As a longtime collector and reseller, I’m constantly on the lookout for “sleeper items” — common household goods that bring uncommon prices in the resale market.
While other pickers are busy trying to find that one big score, I like to focus on the humble objects that have a quiet but fanatical fan base.
Take a look around your own home. Is every drawer turning into a junk drawer? Does your guest room look like a publicity shot for “Storage Wars”? Why not declutter and make a few extra bucks in the process?
Though eBay is my personal go-to site for online selling, Etsy works just as well. It’s not exclusively for handcrafted goods anymore. For larger pieces that would be difficult to ship, consider Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Following are some surprising household items you can sell for fast cash.
1. Lamp finials
Finials are the often-ignored threaded pieces that secure the lampshade to the lamp harp.
Plain metal caps are a dime a dozen, but decorative finials in brass, glass, crystal and porcelain are consistently hot sellers in my online resale business. In fact, I often purchase old lamps for a dollar or two just for the finials.
If you have a few decommissioned lamps stored in your basement or garage, take a look at the hardware.
Antique finials typically fetch higher prices. Milk glass finials from the 1930s can go for $30 to $50 each. But there’s demand for contemporary designs, too. In 2019, I sold a pair of modern brass pineapple finials on eBay for $32.
2. Swing-A-Way can openers
Swing-A-Way has produced the classic manual can opener for decades. Though the style hasn’t changed much, manufacturing has moved overseas.
Older models from the 1960s and 1970s feature all-steel construction, have rubber-coated handles in various colors, and are clearly marked “Made in USA.”
Buyers love older Swing-A-Ways because they’re built like tanks and will last a lifetime. If you need to clear a bit of kitchen clutter, don’t overlook this icon of practical, effective design.
Rubber-coated handles in bright colors like red, blue and green sell best. I’ve seen a vintage Swing-A-Way with royal-blue rubber handles bring $24.99 on eBay.
3. Ice cream spades
An ice cream spade is similar to an ice cream scooper, but flatter — picture a scooper-spatula hybrid.
The best spades were produced by a company called Vernco and crafted of heavy-gauge stainless steel with rosewood or walnut handles.
Again, the simple design and amazing craftsmanship of these utensils continue to draw buyers who are willing to pay $15 to $20 for a spade in great condition. With prices as sweet as that, who needs ice cream?
4. Vintage box cutters
There’s a collector market for everything — even vintage box cutters. And as with most other collectibles, brand, model and rarity are everything.
Check your workshop or garage for utility knives made in the USA by Stanley Tools. Models 199 and 299 are particularly popular.
I’ve seen a model 299 with extra blades sell on eBay for $35.99. Who knew such humble items could bring such handsome prices?
5. Glass thermometers
The glass oral thermometers that older generations relied on have largely been replaced with digital versions. But there’s still a strong — dare I say “feverish” — market for old-fashioned mercury-in-glass models.
With their simple, battery-free operation, all brands sell well. But check your medicine cabinet for thermometers made by three of the most popular brands:
- BD (Becton, Dickinson and Co.)
I’ve seen a single vintage BD thermometer with protective case bring $29.99 on eBay.
6. Antique canning jars
A few generations ago, canning vegetables, fruits and meat was part of daily life. Glass canning jars made by Kerr, Ball, Mason and Putnam were practical items that helped families safely preserve food.
Today, these household staples are in high demand for their rarity and simple beauty.
Buyers prefer jars that retain their original zinc or glass lids and will pay a premium for uncommon colors, such as lime green, amber, purple and blue.
I’ve seen a blue No. 4 half-pint Ball jar sell on eBay for $134.99, and a model No. 333 amber jar made by Putnam fetch $160. The lesson? Sometimes, it’s the simplest items that are worth the most.
7. Vintage Polaroid cameras and film
Almost everyone has a box filled with obsolete technology. And if you’re old enough, yours may include a Polaroid camera or two.
Though most models resell for a meager $5 to $10, there are a few exceptions:
- The Polaroid SX-70 is wildly collectible and can bring $100 to $300 — or more, if you have the original leather travel case.
- The Polaroid SLR 680 — which features sonar range finding and an auto-focus lens — typically resells for $250 to $300.
Have a few unused 668 and 669 film packs? Don’t toss ’em! A single pack of color film can go for $20 to $30 on eBay.
8. Kirby vacuums
I always joke that there’s more metal in a Kirby vacuum than most new cars. But that durable construction is part of the reason The Kirby Co. has been around for more than 100 years.
Compared with other popular vacuums, Kirby models are slightly unwieldy, and their multiple attachments can be daunting. Still, vintage models hold their value. The Kirby G3, G4 and G5 — produced in the 1990s — can bring $150 to $250 online.
If you have an old Kirby tucked away in the hall closet, it might be time to drag it out and cash in.
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