Ebay and Other Vices

I have a problem. I have a little thing called a prop addiction. I’m constantly finding my next must-have props in vintage and thrift stores, at the grocery store, in sales bins at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel, and most recently on ebay. Now, you might think that the problem is the fact that I am buying too much. Some might argue that. Not me. My problem is that I simply don’t have nearly enough room, and the stacks are growing ever more precarious. It’s not too much stuff, it’s simply a lack of storage space. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I’m hoping one day I’ll get to be like this shop in Chicago. My family may not be able to move in our house any more, but man, we’ll have some nice props. The photo above features two of my new ones… the palest-yellow oval dish, on sale at Whole Foods and the shabby chic breakfast tray was from ebay.

As I was just spending a bit of time prop-shopping on ebay, I thought I’d share some tips with you.

First and foremost, know that ebay rarely saves you money. While the prices may be cheap, the shipping charges will kill you. Don’t forget to count everything in when you are bidding, or your $.99 steal may quickly turn into paying $15.99 for a couple of napkins. If you have a local vintage shop, it’s probably a better bargain…

… but, there are things you’ll find on ebay that you just wont find anywhere else. And, most sellers I’ve worked with do a great job of delivering on what is promised, and if you order more than one thing from the same seller, you can save on the shipping costs. Plus, there is that whole being able to shop naked thing. Not that I’d do that or anything.

Always read all the fine print. Esp. sizes. I find that the photos don’t always do the size justice, and I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion with a wooden cutting board that barely fit a slice of toast… which I would have noticed had I read the description carefully. Also, while you are carefully reading, make sure you notice where the item is located. About 50% of the time stuff I fall in love with is located in Australia. Which would be great if I lived there (as I’m sure some of you do), but shipping a dinged up enamel bowl or nut loaf pan from Sidney to Seattle seems a bit excessive.

If you really want something, be sure to check back in in the last 30 minutes of the auction, and be prepared to be bid up. Often, I won’t even bid until the last 30 minutes or so to avoid as much price inflation as possible. I put neat items I’m considering on my watch list, and sit on them for a while, to make sure I really want them or don’t find something better, or the buying impulse goes away.

Getting your search right can be tricky too. Is it a wood or a wooden cutting board? Should I search on vintage, antique, or primitive? Here are a few of my personal favorite searches for food-photography related props:

Shabby Chic Kitchen Collectibles
Cottage Kitchen Collectibles
Enamelware (Enamelware seems to be a hot new prop trend. I had started buying some, and then noticed my new issues of Saveur and Gourmet both feature red-rimmed enamelware bowls on the cover.)
Old-looking Wooden Cutting Boards
Collectible Cake Stands
Depression Glassware
Vintage Kitchenware Lots (great for finding old bakeware, linens, and flatware)

While I’m at it, here are a few of my other favorite prop shopping sites:

CB2 – Crate & Barrel’s inexpensive little sister, great for modern props.
Horchow – Some of this stuff is over the top, but there are some great bargains if you look for them.
Napa Style – Cool, but expensive stuff. Worth picking up a piece or two though.
Heath Ceramics – Gorgeous, gorgeous pottery
The Find – Fantastic comparison shopping site. Just enter in a few thoughts about what you are looking for, and you’ll get results from all over the place. So much better for shopping than Google.
Stylefeeder – Another great place for finding shopping tips.

Care to share any of your favorite prop shopping tips?

  • http://aspotoft.typepad.com Joy T.

    I stumbled upon your blog and have fallen in love with it. I have ‘tipped’ you on my blog for May Blogtipping :o)

  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com david

    If you’re ever back in the Bay Area, Heath pottery has a factory-store in Sausalito. It’s still ain’t cheap, but there is a ‘seconds’ room that’s stocked with some great finds. I got a whole bunch of their sushi rectangular plates for about $2 each. Some of the stuff in there is bumpy or whatever, but perfectly usable.

  • http://kitchenpantry.blogspot.com Sara – Piperita

    The problem with your prop addiction is that it’s contagious!!! And spreading…
    First thing I though reading your post was: Uh, I have to take a look on e-bay…

  • http://www.mattbites.com matt


    For me my favorites involve the big giant swap meets we have in Pasadena and Long Beach. They are always amazing resources for the most unsual things. I once bought a bag of about 20 assorted Vera linen napkins for $5 bucks!

    As far as retail, I love checking out American Rag CIE, Anthropologie, Crate and Barrel (and their outlets) as well as flea markets and thrift shops. You never know what you’ll find!

  • http://www.eatingmywords.org Russ

    As a matter of fact, living here in Atlanta we have a solid TON of antique shops, flea markets and estate sales every spring and summer. It makes for shopping for props really interesting because you can roam around for hours in the aisles of bric-a-brac, trying to sort out what you do and don’t want to buy. Surprisingly, I have not seen a region of the country that likes to resell its stuff as much as the south.

    But yeah, browsing the antique shops and flea markets is where I get some really cool items.

  • http://stilllifewith.com L

    David – oh, I’m definitely going to have to do that! Thanks for the tip! I’m heading down mid-June… I’ll have to start saving my pennies now!

    Sara – heh… I know. I blame Matt and his fabulous blue cake plate for my current cake plate obsession. Still haven’t found one as cool as his…

    Matt – Anthropologie is always a great one… but I hadn’t heard of American Rag… I’ll have to look for it! Thanks!

  • http://www.photodesign-coelfen.de/ Elisabeth Cölfen

    Same problem here. I cannot get enough of them.

  • http://blog.fatfreevegan.com SusanV

    I have the same addiction, so thanks for the resources. My dining room has been transformed into a studio, but I’m dreaming of the day when I can build a real one, complete with lots of windows and shelves on every available wall.

    P.S. I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but keep your receipts. I was remembering to claim all camera equipment purchases as deductions, but it didn’t occur to me until recently that I’d spent almost as much money on props and dishes.

  • http://kitchenbeard.livejournal.com/ kitchenbeard

    If you need an enabler when you’re in SF next, let me know. I should be saving for a better camera, but I keep finding a need to thnings that appeal to the “OOOH SHINY!” in me.

  • http://palatablepierogi.com chaddington

    That breakfast tray – great find! I agree with you and Matt that there are wonderful items at Anthropologie. A great place for some local finds is craigslist.com, though it depends quite a bit on where you live and you do need to check the site on a regular basis. I live in Albuquerque and we have a fairly decent craigslist community.

  • http://kitchen-parade-veggieventure.blogspot.com/ Alanna

    Oh gad, just what I need. I check the markdown aisles at TJMaxx and similar, also Tuesday Morning. I don’t want to know about these sources!! My friend Linda is a stylist and has a basement full of stuff. A friend is a photographer and has a section (maybe 50×200) of the studio lined with shelves etc that actually make is easy to SEE and GRAB stuff. Sorted.

  • Lynne

    I’m addicted, too! If it isn’t Target or TJ Maxx, it’s hounding the shops when I travel for cool fabrics or serving pieces.

  • http://nikas-culinaria.com nika

    I have a latent addiction.. my problem is that I LOATHE shopping, even for fun things like plates and napkins and spoons and such.

    I live in the antique epicenter of the universe ( http://www.brimfield.com/ see this page for aerial shots) Brimfield, MA where literally more than 5000 dealers set up shop for a week, three times each summer. (approximately 84 acres of antiques)

    I become exhausted just THINKING about going down the road to check out the ‘tiques cuz there will be so many many things that I want and can’t afford :-).

    Perhaps I will give it another try but I am also running out of space, which is not a fun thing.

  • http://www.dailypress.com/skatandthefood s’kat

    I love checking out thrift stores and the like, but in this area it’s definitely more hit than miss.

    Last Saturday I went out shopping looking for some new props. 5 hours = 2 small cone-shaped dessert cups and 4 tiny silver spoons. Thanks for the links!

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  • http://www.elise.com/recipes Elise

    I have had a lifelong prop addiction, which is only now justified by my “need” (truly a need!) from my food blog. It’s great! I now know why I have $2000 worth of old sterling silver, none of it matching, and 40 different china plates. I can now completely justify my compulsion to buy any neat looking ceramic bowl.

    You are not alone. 😉

  • http://www.fodos.net Collectibles

    I am always on the lookout for antiques for my house. Garage sales seem to be the best place to find them at a reasonable price.

  • http://www.delightfolio.com chix

    prop addict here as well. i just can’t get enough satisfaction buying just one or two… well, goes with my job and i’m running out of shelves to get them organized!

  • http://www.tastesofhome.blogspot.com Tastes of Home

    hi there, just wanted to say thanks for the links, I just ordered stuff from CB2, usually I go to Crate and Barrel and have been paying inflated prices for my props, and yes I have a lot of dishes that don’t match! haha..GREAT PICS btw!

  • http://thepapillonpantry.blogspot.com Kiriel

    I am a total prop addict. Most of mine are in plastic boxes under the bed, but its getting hard to fit them now. But recently I did food styling for an ayurvedic cookbook and used pretty much every dish in my collection, in a bid to make 23 almost identical meals look different. Thank goodness for my collecting habits!