Collectable Treasures: the “church bazaar challenge”

[Our resident antique and collectables expert Shaun Markey went to the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. His recap is below. KT editor, Andrea Tomkins, tagged along and shares her perspective further down this page.]

By Shaun Markey – 

It was a Friday evening in late April. A middle-aged guy with hands stuffed in his pockets and a toothpick protruding from the corner of his mouth lolls casually against the wall beside the back door of Kitchissippi United Church. A line of people stretches away from the door down the asphalt laneway and into the substantial parking lot.


All of us are here for one reason, it’s the church’s bi-annual rummage sale. More specifically, my wife and I are here at the suggestion of Kitchissippi Times editor, Andrea Tomkins. Chances are I would have been in this line anyway so Andrea’s suggestion simply guaranteed my presence.

Like any event where an abundance of material is offered for sale, collectors know there is an opportunity to find something interesting and potentially valuable. That’s why the line up has formed a full hour before the doors open. If there is something worthwhile, the only way you’ll know about it is if you’re the first one to get your hands on the item.  Or, to put it another way – make sure you’re there early!

Scanning the line in the minutes leading up to the opening, I recognize at least two dealers and an avid collector. They are all well ahead of me in the line. I am at a disadvantage. I comfort myself with the thought that the people closer to the entrance can’t be everywhere in the hall at once.

I also know that the chance of there being something truly special to be found here is remote. However, there are all kinds of stories of valuable antiques being found at rummage sales, so why not this one.  It’s happened for me in the past. Apparently, the other 75 people in line think the same as I do.

The half hour wait passes quickly as I chat with my companions, passing along a few instructions based on past experience. Joan is convinced the man standing in front of us is eavesdropping on our conversation. The anticipation grows.

A few minutes before 7 p.m., the single door swings open and the crowd funnels into the staircase leading up to the hall where the event is being staged. The three of us make for a long table at the front that stretches across the width of the room. A single row of customers has already formed in front of the table but we manage to find a spot where we can view the items directly in front of us.

It is the nature of sales of any kind that unless you have prior knowledge, you won’t know specifically what will be offered. Earlier in the line outside, Andrea had posed the question: “How will you know what to buy?”

“I’ll know it when I see it,”I replied.

The challenge for all collectors when looking at a table full of items is to focus on the antique and collectable items and to do so quickly. This is not easy, especially when there is noise and the distractions of other customers jostling you on either side.

A pair of small painted wood carvings first drew my attention. They depicted an elderly man and a woman sitting on rocking chairs. I knew at once they date to roughly the 1950’s, and were likely by the Bourgault family of carvers from the Saint Jean Port Jolie area of Quebec. I quickly picked them up, turned one over and noticed the name “L. Bourgault” signed faintly in pencil on the underside of the base.

I also noticed two larger carvings to my right, which were also from Quebec. I picked them up and bought the four of them. The carvings are not particularly valuable but they are collectable and it was fun to make the discovery and the purchase.

Adjacent to the carvings were some interesting pieces of china. There was a nice Victorian hand-decorated bud vase, which was signed on the bottom, and an unmarked china basket decorated with strawberries and likely dating to about 1920. Joan pointed out a small ceramic “Peter Rabbit” figurine. I quickly bought all of them. Again, these are not valuable items but fun things to find and purchase.

We proceeded down the length of the table. I noticed one individual pick up a small, framed print or painting. I could tell from the frame it was antique. I waited briefly to see if he would put the frame back down on the table. He did not. We moved a few paces further along the table.

At the far end of the table, I noticed a large pressed glass vase with handles. Unlike most of the items on the table, the vase had a price of $15 marked on it. Since I don’t typically buy pressed or cut glass, Joan had to provide some encouragement. I bought the vase and it went into the shopping bag.

By this time, the room was full of people. Everywhere I turned there were groups of people examining the items on all the tables. We couldn’t even get near the costume jewelry table. I know that collectors there would be looking closely for Sherman costume jewelry from the 1940’s and 50’s, among other things.

We continued to wander about the room. I bought two more inexpensive pieces of china from one table and a gooseneck 1940’s table lamp for $5, which will likely need $25 worth of rewiring and repairs. In retrospect, this was probably not a good buy.

We took one last scan of the textiles and linen on a table in the centre of the room and decided that we were finished with the sale and headed for the door. When we emerged into the parking lot I turned and asked Andrea for the time: “It’s 7:29,” she said.

So, from start to finish our visit to the sale had lasted 29 minutes. Did we find valuable antiques and collectables – no. Did we have some fun and spend a few dollars that went to a good cause – yes. Will we do it again? Of course, because you never know what you might find at the next rummage sale!

Shaun Markey with a few of his finds from the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Shaun Markey with a few of his finds from the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

A treasure-finding adventure, from the newbie perspective

By Andrea Tomkins

We were 30 minutes early and there were at least two dozen people ahead of us when we arrived at the Kitchissippi United church bazaar on Friday April 29. I was with Shaun Markey – KT’s resident antique expert – and his wife Joan. My mission: to see how an expert approaches flea markets, church bazaars, or yard sale. I was not to be disappointed.

As we waited, the line behind us started to grow longer. By the time the doors were scheduled to open there were probably 75 people in line. I was taking a few photos when the crowd started to shuffle ahead. My eyes sought out Shaun and Joan. He looked concerned. As I approached he turned to me with a serious look: “Now you stick with me.”

He meant business. The doors opened, and it began. It was a frenzied rush and I got caught up in a tidal wave of bodies as we filed through a hallway and crossed the threshold into the gymnasium. At that point, eager buyers started to spread out. Some people made a beeline for the books, others to the toys, household goods, and jewellery, but I stuck to Shaun as per instructions. It was surprisingly hard to do given how busy it was in that initial rush. The excitement was palpable.


I knew that Shaun’s plan was to hit up the “collectables” section of the sale. On first view it appeared to be just a bunch of knick knacks. This stretch of tables was accessible only from the one side and nothing was priced. It was immediately clear that speedy hands and knowing eyes –not to mention a bit of knowledge – is a big advantage here. Also, height. A shoulder-to-shoulder row of people immediately formed in front of our table, which made it hard to get a decent view.

According to Shaun, possession is nine tenths of the law here. Quick reflexes are key. Snap it up first, and ask questions later! If you think you might like to buy something, put your hand on it as soon as you spot it, then take the time to take a closer look to assess. Once you put it down, it’s fair game.

Shaun examines a vase. This turned out to be one of the purchases he made.
Shaun examines a vase. This turned out to be one of the purchases he made.
At one point I spotted a rustic hand-carved rooster. It was about the size of my palm and was made out of a tree branch. I picked it up, set it down, and when I came back it was gone. Clearly, this is a “you snooze you lose” kind of deal.

I have collected numerous things over the years. They range widely but they include vintage Pyrex, cameras, salt and pepper shakers, and board games, but there is a soft spot in my heart for vintage kitchen items. I have a few beautiful bowls, wooden spoons, more than a few ladles (this is actually a running joke in my family) so when I spotted a set of aluminum measuring spoons, I knew they had to be mine.

“How much for these,” I asked the man behind a table overflowing with plates, mugs, crystal, and every kitchen utensil you can imagine. I held up the spoons. Some of them were still dusty with spices from yesteryear.

He responded with a phrase that makes newbie collectors break into a sweat: “Make me an offer.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out two toonies. “How about four dollars,” I asked.

He smiled. “How about one?”

I gave him two dollars and tucked the spoons in my purse, fully aware that I just did the very opposite of what I probably should have done, that is, bargain from a low starting point.

My new measuring spoons!
Shaun and I were secretly hoping to make an amazing find. He has an impressive collection of folk art, furniture, and paintings and I am sure it would have been nice to add to it. We joked about finding a Grenfell mat. Alas, that was not to be.

He did, however, make some smaller purchases that he said he was pretty happy about. One of his finds was a pair of wooden figures made by a member of Quebec’s Bourgault family, famed for their wood carvings.

Shaun’s new carvings

Another set of carvings purchased by Shaun
Our excursion wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did get to experience that famous adrenaline rush and also learn from an expert. I did nab those awesome spoons too!

I’ll be better prepared next time!

Some tips from the pros:

  • Go early! Whether you are a collector or just appreciate a good deal, be prepared to wait in line.
  • Bring cash, preferably in small denominations.
  • Be prepared to bargain, especially if items are unmarked.
  • Prices are often negotiable but it’s good to keep in mind that many second-hand sales represent a significant fundraising effort for a local church, school, or other non-profit. Kitchissippi United made over $3770 at this particular sale.
  • Dress appropriately. It sounds silly to mention, but man, does it get hot in church basements. Layers are smart. So are comfortable shoes.




Leave a comment