Learning from Mistakes

I was a little disappointed to learn that my local flea market wasn’t happening this month (likely because it fell on the holiday weekend), so I’ve been popping into my neighborhood thrift store a bit more. Finding two great pieces of china there earlier this week certainly buoyed me. So the other day I popped in after a post-office run and found just one thing but it was darn cool.

But first, let me preface my find by sharing a buying mistake. And gosh we all make mistakes in life. Thankfully the buying mistakes for my small vintage business have been small potatoes and I do learn from them.

Like last year. I picked up this sitting chief cast iron bank at a boutique thrift store for $24. I assumed it wasn’t antique because the paint seemed too vibrant and I felt it didn’t have enough wear, still I know some of these banks can be worth a lot of dosh and I took the gamble.

My gamble didn’t pay off. After researching cast iron banks for several hours, I came to believe that mine was a newer reproduction…sadly!! Repros are rife in this biz and in the end I sold mine as a replica for $40. I didn’t lose money, but it certainly wasn’t the score I was hoping for.

What I learned

Here are a few things I’ve learned about old cast iron toys/banks:

  • They will be smoother and have less pitting or bumps than repros.
  • Details will be better and cleaner.
  • Seams will fit more tightly. There should be no big gaps.
  • Old cast iron is brown or black. Newer iron tends toward dark gray/silver.
  • They will not have a Philips head screw.
  • Originals will be slightly larger than repros. (But of course you have to know the exact measurements of the original!)
  • Old items typically have thicker oil based enamel paint that chips with age. Newer pieces are usually done in a thinner water-based acrylic. (Click RealorRepro link below for more details.)

Now here’s the bottom of the sitting chief bank–big gap in the seam fit and lots of pitting and roughness.

What I bought yesterday

I felt more confident buying this painted cast iron elephant bank.

I’m fairly sure it isn’t a repro given the wear, the single-slot screw and the tight seams.

My quick search in the store showed that it wasn’t an uncommon or valuable bank, but still worth picking up. I have it listed for $48.

The Challenge

The challenge with many categories of items is weeding out the reproductions, fakes and newly made from the true vintage and antique pieces.

Here’s an example from the world of McCoy pottery…

Fakes are simply pieces that are marked with a certain pottery trademark, but that pottery never made that piece. For example, there exists a Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar, that has the McCoy mark on it, but the Nelson McCoy Pottery never made a Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar. 

McCoy Pottery Collectors’ Society

Just a few of the “McCoy” Little Red Riding Hood cookie jars for sale. I doubt most of the sellers realize that they are selling fakes.

Perhaps the only antidote is keep learning, questioning and researching everything. And find places where you can see and handle the real thing. I love going to a local museum (Cantor Arts Center) for that very purpose. Obviously I can’t touch the pieces but I can get close and examine things from a few angles.

Additionally you can seek out an expert appraisal if you are still unsure and feel you may have a winner. I had a piece of artwork I was interested in having appraised and I reached out to a local gal. Unfortunately it was $350 just to start the process and more if you wanted written documentation. Too rich for my blood.

If I get stumped again on what I think may be a higher-value piece, I’ll reach out to George Higby, known as The Antique Nomad on YouTube. He’s knowledgable (fully accredited) and offers a very reasonable appraisal service.


In closing

I dare say most of us who sell vintage things online are self-taught. But I also think most of us strive to learn all we can about what we buy and sell. Besides internet research we have small libraries of specialized books. (In mine you’ll find books about: vintage charms, Navajo rugs, Art Nouveau jewelry, costume jewelry, flow blue china, African artwork and an intriguing book titled “Decorative Antique Ironwork.” ) And for me that is one of the fun parts of the biz…learning. And at least now, I can spot a reproduction cast iron bank a little easier and won’t waste my money.

Wishing you happy hunting and that all your mistakes are little ones,



  1. That is interesting that the old ones are better made! Not surprising really, since old things were better made. I heard that about McCoy cookie jars. I’ve only been caught by prints. Or not prints, what I thought were prints, but were framed greeting cards!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa!! I think that’s why we all like old stuff…it’s so well made!! It makes me sad that there are so many fakes about and reproductions being sold as originals. And framed greeting cards…oh dear…why?? XOXO, Karen


  2. I’ve made more than one mistake, but, like you, I learn from them. It’s an ongoing education. Thank you for providing those links.
    Can you believe it’s snowing here today? And just when I thought Spring was finally here. Hope you’re having a great day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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