Monday, November 28, 2011

Picking for Presents: A Holiday Gift Guide

We could all use some help finding the perfect holiday gift for that person on our list we know well but not well enough, the person who has it all, or the person who won't want another year's worth of new socks. A dedicated shopper to the core (new stuff included), I have no shame in admitting that I peruse gifts guides like those published by The New York Times for Christmas gift ideas. And since I (and many other grad students out there, I am sure) am on a limited budget, I go right for the $25-or-less list. That limits potential gift ideas, to be sure. But I expect such respected arbiters of culture to have identified those mittens knitted using wool spun from Martha's Vineyard sheep or that new delicious jam concoction peddled by London's Fortnum & Mason.

Allen Farm Sheep & Wool Company, Chilmark, MA, Summer 2011.

But this year, the Times failed me. Instead of mittens and jam, they gave me a multitool set and a rocker garlic crusher. Instead of a fascinating new book with universal appeal or this season's must have gadget, they gave me wicked step scissors and a blink ketchup and mustard set. The former looks dangerous, and the latter would frighten me in the night when I go to the refrigerator for some water.

If you, too, are disappointed with these lists, weep no more, my friends. Instead, go to your local antique co-op or tag sale and pick up something cheap and unique! Not only will you avoid the holiday crowds at the mall, but you will also have some fun antiquing.

To give you some inspiration, below is a list of some antiques I see often that tend to be on the cheap side (under $25). Yeah, I know, not all the people on your list will want something from an antique store, but you might want to give these items a second thought. I suggested stuff that is "unique" but not necessarily so odd that you're taking a gamble on whether grandma finds mouse traps as sculptural as you do.

1) BOOKS. Used/collectible/antique books can be quirky and fun. Many shops sell antiquarian books about glass, furniture, and the like, but many also sell books about local or regional history. These titles are often obscure, so if you know someone who is into local history (or perhaps local history associated with their childhood home), this is a good place to start looking.

2) EPHEMERA. Does your mom or cousin like to cook? Maybe they'd like a vintage butter advertisement hanging in their kitchen. Does your brother love baseball? I bet he'd dig a framed collection of old postcards or photographs depicting his favorite teams' fields. The possibilities are endless here, and they sure beat these anonymous prints.

3) BOXES. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know by now that I adore empty space, i.e., boxes. Boxes come in all sizes, and they can be used for just about anything ranging from pencils to jewelry. Plain wood. Fancy painted wood. Decoupaged wood. Labeled wood. You name it, you will find it at the next tag sale.

An eighteenth-century box for gilt thread, purchased for $12 in Rhode Island, makes a great...

...pencil box!

4) VINTAGE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS. Everyone expects to receive at least one ornament a year, so why not be the one to give them away? Vintage Christmas ornaments are plentiful, cheap, and fun, and they often come in complete sets. Perfect for your hipster friend. They're unique but not so unique that they won't strike a chord with people's childhood memories...or those of their parents they have chosen to rekindle.

5) BAUBLES. You won't be buying anything too fine or fancy from this category with just $25, but you might be able to find a fun rhinestone pin for your aunt or an old college pin for your uncle if you take some time to peer into those glass cases. We all like to sparkle, glimmer, and glisten, so don't neglect the shinies!

6) GIFT CERTIFICATES. If your daughter or nephew is striking out on their own, they might need some used furniture with character. Help them furnish their pads by getting them a gift certificate for their favorite local antiquing haunt.

And for those of you nearby, here is a list of my favorite local sources for antiques (featured recently in a mini-lecture I gave about antiquing on a grad student's budget):

Adamstown, PA, “Antiques Capital USA” Go for the “Extravaganzas”

Briggs Auction, 1347 Naamans Creek Rd. (Rt. 491), Garnet Valley, PA 19060

Cawman's Mall, Antiques & Things on Consignment, 529 Route 49, Salem, NJ 08079

Changeover Sales, sites throughout northern Delaware

ETC Estate, Tag, and Consignment Sales, Sites throughout northern Delaware

Goodwill, Salvation Army, Etc.

Great Eastern U.S. Antique Book, Paper & Advertising Show, 1929 Chew Street, Allentown Fairgrounds, 17th & Chew St. Allentown, PA 18104

Main Street Antiques, 23 Possum Park Mall, Newark, DE

New Castle Farmers Market (and Flea Market), 110 N Dupont Hwy (Rt. 273 and 13), New Castle, DE 19720

Happy Holidays! Let me know what you find this holiday season.