To Market


I’m in love with the idea of Flea Markets.

Worn-out and faded pieces of furniture. Chipped china. Old utilitarian pieces – like printer’s type and baker’s bread bowls – that don’t even know they’re beautiful. Weathered iron with its honestly earned patina. Yup. I love it.

And I love the scavenging that comes with Flea Market shopping. Finding the neglected piece of gaudy metalwork that just needs a coat of black spray paint. Pawing through a box of broken costume jewelry to find some quirky little treasure. And I feel 100% Homesteader if I take fifteen minutes hosing off a metal cafe chair to park by my hydrangea in the shade.

And the prices! I love Flea Market prices! I don’t know if anything could make me happier than a “10 for $1.00” sign by a basket of seam binding. Or the 25 cent sticker on an Illinois souvenir juice glass (who ever bought that in the first place? I don’t know. Maybe someone from sunny Florida that thought it would be a good joke). Or the “Make Offer” tag on a box of old metal plant markers.

As an idea, I love Flea Markets.

But as a reality: not so much.

I think I love all the Flea Markets should be or used to be. But these days, I pretty much stay away from Flea Markets.

I think in the past, before flea markets became a mainstream hobby, and Flea Market Style became a a lucrative label, flea markets used to be a quirky place for bohemian grubbers. Junk, and dirty-dusty second-hands still, but back in the day, there was more . . . honest junk. Before ebay filled our eyes with dollar signs, I think flea market offerings were mainly just crap from grandma’s attic.

And I liked it that way.

Nowadays, I see Flea Markets filled with a hodge-podge of mostly old and new nasty. The old stuff is either high-end antiques or seriously junkier pieces. Add to this old nasty stuff a strange bunch of new reproduction pieces. Corrugated metal cut-out “art.” And 2x4s country-painted with trite “funny” phrases. No thanks.

I think it’s “Out with the junk and in with the junque.” And. I’m out.

So when a friend told me that she knew the owner of a local flea market and could get us in for free, I didn’t bite. I think I officially said, “Thank you for the kind offer, but no thank you.” But I started hearing more and more about his great flea market. Then I read about it in a cute magazine. Then I heard more about it. OK, fine. I’m in.

So one fine Sunday afternoon after church, we drove an hour west to this famed flea market. At the gate we flashed our printed e-mail Guest Pass and we were in like Flea Market glitterati. The weather was beautiful, the flea market was huge and I had to admit: there’re a lot worse places I could be on a Sunday afternoon.

But let me also be very clear: my prejudiced view of flea markets was spot on. I can’t tell you how many antique dealer-like stalls there were. And I don’t want to tell you how many tacky junk-tique “art” stalls there were. I was right, I was right, I was right! (Imagine how much fun I was to shop with.)

As we wandered through all the stalls, I sure did see a lot of cute stuff and cool junk, though. There were so many hand-embroidered aprons and tea towels, I loved it. And depression glass and kitschy salt and pepper shakers and broken baskets and rusted hardware and farmhouse gadgets – perfect. I even found MY old lunchbox (a metal “Annie” lunchbox with the red handle! Mom, remember? You even sewed me an Annie dress to match!).


Perfectly prepared to haul home dilapidated stuff, I had brought along a big vinyl market bag. It was cavernous and puffy and it blew in the wind. “But don’t worry,” I told myself, “I’ll appreciate this big bag at the end of the day when it’s holding all my stuff!” Do you know what I bought, what I had to show for my whole day of flea marketing? A handful of old rosaries, twelve foreign coins and a wood bead necklace. I could have put it all in a Ziploc. A sandwich-size Ziploc.

It’s all good, though. I will use the foreign coins (little pfennigs – so cute!) and the wood beads from the necklace to make new jewelry. I’ll punch holes in the old coins and I thin they’ll lend a lot of texture to some cool jewelry designs I’ve been thinking of. Same with the old wood beads: old findings have a patina and finish that’s hard to fake, and it marries nicely with new elements like tumbled gemstones and lampwork glass.


More than anything though, I’m excited about the bag of old rosaries. They’re a tangled mess and they’re fabulous! Rusted links and old ebony wood beads, bakelite beads and (do I need to say it?) tons of Marys. I knew right away that I wanted to turn them into multi-strand bracelets. I combined lengths of rosaries with curb chain and ball chain for interest and the result was just what I was after. They’re interesting and dynamic, but the muted palette keeps them from being boisterous-in-a-bad-way. Divine.

So all in all, my day at the flea market was a success. I got to spend a nice day with a cool friend and I hauled home a handful of vintage treasures.

Postscript: Since writing the above, I have learned some new information concerning flea market quality. My friend, a straight-up Flea Market G, told me that bad flea markets are a regional thing. Like, my region. She listed several excellent flea markets in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Texas that are all just as awesome as flea markets should be. So, Illinois, I think we’re out of luck, but there are good flea markets a day’s trip away.

But, I was still so totally right about Flea Markets.