If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

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Woman using a wood pepper mill
Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock.com

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 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 my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Vintage teak pepper mills by Dansk

Founded by Martha and Ted Nierenberg, Dansk Designs was established not in Denmark, but in Great Neck, New York. On a trip to Copenhagen in 1954, the Nierenbergs were inspired to launch a business that would bring Scandinavian Modern design to the United States.

To help realize their vision, the couple convinced Danish sculptor Jens Quistgaard to design a set of teak and stainless steel flatware that could be mass-produced. The success of this first product, dubbed Fjord flatware, established Dansk as a design powerhouse.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, every well-appointed home had a few Dansk pieces. Teak ice buckets, rosewood salad bowls and enamelware fondue pots became status symbols for hosts and hostesses across the country.

And over the decades, many Dansk items have appreciated in value. Today, vintage ice buckets can easily sell for $150, and fondue pots can fetch $100 to $150. But in terms of potential value, one signature Dansk item eclipses all the rest — the teak pepper mill.

Dansk’s chief designer from the late mid-1950s to the 1980s, Quistgaard was the aesthetic force behind many of the company’s most popular pepper grinders. Today, Quistgaard-designed pieces are highly prized, and there’s even a website devoted to his innovative pepper mill forms.

Why buy it?

Vintage Dansk is the perfect blend of quality and style. Pieces are durable, easy to use and to clean, and unique enough to get noticed. My vintage Dansk cutting board has lasted more than 25 years, and my parents’ Dansk flatware set feels more contemporary now than when it was made in the 1970s.

For people looking to resell for profit, many Dansk products have enthusiastic collectors around the world — and few are more enthusiastic than pepper mill collectors. This pepper and salt grinder designed by Quistgaard recently sold for $290 on eBay. On Etsy, another Quistgaard pepper mill is listed for $565.

Vintage Dansk pepper mill
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

What to look for

Dansk pepper mills can be found in thrift shops across the country. But don’t look for them only in the kitchenware section. Often, store staff have no idea what these odd-shaped beauties are or where to display them.

Identifying a genuine Dansk is fairly simple. Vintage pieces are well-marked on the underside with “Dansk Designs LTD” impressed into the wood or stamped on the metal grinder mechanism. Newer pieces feature a decal on the side that reads, “Dansk International Designs.”

When examining the maker’s mark, you may notice an additional “JHQ” mark. These are the initials are of Jens Harald Quistgaard, and they confirm the piece was designed by him. (That’s a very good thing.)

When scouting for vintage Dansk pepper mills to resell for profit, also pay special attention to:

  • Wood type: Though teak was more common, Dansk made some pepper mills out of Brazillian rosewood. Rosewood varieties are rarer and sell for a premium.
  • Grinding mechanism: Early Dansk pieces feature grinding mechanisms made by one of two companies: Peugeot (France) or Tre Spade (Italy). The hardware is always made of metal and clearly marked with the company name. Contemporary mills, which are generally less valuable, have unbranded black plastic grinders.
  • Location of manufacture: Early Dansk pieces were manufactured in Denmark (written as “Danmark” on some grinders) or in France. Contemporary versions are made in Thailand. Collectors prefer pieces produced in Denmark or France.
  • Unusual forms: Dansk’s designers pushed the boundaries of form. Today, fans view their collections as more art installation than culinary tool set. A good rule of thumb for shoppers: The less it looks like a standard pepper mill, the more desirable it is to Dansk collectors.

Pro tip: It’s not uncommon to find pepper mills with burn marks or cooking oil stains. Don’t pass these up! Many collectors are also accomplished restorers, and they’ll happily buy those ugly ducklings.

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