How to find collectibles at a garage sale

Tips to increase your odds of finding collectibles at garage and estate sales, including mapping sales and tools of the trade.

Have you been searching for a particular item to complete a collection? Does it seem like no matter how many garage and yard sales you attend, you are losing faith that you will ever make that ultimate find? Discovering collectibles at garage sales is possible with a bit of planning and a few simple strategies.

Decipher and Map the Listings

When planning a day of garage sales, one often starts by checking the listings in the local daily newspapers and weekly penny savers. While great discoveries can be found at nearly any sale, hitting the likeliest possibilities early in the day will strengthen your possibility of a great find.

Start your search with map, pencil, and paper. As you read the listings, decide which will likely offer opportunities of finding that perfect addition to your collection, and consider where on the map each falls. Try to make a logical path from sale to sale, so as not to waste an abundant amount of time crisscrossing around town and countryside. If any of the listings specifically state collectibles or items that interest you, put those at the top of your list. Are there any farm or estate sales listed? Homes that have been in one family for several generations can offer a profusion of finds. Why, you might ask? Items passed from one generation to the next may have been useful or loved by a grandparent or great grandparent, but is nothing more than clutter to the newer generation. Finally, add any listings that are convenient to your mapped strategy and sound as if they may offer some surprises. Lastly, if you come across a sale that was not included in the listings, use your judgment. If it is a table in the middle of a yard piled high with baby clothes and a few baskets of toys next to the table, pass by unless those items interest you in themselves. If the sale is a garage of whatnots spilling onto a lawn, stop for a quick perusal if time permits.

At the Sale

Have you ever seen someone walk into a sale, glance around, and walk away? If you asked some of those same people what they were in search of you may be surprised to hear them list items that were at those same sales. Do not be afraid to get down and go through boxes tucked beneath a table or filled with a mix of items. Those having the sale may not know how to organize all the clutter they are selling. In addition, a limited supply of sale space may not leave enough room for everything to be on display at once.

Read Signs

Some items may be too big to move until they actually sell. Additionally, the sale may be located in other parts of the house or grounds. I nearly left a sale once, then noticed a sign "╦ťarrow' pointing to the side door of a small shed. I left that sale with one of my best discoveries ever, an antique fly-fishing reel that fit a growing personal collection perfectly.


If something listed in an ad is not on display, inquire if it sold. Glassware, other fragile items, small items such as jewelry, and costly items may be tucked away unless someone asks to see the items.

Tools of the Trade

Do not hesitate to bring along a small flashlight and magnifying glass to inspect items close up. Books that can provide information on markings to help date or identify an item, or price guides, such as the extremely popular Kovel's Antiques and Collectibles Price List, published yearly, can help you determine if an item is worth purchasing. Also, purchase only items you like, and double check items for damage prior to purchase, as sales are usually always final. Lastly, do not be afraid to take some chances, especially inexpensive ones. I walked around a sale once with a book that had caught my attention as soon as I arrived. Only a quarter, I nearly put it back as it smelled a bit musty, though it showed no signs of mold or other damage. I ultimately bought it and later sold it for a sizable profit.

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