7 Tips for Buying Vintage Kitchenware

© Richard Allen / Alamy

By M. Elizabeth Sheldon Posted June 24, 2015

Whether you're obsessed with hunting down a replacement dish for your family's mid-century china set or you're just looking to add some character-filled, non-Ikea sourced kitchenware to your life, going vintage is a great option. Below are some tips for finding the stuff that's actually worth investing in.

Whether you're obsessed with hunting down a replacement dish for your family's mid-century china set or you're just looking to add some character-filled, non-Ikea sourced kitchenware to your life, going vintage is a great option. Below are some tips for finding the stuff that's actually worth investing in.

1. Know Your Terms
If you're not a professional chef, you might not be familiar with some of the traditional names for tools or pans, like "rondeau" (a high-sided, round pan) or "cocotte," another term for a Dutch oven. Knowing all the possible names for whatever item you're in the market for can help you narrow down your search, especially if you're shopping online at sites like Etsy and eBay. Even if you end up going a little broad with your search, casting a wide net can help lead you to knowledgeable sellers.

2. Get on Instagram
Even before Instagram announced its new shopping feature, a number of shops and independent artistshad already begun using the app for e-commerce, posting new one-of-a-kind goods the minute they hit shelves. Protocol for making a purchase varies by store—many sellers only need your email address to send you an invoice. Perusing shops on Instagram is also a great way to access retailers outside of where you live. Even if your favorite store doesn't actually sell its wares via Instagram, it may post about new arrivals. Checking for updates can be a dangerously addictive shortcut to trolling for treasures in person.

3. Price Out Repairs
Have an understanding of what certain types of repairs will cost you, especially if you're looking for a specific type of pan or material. For example, you might find a fantastic copper saucepan for a steal, but if it needs to be re-tinned, that will greatly add to the cost—most re-tinning services charge $5-$6 per square inch. In many cases, the final price will still come out to far less than the price of a new pan, but it's something to keep in mind. If you are in the market for copper re-tinning, one great option is Brooklyn Copper Cookware, which will return your seriously worse-for-the wear pans looking like they just rolled out of Williams-Sonoma. Other repairs can cost pennies—in the case of dingy enamelware, which is widely available but newly trendy, a good scrubbing is often all that's needed to restore a crisp white finish (for more instructions on that process, check out Daniel Kanter's definitive guide). Cast iron pans are the most famous example of something that can be bought very cheaply and revived with a fairly minimal amount of labor and materials.

4. Look in Unexpected Places
When sold at shops dedicated to cooking, vintage kitchenware can have a high markup. But stores that are primarily dedicated to other items, like clothes or furniture, often have a small section dedicated to miscellaneous items like glassware and flatware—sold super cheaply. The Salvation Army and salvage warehouses like Build It Green are great places to start.

5. Brush Up on Your History
Again, research is your friend—lots of coveted classic materials like jadeite, Bakelite and milk glass have been re-created in recent years with cheaper materials like plastic or resin. A quick Google search of any of these terms will instruct you on the hallmarks of authenticity when assessing one of these pieces. Factors like weight, seam placement, and historic brand symbols can tell you if what you're looking at is legit. Nothing is more depressing than shelling out for a "vintage" piece and then uncovering a box-store logo on it at home.

6. Keep Current
Find out if the piece for which you're hunting is still being manufactured. This can be helpful for two reasons: First, if you need to buy a replacement part like a lid or handle, the company can often help you out (in some cases, your piece might still even be covered by a lifetime warranty). In other cases, it can help you decide if something is overpriced or overly beat-up. For example, Dansk re-issued their classic Kobenstyle line a few years ago for pretty reasonable prices, but it's still not uncommon to come across roughly used pans from their original release being sold for much more. Knowing the price for a well-made modern version can put vintage pricing in perspective.

7. Persevere
Obvious but still worth mentioning: Don't give up on finding full sets of your dream items. You discovered two lonely butter knives that are your platonic ideal of everything a knife should be, but you really need a full set? Buy them anyway. Then, keep an image of the knives on your phone and make a point to beeline to the flatware bin of any junk shop or antique store in which you find yourself. Having a specific purpose like this can also cut down on the amount of time you spend in each shop—which can be a key factor when convincing reluctant companions to accompany you to your fourth estate sale of the day.

Related: Copper Kitchen Accessories
Gifts for the Retro Kitchen
Beautiful Kitchen Tools

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