Why you should think small items with massive buyer appeal…

I’m a great lover of small products, mainly antiques and collectibles – the kind that are tiny enough to allow dozens to be packed into the average pocket at boot sales and flea markets.

They are unlikely to cost more than a pound each to post, so offering free delivery is rarely a major problem and can help your listings rank higher in eBay search returns.

Not forgetting, when you’re out product sourcing at flea markets and car boot sales, with really big pockets, you may never have to carry bags, thereby foregoing the risk of mislaying them or having them stolen as you make your way round the (sometimes thousands of) stalls.

I’m talking today about hugely popular and sometimes very high-price items like thimbles and guitar plectrums, cufflinks, tiny animal-shaped pin cushions, wax seals, and hundreds more items besides.

Once you get your acquisitions back home, they can be pushed to the back of your workstation and never tie up space in the attic or garage.

And because they are small, you’ll find two very important things – important for you, that is – happening at boot sales and other selling locations:

(i) Small items often get overshadowed by larger items on a seller’s stall, so even if you arrive late to the event, you’ll still find some valuable items earlier visitors have missed.

(ii) Small usually means inexpensive, even to some experienced sellers, and you could pick up items for pennies and sell them for several pounds apiece on eBay.

At least, that is my experience and has been for more than 40 years (actually closer to 50).

Now let us look at some of the small items we’re talking about and their recent finishing prices on eBay…


If you’ve ever tried sewing a button onto a shirt without using a thimble you’ll know the finger used to support the button can be stabbed ten or 20 times in the couple of minutes it takes to make the garment whole again.

That’s why thimbles are commonly used to protect the supporting finger: usually the forefinger on the hand not holding the needle.

But thimbles are also very popular collectable and decorative items and can fetch ten or £20 or even hundreds of pounds on eBay.

They have been made, used and collected for hundreds of years, although very few exist today from the pre-18th century. The older and more ornate they are, generally the more collectable and higher-priced they tend to be.

Recent sales on eBay include:

Vintage Exquisite Ornate Edwardian Thimble by James Fenton in Retailers Box – £362.00

Rare 1976 Peter Swingler Sterling Silver Washington Crossing the Delaware JS & S – £206.03

Here’s a site telling you most of what there is to know about collecting thimbles and, by implication, selling them too: http://www.worldcollectorsnet.com/features/thimbles-thimble-collecting/.

Guitar Plectrums

Plectrums are used by musicians to pick out notes on the guitar in a way that could otherwise be done using the fingernails (only less painfully and without suffering broken nails and bleeding fingers).

Examples once belonging to or promoting specific named guitarists are the most popular of all.

Recent examples sold on eBay:

GARY MOORE Guitar Pick. Extremely Rare and Collectable Promotional Plectrum – £50.00

1998 ERIC CLAPTON Guitar Pick Plectrum Pic Picks PILGRIM – £47.18

Learn more at: https://www.everythingcollectible.com/cat-11-CommemorativeGuitarPickCollection.php.


Cufflinks are used instead of buttons to close cuffs on shirts worn by men and sometimes on women’s blouses. They’re often found selling at flea markets and collectors’ fairs, or as part of a deceased person’s estate in most auction salerooms.

Generally the most valuable items are created from precious metals and made by well-known and popular designers.

Recent examples:

Cartier 18k White Gold Blue Tiger Eye Cuff Links – £2990.00

ST DUPONT 18k WG Cufflinks – £1,615.93

TOM FORD Striped T Cufflinks – £969.56

Learn more at: http://www.cufflinkking.com/collecting.htm.

Animal-Shaped Pin Cushions

Pin cushions have been used to hold pins for hundreds of years but ornate designs have only been made since the 19th century.

The Victorians favoured silver pin cushions in various different designs, of which animals are among the most popular and highest-priced today, especially dogs and cats, birds and horses.

Recent eBay finishing prices include:

Rare Sterling Silver Novelty Pin Cushion Parrot Bird Adie & Lovekin 1915 – £1,227.00

Very Rare Silver Novelty Lizard Pin Cushion – £537.00

Very Scarce Antique French Silver Ostrich Pin Cushion c1910 – £460.20

Learn more at: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/sewing/pin-cushions.


Seals were usually metal devices with an embossed or engraved pattern or coat of arms at one end and a handle at the other. The design part would be dipped in wax and used to close documents and letters, before (and for some decades after) envelopes came into common usage.

The coat of arms or other pattern would be unique to a specific person or household. The seal was designed to close a letter or other document to make it easy to transport, as well as identifying the sender and proving authenticity, whilst also ensuring letters and other communications arrived at their destination intact.

If the document was tampered with in transit, the wax seal would be broken and give the game away.

Here are some recent eBay finishing prices:

Antique Victorian 18ct Gold Banded Agate Jewish Cross Triple Swivel Fob Seal – £343.00

1880s Griffin 14k Gold Victorian Seal Fob w/Knights Helmet & Shield 22.8gm – £336.11

Learn more at: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425500417.html


Vinaigrettes are tiny boxes containing a sponge or wadding which was soaked in aromatic oil or vinegar. Owners would open the box and sniff the contents to counteract the unpleasant aroma of refuse and raw sewage, common in the streets in Victorian and earlier times.


Nathaniel Mills Mourning Viniagrette – £1,200.00 (Notice the product was misspelled in that listing, but still managed to be found and top the price listings for vinaigrettes recently on eBay.)

Note: Maker Nathaniel Mills appeared on several of the top ten highest prices paid for vinaigrettes recently on eBay.

Rare 1889 Victorian Jewish Sterling Silver Articulated Fish Spice Box Vinaigrette – £413.03

C1920 Art Deco Sterling Silver & Guilloche Enamel Vinaigrette Pendant Necklace – £336.11

Learn more at: http://www.ascasonline.org/VINAIGRETTE.html

Recommended Reading

An Encyclopedia of Small Antiques by James A. MacKay, published by Harper Collins: ISBN-10: 0060127953; ISBN-13: 978-0060127954. Currently available on Amazon priced 1p upwards.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here