What Are Valuable Items to Look for in a Thrift Store or Garage Sale?

Written by jim orrill
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What Are Valuable Items to Look for in a Thrift Store or Garage Sale?
Paperbacks and other thrift store staples can command a premium from collectors. (romantic novels and reading glasses image by Warren Millar from Fotolia.com)

Television shows such as "Pawn Stars" and "Antiques Roadshow" have increased public awareness about potential treasures in the attic, but it's still possible to find valuable items at thrift stores and garage sales. Paperback novels, toys and paperweights can be worth more than their owners realise. If you're persistent and examine prices in the collectors' markets for the items you're looking for, you can often find valuable items selling for far less than their value to collectors.


Mattel introduced its Barbie doll in 1959, but even recent dolls can be valuable to collectors. Mattel continually introduces new dolls for collectors, including Barbies representing television and movie characters along with limited-edition Barbies sold only by select retailers. The condition of the Barbie's body and clothing are the most important factors in determining the doll's value. Look for Barbies with no major damages or blemishes, wearing clothing that's clean and intact.

Paperback Novels

Pocket Books introduced paperback novels in 1939 and they became popular during the mid-1940s among World War II veterans seeking escapist entertainment. Paperbacks prized by collectors include first printings of novels written by renowned authors such as Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming, as well as paperbacks with provocative cover artwork and lurid subject matter. Mapbacks, crime novels with a map of the crime scene on the back cover instead of a plot synopsis, are also popular among collectors. A paperback's physical condition determines much of its value and books with multiple creases, tears and other defects will sell for much less than a copy with minimal wear.


Venetian artisans produced the first glass paperweights in 1845 and the works of French manufacturers including Baccarat and Clichy produced from the 1840s through the 1880s are prized by collectors. Paperweight collectors often focus on a certain type of paperweight or works from their favourite artists. Common paperweight types include sulphides, paperweights with an engraved medallion encased within the glass, and millefiori paperweights, recognisable by the intricate patterns that adorn the glass. Lampwork paperweights have sculpted glass flowers, animals and other objects embedded within the paperweight and many collectors specialise in lampwork pieces housing a particular type of sculpture.

Video Games

Video games for obsolete console systems are common thrift store merchandise and collectors are willing to pay a premium for certain rare titles. Bandai's 1987 "Stadium Events" Nintendo game cartridge is worth up to £26,000 and the display box alone has sold for £6,500. PlayStation games with low production runs, such as the "Personna" series of role-playing games, are typically the most attractive PlayStation titles to collectors, though a sealed copy of the popular "Final Fantasy VII" once sold for £455.

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