Antiquing Disney Style

by Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer

Hello Disney shoppers. I wish you all a happy spring and hope the weather by you has been better than it's been in the Northeast.

As you probably already know, there are many ways to shop Disney: Visiting your local Disney Store, going online to get great Disney merchandise from a variety of outlets, or my favorite—going directly to the parks and resorts.

There is another, old-school way to get great Disney collectibles, especially if you're a die-hard collector or love antique, classic, or hard-to-find items. If you're willing to go on a treasure hunt, dig and get your hands a little dirty (possibly literally), there are a plethora of antique fairs and yard sales brimming with unique items and bargains. These can be a lot of fun, and it can be a real adventure visiting the various dealers and seeing what they have.

I recently went on one such adventure, to the Brimfield Antiques Flea Market in Brimfield, Massachusetts. This is one of the largest flea markets/antique shows in the country, named by the Travel Channel as one of the world's best flea markets. There are over 4,000 vendors spread over a mile of highway in historic Brimfield. Vendors are arranged in various different "shows" on either side of the road. You can easily walk from one show to the next and spend up to several days exploring all the offerings. Some of the shows charge a nominal fee to enter.

Keep your eyes peeled

Although Brimfield isn't a "Disney" show, it's a great example of how to find Disney bargains among a lot of other great items. The collection of dealers specialize in all kinds of things (or frankly, may just have a pile of junk). You need to keep your eyes peeled and always be on the lookout for that special find, which could be tucked in the back of a booth or in the middle of a pile.

Can you find the hidden Mickey and Minnie? Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

Tucked in the back of a nondescript booth was what may have been the Disney find of the show. Standing up in a wooden crate in the back corner of the tent were vintage 1930s and Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush.

One vendor has rare vintage 1930s Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

The plush were large, about 18 inches high, and were in excellent condition considering how old they were. Minnie's nose was a little worse for wear, but they were generally in great shape. They were marked for sale at $750 each. This was a little pricey for me, but that isn't actually bad for what these were.

Disney finds aren't just of the Mickey and Minnie variety. At one toy vendor, on a back table, there was a great set of Nightmare Before Christmas items.

One toy vendor has some great "Nightmare Before Christmas" items. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

There's was actually a pretty neat collection of stuff. There was a large cookie jar, some action figures, a Jack Skellington pencil holder cup, and a few watches that were giveaways at McDonald's at the time the film came out. These ranged in price from a few dollars to around $100.

One of my favorite vendors at the show specializes in all kinds of antique clocks, some dating back to the early 1800s. He always has some beautiful and interesting things. I walked through the booth admiring the clocks, and low and behold, found a few great Disney items featuring a familiar pair of mice.

Towards the front of vendor's space, he had a small display of Mickey Mouse watches of various kinds and another truly awesome find.

The antique clock vendor has a small display of Mickey Mouse watches along with a projector from the 1930s. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

He had a few nice watches that were resonably priced (though one of them, from Fossil, has a pull toy that accompanied it—I have that one and noticed the watch he had with the toy wasn't the one that was sold with it—always know what you're buying). What caught my eye here, was a Mickey projector from the 1930s that came with four Mickey Mouse films. It worked, and was a great way to see how people got to experience viewing Mickey more than 80 years ago. It was priced at only $95.

The vendor also had a great Bayard Mickey & Minnie Mouse alarm clock from the 1970s. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

Towards the back of the booth tucked among some other clocks, was a Mickey & Minnie Mouse alarm clock, made by Bayard in the 1970s. Walt Disney Productions licensed some great products during this era, and this was a good example. The clock was in working order and was tagged for $125. This brings us to our next lesson.

Don't be afraid to negotiate

I brought the vendor over to the clock and asked if he'd be willing to take less. We went back and forth a few times and ultimately, he agreed to come down to $100, 20 percent below the tagged price. I would up not buying the clock, but this is a good example of "never pay the original price."

Typically at these fairs, the price on the tag is only meant as a jumping-off point. It's perfectly acceptable—and even expected—to make an offer on any item you're interested in. You may go back and forth a few times and settle on an amount that's acceptable to both you and the seller (and if not, at least you tried). If you just want to cut to the chase, you can just ask sellers for their "best price." They'll give a number, which you can accept or not.

It's also good to know that the best bargains tend to be at the very beginning or end of a show. At the beginning, the hope is that someone doesn't know what they have, so an eagle eye will spot a super bargain and grab it before anyone else does. At the end of a show, the vendor may just want to make a sale to get whatever they can, or they very simply don't want to pack the item up again. You can negotiate some of the best deals in the waning hours of the show.

Be prepared to learn and don't be afraid to ask questions

A lot of the sellers are fellow collectors and like nothing more than talking about their favorite topics. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the items (their age, origin, and interesting facts) or just to chat with a fellow collector about something you both enjoy.

For example, I went to Japan a few years ago and was struck by Japanese block prints—prints made using intricately carved woodblocks carefully colored with different inks. I came across a vendor who had a beautiful display of these prints. I spend a lot of time browsing the displays and found one I really liked. I struck up a conversation with the seller, and it turned out she was a big collector herself. She gave me the background of the piece I was interested in (which I bought) and we talked about the history of the prints. I enjoyed myself and learned a lot about a topic in which we shared a mutual interest.

Know your items and their prices

The next lesson to learn is to go in knowing your prices. There was a particular vendor I came across that had a few Disney games for sale. One was a Disney Monopoly set. It was in good shape and very nice, but it was not terribly old (circa 2000s) and had a price tag of $50.

Here's a fun Disney Monopoly set, but is it really worth $50? Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

If you love Disney and love Monopoly, you might rejoice at such a find, but you need to ask yourself, is it really worth $50? My reaction in this particular case was a resounding no. Again, this set wasn't old and you can go to WalMart and buy something similar for $20.

Let me share with you a cautionary tale so you learn from my mistake. Hummel figurines, made by the German manufacturer Goebel, have been collected by millions for years. They've also made figurines with various Disney characters in classic Hummel poses. I came across a vendor that had Disney Hummels, and there was one in particular that I liked. It had Mickey and Minnie holding a birthday cake and was actually a model done by the company, in pure white, that was done before the color pallette was picked. I negotiated a bit, and got it for $110.

What I didn't realize at the time was the the prices of Hummels had dropped considerably over the last few years, and that I could find these figurines at other shows or online for about $40. It wasn't a total loss since I love the figurine, but if I had done my homework, I could have saved myself some money.

If there's something specific or items in a certain category you're looking for at these shows, do your homework ahead of time and learn what the general price ranges are. For Disney collectibles, there are plenty of guides available and a ton of information online. If you're at the show and see something interesting that you hadn't anticipated, you have a great resource right in your pocket. Just whip out your phone and search the item in question to get an idea what similar items are going for, or check an online auction site (like eBay) to comparison shop.

Have fun

The bottom line with antiquing, as with all Disney shopping, is have fun. My mom, a Brimfield guru and master of all things antique (this was her 30th show), has always said, "If you love it, buy it—and don't worry so much about whether it's a good buy." For myself, if I'm not sure, I walk away, and if I'm still thinking about it a few hours later, it means I really want it and I at least try to find my way back to buy it.

One vendor had the back of a cereal box container from the 1930s. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

There are plenty of great Disney items at the show, no matter what your Disney interest or budget.

You may be wondering what my big score from the show was. I'll be honest: this year I didn't come home with too much Disney paraphernalia. My big purchase was a Mickey Mouse Coke bottle. I was walking past a tent full of Coca-Cola memorabilia. I spoke to the seller, and he said he was representing a woman whose husband had just passed away. He was a big Coke collector and had thousands of collectible bottles, machines, signs, and so on. Looking at the cases, I happened to spot a mint glass bottle of Coke made to commemorate Mickey's 75th birthday in 2003. It wasn't terribly old, but was really cool and fit neatly into my "everything Mickey Mouse" collection. He saw me looking at it, and said I could have it for $5. Sold!

Mickey Mouse can be found hanging out among the bric-a-brac. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

You need to really look and dig. You never know what might be hiding in a display or sitting behind something larger. If something seems too expensive, it likely is. Don't be afraid to make an offer. You need to know your stuff. While it's rare to be intentionally misled, the dealer might not know much about what they have, so you should. More importantly, you should know what a good price would be (and that little electronic device in your pocket can be a big help).

Here are a couple of 1990s-era Mickey and Minnie mugs for only $10 for the pair. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

Try to strike up conversations with the sellers and your fellow shoppers. It's fun to speak to people with similar interests, and it's always great to learn something new. Lastly, have fun. Think of the experience as a grand treasure hunt. You may find the item of your dreams or you may not. Either way, think of it as a grand adventure.