13 things you should never, ever pass up at an op shop

You may not realise its value.
Photography: Sue Stubbs | Styling: Jessica Bellef

It can be hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re browsing your local charity shop. We all scour them in the hope of unearthing a prize for a bargain. But what are we really looking for?

Armed with a list of must-haves helps make for a more efficient browse and others in your shopping party may have more patience if you can scan the wares efficiently and move on to the next. Here are the top 13 treasures you must keep on your hit list.

1. Silverware

Often dumped in together in a bin, basket or back aisle, a careful sift through for precious metals may yield the real thing – real silver will look tarnished, but polishes up a treat with a little care and baking soda.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an egg cup, a candle holder, dessert spoons or an entire set of tableware, silver is always worth buying. Not sure if it’s genuine silver? Give it a tap – it’ll make a ringing sound if genuine.

2. Old books

These are few and far between and there are many practiced eyes ahead of you but, if you can score a first edition you’re happy to sell on, you’ve hit a payload. A collection of similar bindings or colours make a beautiful vignette and a bigger haul can become a feature.

If you don’t find any valuable old books, keep an eye out for design or coffee table books. Buying these books brand new can sometimes set you back hundreds of dollars, so if you spot a gem on the second-hand market, you should definitely snap it up.

Walls of vintage books add colour and a wonderful sense of homeliness to this colourful Brisbane home. (Photography: Eleanor Byrne | Styling: Anna Spiro)

3. Corningware or casserole dishes

Did you know that some Corningware casserole dishes are extremely valuable? Dishes with rare patterns have been known to sell at auction for upwards of $10,000. Even if you only ever come across the brand’s most recognisable (and common) ‘Cornflower’ pattern, old casserole dishes in good condition are still worth collecting. They make a great gift, especially for new parents or a neighbour knocked over by the flu. Simply bake a delicious meal in it (like this nourishing mushroom lasagne) and send it on – you don’t even need to worry about asking them to return the dish.

4. Wicker baskets

If you’ve ever tried to keep clutter at bay in your home, you’ll know you can never have enough baskets to keep it all contained. Wicker baskets are also beautiful to look at and can instantly add warmth and texture to some of the home’s most unsightly areas. Laundry piling up? Pop it in a wicker basket. Shoes collecting by the front door? Pop them into a wicker basket. Toys taking over the living room? Throw them all into a wicker basket. You get the idea.

classic coastal blue mudroom with pineapple wallpaper
You can never have too many wicker baskets. (Photography: Chris Warnes / Styling: Melinda Hartwright)

5. Kids’ toys

While we’re on the subject of toys, it’s worth talking about second-hand toys. Duplo and wooden Montessori-style toys are so wonderful for toddlers, but collecting numerous sets can set you back a small fortune. They’re also used for only a very short period before your child moves on to the next big thing. Buying these items secondhand is a great way to save money and prevent perfectly useable toys from entering landfill.

Concerned about germs? Many plastic toys can be safely washed in the top rack of the dishwasher on a gentle cycle. If you don’t have a dishwasher, simply wash the toys in warm soapy water and, if desired, soak in a solution of Milton Sterilising Fluid for 15 minutes before allowing to air dry. Soft toys can be washed on a cold, gentle machine cycle and hung out to air dry. Alternatively, soak soft toys in a solution of oxygen bleach before hand washing, rinsing and allowing to air dry.

Other collectible vintage toys include: Polly Pockets, original Tamagotchis, Pokemon cards, ViewMasters and Cabbage Patch Kids.

6. Mirrors

It’s amazing how much a single mirror can completely change the look of a room. They create the illusion of more space and help to bounce light around a room. They also add functionality, and it’s a great idea to have a mirror positioned close to the front door so you can do a last-second once-over before you leave the house. But the best thing about a mirror? They never really go out of style. So if you see one hidden behind some bric-a-brac at your local op-shop, squeeze it into the boot of your car and take it home.

marbled dining table with bentwood chairs and olive tree
A vintage mirror from @vintageantiquetrader reflects light into the dining room of a stylishly renovated Sydney apartment. (Credit: Photography: Sue Stubbs / Styling: Jessica Bellef)

7. Interesting vessels

Old earthenware jugs, coloured glass vases, handmade pottery – all are worth collecting if you see them collecting dust on an op-shop shelf. One of the hottest interior movements at the moment is the ‘Urban aunt’ trend which involves styling your home with collected finds and interesting, one-of-a-kind pieces. Vases and urns are a great way to add sculptural beauty to your home and you can leave them empty or fill them with bunches of your favourite flowers.

While picking up interesting vessels is more of a style hunt than a treasure hunt, there are some valuables to be found. One US woman picked up a coloured glass vase from Goodwill for $3.99USD only to discover it was actually a rare example of Murano Glassware. She ended up selling the piece at auction for $107,000!

Dusty Luxe founder Jackie’s home is decorated with vintage paintings and vessels. (Photography: Alana Landsberry | Styling: Corina Koch)

8. Collectible porcelain

Tea is literally heaven in a cup. If you agree with this statement, then you should consider collecting porcelain teaware. There’s nothing quite like brewing delicate tea leaves in a pot and sipping your favourite tisane from a vintage cup adorned with a stunning pattern. Collectible brands include Royal Doulton, Wedgewood, Noritake, Spode, Royal Copenhagen and Shelley.

9. Original art

It’s always a good idea to look up and scan the walls above the shelves – you never know, you might spot a piece of original art that just tugs at your heartstrings. It could be a tiny watercolour, a time-worn original oil painting by an unknown artist or a delicately sewn cross-stitch. When shopping for art at an op-shop, look for pieces that have been professionally framed, items with an artist’s signature and pieces that just speak to you.

An antique bamboo chair in the living area below a gallery wall.
The owner of this renovated cottage on the Sunshine Coast has been collecting art for many years. A vintage bamboo chair is positioned beneath a gallery wall of stunning finds. (Credit: Photography: Louise Roche / Styling: Kylie Jackes)

10. Picture frames

Even if you don’t see a piece of artwork that you love, keep an eye out for beautiful frames. Custom frames can set you back anywhere from $150 for an A4-sized artwork, and even more if you select a complex style. A vintage frame will save you plenty – andcan always switch out the artwork later.

11. Mid-century furniture

Whilst we’ve all enjoyed this trend for some time now, there are still bargains to be had, particularly in Australian made brands, such as Parker and Knoll. The trend is moving into the 70s too and with upholsterers on every corner it’s now more affordable to revive an armchair, bar stool or lounge chairs – with cane insert panels if you’re lucky!

The owners of this mid-century inspired home in Sydney’s Freshwater created a dream entertaining zone with a table made from salvaged timber paired with mid-century style chairs snapped up on Gumtree.

12. Preserve jars

These have a pretty price tag as well as charm in some cases so beware! Add a small candle and decorating with these beauties adds charm to a dining table, outdoor soiree or bedside table. Fill with cotton balls and pop on your vanity.

13. Vintage suitcases

Whilst it’s not wise to hold your breath for a Louis Vuitton, there’s great styling and storage opportunities in smaller, mainstream pieces with a well-worn look.

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