If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

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Cutco cooking utensils
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the … well, junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in this series qualifies as a BOLO (Be On the Look-Out for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Cutco cooking utensils

I’m embarrassed to admit that my culinary skills don’t extend much farther than steaming rice and boiling eggs. Still, every time I hit a thrift store, I make sure to check out the selection of kitchenware. My goal? To find a few more pieces of Cutco-brand cooking utensils.

Cutco — the name comes from “Cooking UTensil COmpany” — began production in Olean, New York, in 1949.

In 1952, Cutco contracted with industrial designer Thomas Lamb, nicknamed “the Handle Man,” to create a new type of handle for its line of cutlery. Lamb’s innovative handle designs had been featured in a 1948 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The Wedge-Lock handle that Lamb designed for Cutco featured an ergonomic design that secured the fingers across the knife handle and “locked” the user’s thumb in place to create a safer grip.

Why buy it?

Durable, comfortable to use and American-made — what’s not to love about Cutco utensils? The company is still going strong today, but retail prices are steep. A new six-piece set of cooking tools costs $266, and this five-piece knife set will set you back $519.

Any piece you can find secondhand for a dollar or two is an amazing bargain in my book.

Eagle-eyed thrift shoppers can build a collection slowly and inexpensively, then hand pieces down as “practical heirlooms” to kids or grandkids. Try doing that with the array of flimsy plastic utensils available in most department stores today.

For resellers, Cutco’s practicality has created an enthusiastic fan base. People are willing to pay up for complete sets or to get that final missing whisk or potato masher. This vintage 11-piece knife set recently sold for $416 on eBay, and this single spatula sold for $65.

What to look for

Cutco pieces with Wedge-Lock handles are easy to identify. Handles are made of tough plastic resin and feature an organic, highly contoured shape that fits your hand perfectly.

Identifying Cutco’s Wedge-Lock handles by color is an inexact science. Based on Cutco’s current product line and vintage pieces available on eBay and Etsy, handles appear to have been made in four colors:

  • Brown multicolor (pictured below): Referred to in the secondhand market as the “brown swirl,” these handles feature brown as the base color with red, orange or black veining. Brown swirl handles are considered the oldest example of Cutco’s Wedge-Lock pieces and usually command higher resale prices.
  • Dark brown: Cutco’s dark brown handles are nearly indistinguishable from black.
  • Pearl white
  • Red
Cutco cooking utensils with brown swirl handles
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

Resellers, you don’t have to be choosey. Nearly all Cutco products sell well. Keep an eye out for all types of knives and any of the following standard kitchen utensils:

  • Whisks
  • Spatulas and spreaders
  • Potato mashers
  • Serving/basting spoons
  • Ladles
  • Serving/carving forks
  • Pastry servers

Cutco’s logo has evolved over the years. Older versions feature one small diamond on each side of the Cutco name. The more contemporary version features a single large diamond to left of the name.

Pro tip: Some early Cutco pieces are unmarked. The brand is most commonly missing from whisks and large carving forks. Consider the wedge-lock handle to be confirmation that you’ve found a genuine piece of Cutco.

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