Most of us will never find a treasure like the sweater once owned by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi that a Knoxville, Tennessee, couple bought at Goodwill for 58 cents and resold for $43,000.
But, chin up. There’s still plenty of profit to made in the humble objects that surround us every day — even for things people might call garbage.
After three decades of thrift shopping, dumpster diving and reselling, I’ve found and sold some true oddities. Here are some surprising things you can sell for extra cash.
Yes, you read that right. At a yard sale in 2019, my brother bought a set of used false teeth for $1. He promptly flipped them on eBay for $75.
Buyers for this item fall within two categories: collectors of oddities and folks who simply can’t or won’t pay $900 to $1,200 for a new set of chompers.
2. Vintage road maps
Road maps are popular with crafters and collectors of oil and gas memorabilia. Older maps with bold graphics sell particularly well, as do maps from defunct companies like Conoco and Skelly.
3. Ugly Christmas sweaters
Mark your calendars. Each year in November, online sales of ugly Christmas sweaters start to spike.
Companies like Tipsy Elves are cashing in on Americans’ love of goofy garb and making new purposely ugly sweaters. But don’t worry, used sweaters sell great, too, and thrift stores are full of them.
In this category, tackier is better. Christmas-themed sweaters bedazzled with sequins, ornaments, ruffles and garland sell at a premium. Every Christmas season, I sell 10 to 15 ugly sweaters on eBay for about $30 apiece.
4. Sea glass
If you live along a coastline, hit the beach. Surf-tumbled sea glass is a hot commodity among jewelry-makers and craftspeople.
Red, orange and amber sea glass are particularly prized. I’ve seen 11 pieces of red and orange sea glass sell for $170 on eBay.
5. License plates
That stack of old metal license plates in your garage is worth money. In a cleaning frenzy one summer, I liquidated 25 plates for $30 on Craigslist.
Buyers use license plates to decorate man caves, create art and build cool birdhouses.
Although there’s a market for all metal plates, serious collectors pay a premium for pieces that are older, in good condition and from non-contiguous states (Alaska and Hawaii).
6. Antique eyeglasses
Your great-grandmother’s pair of wire-framed eyeglasses are likely gold-filled, which makes them worth $20-$40. Look for the abbreviation “GF” (gold-filled) preceded by a karat rating.
Gold or not, vintage cat-eye glasses from the 1950s sell well, too. Retro fashionistas will pay $30-$50 for ornate examples.
7. Vintage hotel keychains
Readers of a certain age will remember the plastic diamond-shaped hotel keychains (also called key tags or fobs) from the 1960s and ’70s. Today, they’re a kitschy collectible.
Though collectors pay top dollar for keychains from famous destinations such as The Dunes in Las Vegas, don’t discount roadside dives. Expect each keychain to sell for $5 to $15 on eBay or Etsy.
Large pieces of driftwood are used in landscaping, furniture construction, terrarium design and taxidermy projects. Simple forms fetch $10 to $15, while bigger, more-interesting shapes can bring $30 and up.
A word of caution: Before collecting driftwood on public land, check with local officials. Many areas prohibit the removal of any natural materials.
9. Antique keys
Usually made of iron or brass, antique keys are in vogue. Designers use these rustic gems to make jewelry, crafters turn them into wind chimes, and collectors frame and display them.
Last summer, I sold several antique keys at a yard sale for $3 apiece. Online, buyers will pay $10 to $15 for a single, unique key.
10. Large pine cones
Correction Mom and Dad: Money does grow on trees.
I have five large pine trees in my yard, and I’ll occasionally gather and sell the largest pine cones that have dropped to the ground.
Decorators use pine cones as textural accent pieces. Holiday enthusiasts use them in making wreaths and decorating tables. I’ve seen jumbo cones (9 inches or larger) sell for nearly $9 each on Etsy.
11. Discontinued products
When my old favorite moisturizer, Complex 15, was discontinued, I turned to eBay in a desperate attempt to horde every last drop of the stuff. To my dismay, tubes of my once-$8.99 moisturizer were selling for nearly $100 each!
The lesson? Some products have a wildly devoted fan base. Before you toss out anything, check prices online.
12. Old coffee cups
Have a cupboard full of coffee cups? Before you declutter, check values.
Certain cups made by Fire-King are hot with collectors. Look especially for pieces made of milk glass (a type of opaque white glass) that feature characters from the Peanuts comic strip. Depending on rarity and condition, some of these cups fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay and Etsy.
Fire-King also manufactured cups made of jadeite, an opaque green glass. Heavier jadeite pieces from Fire-King’s Restaurant Ware line are particularly valuable. A single jadeite mug can sell for $35 to $40.
13. Modern paper currency
Yep, your money is worth money. Modern bills featuring fancy serial numbers can sell for more than face value.
Check your wallet for bills with:
- Solid serial numbers: All digits are the same (44444444)
- Repeater serial numbers: Digits in the first half of the number repeat in the second half (40014001)
- Ladder serial numbers: Every digit is one number higher or lower than the last (23456789)
- Serial numbers that are very low (00000110) or very high (99999979)
14. Old yearbooks
Yearbooks appeal to three audiences:
- Celebrity memorabilia collectors scour old yearbooks to find famous names and signatures.
- Graduates of a particular school buy yearbooks to reconnect with their history.
- Artists of all sorts use yearbooks to source vintage photos and advertisements.
Values vary depending on the year and school. I once sold a collection of four not-so-spectacular yearbooks for $18, and I’ve seen a 1953 high school yearbook containing Sandy Koufax’s senior photo sell for $230 on eBay.
15. Rotary phones
Though your grandkids probably have no idea how to use it, that rotary phone packed away in the attic is worth money.
Collectors pay a premium for working phones in bold colors like orange, pink, mint green and blue. I once saw a dark blue rotary desk phone sell for $180 on eBay.
16. Vintage photos and postcards
Is there a shoebox full of old snapshots and postcards hiding under your bed? It might be worth a few bucks.
Vintage images are used as home decor accent pieces and incorporated into artwork. Postcard collectors (yes, that’s a thing) pay top dollar for antique cards featuring iconic moments in history, famous ocean liners or Halloween imagery. I’ve seen a Halloween postcard from 1911 sell for $189 on eBay.
17. Typewriter keys
Ready to toss that old Smith Corona? Salvage the keys first! Antique manual typewriter keys are repurposed by jewelry-makers, mosaic artists and scrapbookers.
A couple of years ago, I removed 55 keys from two heavily damaged typewriters from the 1940s. I sold the lot for $35 on Etsy.
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