James Werrell

Cashing in on a vintage collection

Hey, want to buy a green ceramic planter? I have plenty.

Unfortunately, so, apparently, does everybody else.

Years ago, I began routinely picking up green planters at the Goodwill, yard sales, flea markets. You know the ones I’m talking about, the chunky, mass-produced ceramic pieces produced by the thousands at potteries in central Ohio from the turn of the century through the 1960s.

Many of them were made by McCoy, which also made pottery under the Floraline name. Some are from Hull or Haeger, two other potteries that mass-produced planters, vases and figurines. Many others are marked simply “USA,” while others have no mark at all.

Some of these pieces originally were sold in department stores or dime stores. Some were sold by florists with plants or flower arrangements in them.

The planters come in an array of colors, including cream, brown, yellow, turquoise and a sickening Pepto-Bismol pink that apparently was popular in the ’40s. I stuck mostly to green, which ranges from pea, to olive, to moss, to leaf green and several shades in between.

No particular reason why I picked green; it just appealed to me.

I managed to buy most of these planters for a buck or two each, sometimes even less. Now, after accumulating a closetful of them and storing them for years, they have a value of about $2 each.

I have seen them in antique stores and online for $8 to $12 each, sometimes more, but I don’t know anyone who pays that for them. I am aware that there are certain pieces made by the old pottery companies, especially McCoy, that are rarer and worth more.

But I suspect that the bulk of them were donated to the Goodwill so I could buy them for a buck or two apiece.

There is a chance, however, that I just haven’t been able to connect with the right buyers. Someone else out there must collect this stuff. I just have to find him.

With that in mind, I, in partnership with my brother, have rented space at a consignment store in Hillsborough, N.C., near Durham, where my brother lives. One of the principal items for sale in our space is green ceramic planters.

I’ll admit that, when I bought the planters, I had a notion that someday I would make a small fortune on them. After all, they were old, some dating back to the early 1900s, they weren’t being made anymore and they were breakable.

But part of what drew me to them was the fact that I thought they were good looking – well, a lot of them anyway. While they certainly weren’t the work of master craftsmen, there is something in their clean, sturdy lines, especially those from the art deco era, and the deep, bright glazes that pleases the eye of the ascertaining junk store crawler.

In other words, I didn’t just buy them as an investment. I bought them because I liked them, which helps me justify having so many of them.

My brother and I have a number of other items for sale in our booth. We both are accumulators, an affliction passed on to us by our parents, although my brother is not as badly tormented by this malady as I am except when it comes to duck decoys.

Ideally, this venture will provide us with enough money for yearly trips to Europe after we retire. But we probably would settle for making just enough money to qualify as savvy investors instead of hoarders.

However, my brother and I diverge in one other way. He eagerly anticipates ridding his house and his life of excess “stuff.”

I want to sell the stuff I have collected at a profit primarily so I can go looking for more stuff. The thrill, after all, is in the hunt.

I hope I have made wiser choices in areas other than green ceramic planters. But the whims of the marketplace for vintage goods can be cruel, as many would-be antique vendors will attest.

Nonetheless, I have reason to hope that other people will like the same stuff I do. Hey, want to buy a tennis racquet?