Garath W. Henry

Hunting for Vintage stuff: An Essay.

In Vintage on November 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm
Vintage Swiss watch

Image via C R's Flickr photostream.

There is a saying: “They don’t make things like they use to.”  I’ve said it, I’ve heard people say it, and even though some people see the statement as hyperbolic, I agree with it at least 95% of the times that I hear it.

Disclaimer: I’m a history teacher.  I love the old stuff.  I love being able to have old (i.e. “vintage”) things in my possession so I can touch, smell, and wear them.  Of course there are many many people who share this desire for things-of-old, but I’m willing to say I believe that I lust after such things with more zeal than your average person.

So why do people like me exist?  Why do we devote large amounts of time and energy to acquiring vintage merchandise?  Speaking for myself I’d say that it comes down to the standard of quality which existed in the past, but died in the name of easy access to things at a low cost goods, and the idea of “planned obsolence” which has increased the profit margins of creators of disposable merchandise over and over again.   I like having stuff that was built to a higher standard of quality, stuff that has that “build to last” feel to it.  In addition to that I think that the style of items from the past is much more appealing than many modern day things, which I believe often have much less classy  look which reflects the fact that they are cheap and replaceable.

I like the fact that I’m a person who is into vintage stuff, I’d even go so far as to say that I take pride in it.  I like the idea of tracking down vintage stuff, of hunting it down.  But I do have to admit that at times it can be frustrating.

This essay is my attempt to outline three ways a now-a-days there vintage seekers like myself can acquire high quality goods that were / are made to last.  The way that I see it there are basically three ways to about finding and buying cool vintage stuff…

1. Re-sale of vintage goods via the hunting and getting lucky.

This method involves hunting for vintage goods by going to garage sales, estate sales, some sellers on eBay or craigslist, and thrift stores.  The methods requires lots of luck, and more often than not the hunter comes home empty handed.  However, on the rare occasion that some vintage stuff  is found  the hunter only has to expend a fraction of what he or she would normally spend to acquire the merchandise.

I see this method as similar to playing slots.  The hunter spends a small amount of time and money hunting for goods.  Most the time the hunter will come up with nothing, but he or she doesn’t spent lose much cash either.  When hunters use this method they don’t really expect it to pay off, they do it for the joy of the hunt.  However, every now and the hunter gets lucky, the same way that someone playing slots does, by putting in a small amount of time and money then getting a huge pay out.

2. Re-sale of vintage goods via vintage merchants.

Vintage shop sign.

Image via Paul Holloway's Flickr photostream

When a hunter is willing to spend some money this is often the method that gets used.  The hunter goes to a shop which specializes in vintage goods, finds what they need / want and spend a large sum of money to acquire it.  A good vintage shop is a very nice luxery for those who are near one, and happen to have the disposable income to spend large sums of money on vintage (used) goods.

The main thing that makes a good vintage shops such a boon to a hunter is that such shops take the time to create and cultivate good relationships with the customers willing to spend money by going the extra mile and keeping a look out for / stocking goods that a particular buyer is known to be interested in.

This method is far from 100% effective, because vintage shops don’t know when they will have a certain item in stock.  After all they are dealing in stuff that is scarce, so it is not uncommon for them have great items in stock at moments when it is finacially inconvenient for a hunter to buy said items.

(Side note: I think it is important to point out that the merchants who sell these high priced vintage goods spend lots of time using method one to track them down.)

I don’t really use this method, because I can never bring myself to pay what I consider to be a large sum of money for used clothing.  Even if it is vintage, my mortgage doesn’t care.

3. Buying goods where are made using “old school” manufacturing techniques.

A good example of a company making things today, but using “old school” techniques to do so is Billykirk, which makes some really amazing leather goods by hand.  Another example would be the Rising Son & Co which makes lots of great stuff by hand.

Billykirk at Pop Up Flea!

Image via official Billykirk blog.

(Side note: both the companies I linked to above make their goods using machines and tools that were used to create the kind of goods that we call vintage today.)

This sort of stuff tends to be really amazing, and extremely expensive.

True story: I’d love to buy this stuff, but again most the time it is so far out of my price range that I can’t.

The companies that make these goods stand by their products way that the craftsmen of old use to stand by theirs.  When ever I do see this stuff I wish I had the money to buy it.  It is new, but unlike so many other new things it is made to the highest standards of quality, and I know it will last for a long time.  It has all the advantages of the vintage goods that I covet, and because it is new I know they will last.


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