Loving the “Smalls”

I am enjoying finding little things these days–smalls as they are known in the biz. Physically small, old, and generally not super valuable, they tend to make great gifts.

They are definitely no bigger than a breadbox. Most sell for less than $2,000, and some for under $50. They tend to be between 70 and 200 years old. And if they fulfill these criteria, they can be just about anything, from a silver nutmeg grater to a matchbox made out of the remnants of a samurai sword. Such is the world of ”smalls,” a category of antique usually greater in personality than size or price. 

The New York Times Magazine, October 1990

I’ve enjoyed buying smalls since I opened my biz (though more vintage than antique) but now more than ever it’s the direction I’m heading in. Trying to find delightful little things!

This is one of my favorite recent smalls from an August flea market–antique bakelite acorn thimble and needle cases with a sterling silver thimble. These were just the kind of thing I love. I was sorely tempted to keep the engraved thimble dated 1926. (Paid $5, sold in two lots for $130.)

So nowadays as I walk through any shopping venue, I think “keep it small, old, and special!”

Here are some of my latest acquisitions…

Most of us in the U.S. did not grow up with a toast rack on our breakfast table. It seems to be a uniquely Brit practice going back to 1789 according to Sotheby’s. “The English would rather have their toast cool and dry than warm and damp,” anthropologist Kate Fox writes claiming that American toast is too sweaty and lacks dignity! (Well, really!) I’m not sure how many households still use them, but I think they make delightful letter, card and photo holders. This one is by William Shirtcliff & Son, an English silversmith working from 1882 to 1921. Only EPNS, not sterling silver (drat!), but still nice and functional…and a true antique. (Listed for $40.)

This dreamy peasant woman wood ornament is a bit of Russian folk art. The carving is a bit primitive, but the painting quite intricate. She’s lost one of her buckets (but not her marbles, ha, ha, ha), but still looks fine. (Listed for $38.)

I had to pick up this intriguing small hand-made pottery bowl with its organic shape. I couldn’t find a signature but with a little research I found out it’s by Nessy Ceramics. Nessy lives just two cities away from me! You’ll want to check out her Etsy shop to find more of her unique work.

These copperized baby shoes were not a find, but a gift from a dear friend. They once belonged to her mother who passed away a few years ago. I can imagine these were hard to part with! This type of baby memorabilia was popular in the U.S. from 1930-1960. (Listed for $18.)

I think they would look cute in a nursery with a bit of air fern poking out. And BTW, did you know that air ferns are not plants?!

The air fern, which is billed in stores and some garden centers as a plant that needs no water or fertilizer, is actually the skeletal remains of a tiny sea animal called Sertularia, a distant relative of coral. The skeletons look like ferns and have extremely fine foliage.

Aggie Agriculture

Recently I bought a vintage sterling silver charm bracelet on eBay. I did pay up for it, but still felt it was reasonable for its age and quality of the charms. This one is circa 1940/1950 and has a number of mechanicals. A few charms I’ll keep for myself and others I’ll sell on. My charm business is more a labor of love than a big profit source. I do make a profit and I have done well with a few stellar charm finds, but in general, it’s just supporting my own charm addiction!!

Paid $136 with tax and shipping.

Then at the flea market today I found a few more goodies. I remember seeing this groovy 1970s ceramic ashtray last month and I hadn’t followed up on it. I asked this month and for $2 it was mine! Ashtrays sell for me though most aren’t worth much. This one is in pristine condition.

Will list for $18.

I saw this fab trinket dish and knew it was Scandinavian. Turns out it’s by Royal Copenhagen, Denmark, and was designed by Beth Breyen in an apple/butterfly pattern. The 8″ tray sells for over $100. I’ve listed my 4.25″ trinket dish for a modest $28.

I had a lovely conversation with the seller of these antique binoculars. A retired machinist he loves rescuing old things, giving them TLC and then finding them homes. For these Marchand, Paris, glasses he just did a bit of cleaning and they work fine. I paid $15, which seemed reasonable to me given their condition and that they still had their leather case. Current listing prices are all over the place so I’ll need to do more research to figure out how to price mine.

Listing price ??

This little painted and etched vintage brass pill/snuff box (likely from India) is just a sweet little thing from one of my favorite sellers. Not rare. Not valuable. But appealing. And perfect for holding little bits of things.

But these two heavy silver-plate candleholders were the first things in my bag. In the Flair pattern by Roger Bros they are deliciously mid-century modern. The rattan on one needs reglueing and they are tarnished, but otherwise ready for use. It’s funny because the seller had quite a tableful of old silver plate items and I really wanted to get this over-the top, fancy Victorian piece, but it was lopsided. Then I had a “hold the phone” moment when I saw the cool candleholders and thought “this is what I should be buying!”

Paid $10. A recent pair sold for $100.

I was looking at these sweet little etched glasses and was not intending on buying them. Two are a tiny cordial size, say for a bit of Cointreau, and the slightly larger ones perhaps for port. I honestly was NOT going to buy them…and then the seller said I could have them all for $3. (At a thrift store they would have been $3 each.) Well okay then. I couldn’t say no to that! I mean I could have, but I didn’t want to. (I’m already using one for a small glass of wine!) I love having libations in elegant glasses and have since my teen years. Drinks taste better in beautiful glasses!

So I’m happy with the few things I’ve bought here and there. Fourth quarter sales have already been good and I want to keep adding fresh inventory. But of course it is always wonderful when older things sell. I was surprised that it took three years to sell this pretty vintage etched brass ice bucket. Usually barware-related items move quickly, but more so the sleek Danish or Art Deco bar pieces. Perhaps this was a bit too frou-frou.

I am carrying more inventory than I want, but if you want to have a steady-ish income with a vintage store on Etsy, it helps to have over 500 items listed. I have over 600. 😳 Hopefully in 2023 I’ll start decreasing it.

Wishing you happy hunting,


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