As a vintage lover, you probably already love a bargain. But did you know one of the best places to find vintage items, for very low prices, are good old fashioned car boot sales? As a seasoned vintage dealer and car boot veteran, I am used to shopping for vintage on a Sunday morning and regularly travel far and wide to mix it up a bit. I have been attending car boots for many years since my Mum first dragged me round one in the 80s 😆. So if you have never been to one before, or just want some tips specifically on how to buy vintage, read on to get started!
If you are planning to buy a few items at the car boot such as vintage kitchenalia, then make sure you have plenty of cash, including change, available. It might be easier to arrange this the day before if necessary as saves you precious buying time doing it on the way! Also ensure you bring plenty of strong shopping bags and packing materials with you. Its easy for items such as vintage glass to break if they are allowed to chink together on the way home. I usually take a standard sized shopping trolley to save on my back, as well as some spare bags just in case. I have seen some buyers with pull along crates too. Anything goes, but try not to let these carriers get in the way of people when walking round. A busy car boot sale is usually full of buyers with many congregating around a popular stall at one time. Some can be rude and take up all the space whilst they look and this can be very irritating!
Most car boots are set up on a field with one entrance for the sellers, and one for buyers. There will be a dedicated parking area for buyers and probably a marshall or two in hi-vis vest who will direct you where to park. If the car boot is on hard standing (concrete area) then they are normally organised the same way. It usually pays to get there early, as soon as they will let you in. This can be at the same time as when the stall holders arrive. It is becoming common for some car boots to allow sellers a quiet set up first, letting the public in at a set time instead. Still get there early so you can be near the front of the queue though, I’ve known some dealers to queue from up to an hour before it starts! Have your entrance money ready, some organisers take it from you at the car entrance, and some at the on-foot entrance. This fee is usually about £1 – £2 and can be more if you want to get in early. The organisers will appreciate if you have the correct change and generally do not like £20 notes!
When you first go in
If you go in when the stallholders are setting up, some of the less experienced sellers may get upset at the crowds of people that will want to rummage through their boxes (or even car boot!) before they have even got everything out. These are usually the more eager buyers who are looking for popular collectables like computer games, vintage toys, electricals, records, or jewellery. They are usually hoping to get a desirable item before anyone else and if you do too, you will need to sharpen your elbows! Not all buyers are like that however and a seller will appreciate it much more if you hold back a little and let them have the space to set up first. Don’t worry about missing out to these types of buyers, there will be plenty of vintage for you to have a look once they have moved on! Not all car booters are after vintage. Some look for second hand items, some to save money on new goods, and some just there to browse / have a day out. There really is room for everyone as we are all looking for something different!
Who to buy from
I usually have a quick scan round the car boot first, taking in the sellers, working out if they are dealers themselves or not, or if they are just a family having a clear out. The best people to look for with vintage are the slightly older couples. These may have had the items they are selling in their house for some time – and this could include old vintage toys etc from their now grown up children, plus 70s kitchen bits, vintage barware and vintage linens etc. If you see a stall selling predominately modern looking items, its usually best to just bypass it as there won’t be much vintage there. The other type of sellers to have vintage are dealers having a clear out, or house clearance guys with their vans (usually at the entrance as they get there first). These stallholders might be slightly more expensive but it’s still worth having a look as they may do a bundle price if you are having a few items.
How to buy
Once you have found an interesting stall and see something you like the look of, you will need to ask the price. Firstly I would not appear too keen on an item, or point it out to friends etc as then it alerts the stall holder (especially some of the more seasoned ones) that the item is valuable to you. Just casually ask ‘how much is this please?’ and let them give their price. If you feel the price is reasonable for the item then don’t haggle too much, as it will invariably offend. Sellers are there to make a bit of money from their second hand items after all (and believe me there isn’t much profit in it). Some of them will have looked up the price on ebay so know what they want to get for more collectable items. So, for example if a cup and saucer is £1 don’t ask to pay 50p. Have the correct change ready to pay for the item if you can, or give them as smaller note as possible and politely ask if that’s ok with them. Some sellers may not have change early on, and again don’t offer them a £20 note as these are more easily forged.
Where the real bargains are
As you go round the car boot, try to look beyond the surface if you want to find some real bargains. Sometimes sellers are just emptying out their attics or garages and don’t really know what they have. There might be a box under the table with all sorts of treasures in, so do have a rummage. Also look underneath the piles on the table, as moving a book or tablecloth might be hiding a gem. Many sellers put items on a mat on the floor also, so don’t forget to scan these as you approach a stall.
Rinse, and repeat!
As the rest of the day goes on just keep doing the same thing really. If you get laden down with purchases, you can always take them back to your car to unload. The organisers will let you back in again no problem. Some give you a hand stamp and some you may just have to alert them to the fact that you will be back in. Most of all, enjoy your time shopping as most car booters are a friendly bunch and like to have a chat. You will meet like minded people, and may even get some tips or learn about other places to shop. If the burger van has been calling you all morning too, why not stop and have a well earned snack after your shopping is done. Most vans are well vetted for hygiene standards and they usually sell teas, coffees and soft drinks also. Enjoy a moment putting your feet up and feeling proud of yourself for all the bargains you found!
This blog post is written by Rachel Toy, owner of Rachel’s Vintage & Retro. I am a vintage enthusiast writing about a Vintage Lifestyle, focusing on the Vintage Home. I also sell a wide variety of vintage household items from kitchenalia, to homewares such as linens, glassware, barware, occasional furniture and collectable toys from my Vintage Website and Social Media.