and are natural foragers but somewhere along the way many of us lose that wonder and the joy in foraging. Which is sad really. I still pick up pine cones and pretty leaves in the fall but nowadays my foraging is mostly what I think of as urban foraging. I look for older, used things that are no longer wanted by their owners. For me that means picking up free stuff by the side of the road, going to yard sales, digging at estate sales and rummaging at thrift stores and flea markets. 

I know it could be argued that this is not foraging, particularly as the items are gathered up for me and I usually pay at least a nominal amount for them. Still, it does take doggedness, curiosity and an “eye” to pick the things worth saving. For example, last year I went to the second day of an estate sale only to find that the house had been fairly stripped bare on the first day. But I went around (and around) looking at the remaining bits and was happy to find this old soup can full of vintage Pyrex test tubes. No one else had given them a second glance.

Some of your may be thinking “old test tubes”?!! Yes, indeed. Nowadays they are repurposed into wedding favors that hold bath salts, tea or candy. They also make sweet vases when paired with a stand.

Until the pandemic restrictions ease a bit I’m not foraging too widely, but my neighborhood thrift is still yielding bits and pieces. The other day, I thought this 1960s/70s ashtray was one to save. The amber glass is in beautiful condition and has slots for 12 cigarettes! Twelve! This piece harkens back to a time of women in wiggle dresses and men with skinny ties and cocktails a plenty in a smoky room.

The base which I believe is cast iron has lost most of its original gilding and has corrosion. At some point this must have been stored in a damp/wet environment, but the weird thing is I like the metal better exposed like this. It’s more interesting and a bit goth.

Now this faded 1909 print of “I hate a spanking, but oh you jam…” by G.G. Wiederseim doesn’t do much for me, but the chipped tin frame does. I am not fond of faux distressing/aging, but appreciate items that come by their dings naturally over years, like this piece.

This very old frame would be perfect to use for an ancestor’s photo or some pressed, dried flowers.
Listed for $24.

This folk art carved wood eagle particularly grabbed my attention because it was signed. This primitive piece was made by someone who took pride in his work.

I researched the signature on it (W. Macrowski) and found an obituary for Walter “Wally” Macrowski (1919-2016) that makes me think he is the carver of this piece! He was a Chicago boy who served in WWII and later supported his family as a barber. He was a prolific wood carver gifting pieces to family and friends. Isn’t that neat?

Hope you are staying well and enjoying your own foraging,


P.S. Childhood foraged treasures tend to fall by the wayside pretty quickly, but this stone has miraculously remained all these years and survived my many moves and west-ward journey from New York to California.

Found on the shores of Lake Ontario (a few miles from where I grew up). I wet it so you can see what I saw by the lake…a pretty orange-red stone with what looked like embedded seaweed wrapped around it. I still think it’s intriguing!


  1. Karen, I have an old ashtray in my living room filled with stones, acorns, a robin’s egg and smooth glass bits that I’ve foraged through the years. My Husband laughs because he can always find some foraged item in the arm of our car usually rattling away as he drives. I love my bits and pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

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