Top tips for finding treasure at a flea market

Posted on October 23, 2017 by Guest Writer

I love those moments on the Antiques Roadshow when the owner of an object tells the expert that they bought the item “for a fiver in a car boot sale.” Then it is revealed that the object is worth hundreds or thousands of pounds more. It is a truly happy TV moment. So, imagine the delight of the lady who bought what she thought was a piece of costume jewellery at the flea market in London, only to find it is an enormous diamond which sold for £657,000 at Sotheby’s in June 2017. She bought it 30 years ago for £10. Now that is a nice profit and we’d all like to be so lucky. Personally, I’m always on the lookout for interesting boxes, especially antique pill boxes or items from the 1950s, such as coffee tables or chairs.

The chances of finding such an exceptional object may be relatively small, but until you start your hunt for buried treasure at flea markets, antique fairs and car boot sales, you will never know what somebody has thrown out without knowing its real worth. Clearly, the antiques fairs will have the more expensive items and the car boot sales the cheapest; flea markets fall somewhere between the two and often focus more on what is known as vintage goods. However, it is best to plan your approach to spotting treasures; so here are some top tips to help you.

Get a good night’s sleep

Decide where you are going in advance and make sure you are well rested. Seasoned flea market experts say that arriving tired stops you from focusing on the task in hand.

Arrive early

This makes sense. If you arrive early you have a better chance of spotting a great item and getting it before someone else does. There will be others there with exactly the same intention as you, so it pays to get there before them. One expert says that your arrival should be 40 minutes before the official opening time. You will probably meet traders unloading boxes and that is often when the eagle-eyed spot the best bargains.

Keep an open mind

You may have an idea in your head of what you are looking for, but this can limit your scope. If you spend all day looking for Clarice Cliff pottery then you might miss something even better. It’s better to browse with an open mind and be prepared to buy something quite different to what you set out to search for.

Get your hands on it

When you see something you really like, don’t just look at it – hold it in your hands. This prevents somebody else from taking it from you. Don’t let go of it until you have decided what to do. Flea markets aren’t the place to “have a think and come back.” Decisions need to be taken quickly or your opportunity will be gone.

Know your flea market

Getting to know the market traders through regular visits and making a point of chatting to them will serve you well. The professional antique dealers have their own methods of looking for items, as do the enthusiasts, so on your first visit, take a quick stroll all around it so you know where certain stalls are and make a note of them.

Educate yourself

Learn what you can about the objects you are interested in. Get books and study the topic online, whether it is jewellery, furniture, memorabilia, ceramics, industrial design, designer clothes, vintage accessories or paintings – the more you know the better!

To help you in your search, here is a list of car boot sales by UK region, a calendar of antique fairs in the UK and Europe and a guide to some of the flea markets.

You may not make a fortune, and you may not want to start a business, but you can have a lot of fun looking for treasures.