For more than 40 years, Bob Page has been a master of the find — and he has the 500,000-square-foot, stacked-to-the-rafters warehouse to prove it. Replacements, Ltd., the company that Page founded in Greensboro in 1981, has since become the world’s largest retailer of china, crystal, and silver. But Page is always on the hunt for more.
Over the years, his constant country-wide circuit of estate sales has made him an expert at locating the hidden and hard-to-find. “Going to estate sales is like my weekend round of golf,” Page says. “I can usually identify china and crystal patterns just by looking at them, and I have a good sense of what’s common and what’s rare.”
And Page knows just how important a crystal glass, a silver sugar spoon, or a patterned plate can be. These items aren’t just things. Shoppers come to Replacements from all over the country looking for these items — and so many others — to replace treasured family heirlooms or find one-of-a-kind collectibles. “What started as a hobby turned into a passion for helping others find what they need, too,” Page says.
Helping Page pursue his passion are product experts who also know how to make the most of every estate sale. And they told us their five best tips to help you make the most of your hunt.
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1. The early bird gets the worm (sometimes)
Most people think you have to be first in line to get the best deals, but Page’s many years of flea market and estate sale experience taught him that’s not necessarily true — it depends on your mission. “If I’m looking to find something rare or unique, I hit the start of the sale to get there before the crowd,” Page says. “However, if I want to get the best deals, I wait until the end of the sale. That’s when there’s more room for negotiating, because the owner wants to get rid of everything in those final hours and is more willing to drop the price.” Time-saving tip: sometimes organizers will have attendees line up based on arrival time. Other times, they’ll hand out numbers in advance, and you can return when the sale begins.
2. Glance first, study later
With more than three decades of buying under his belt, Replacements’ leading silver expert, Jason Price, shops some of the country’s biggest sales. “The first thing I do is make a quick pass through to see if anything catches my eye,” Price says. “Then I concentrate on taking a closer look at the details, such as the manufacturer, style, design era, and condition. Cost is another big consideration if you’re looking at pieces to resell and make a profit.” For a special find, do your research up front: Review the sale inventory list if it’s available, and don’t spend a lot of time on something that seems common.
3. Shiny and bright isn’t always right
Don’t judge a book by its cover. What may look like the ugliest piece could be the most valuable, especially when it comes to sterling silver. “I’ve been to many sales where people walk right by some of the best finds because the pieces are tarnished and don’t look pretty,” Price says. “Sterling is always marked, so I always check for hallmarks. American sterling should be marked ‘sterling’ and/or ‘.925.’ Non-American sterling will have various hallmarks that display indicators such as purity, date, maker, and age.” Remember, sterling is a commodity, meaning what you buy today may be worth more in just a month.
4. Look and listen
Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it is, especially when it comes to dinnerware. “Not only do I look for cracks or chips in dinnerware pieces, I also listen for what I can’t see,” Page says. “I take a Bic pen and tap around the edge of a dinner plate or bowl. A clear, bell-like ring tells me the piece is solid. If I hear a dull thud or whack, that usually means there’s a crack too small for the eye to see.”
5. Follow your instinct
Remember to follow your gut: If an item is being ignored or overlooked by everyone else, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Every item is special to someone. Look for what you love; that could be a certain color or style that speaks to you, or maybe something from a particular design era. You’ll never go wrong with buying pieces that bring you joy — and chances are, someone else will love them, too.