Meet Susan from Callooh Callay, dear readers. Susan’s shop on Etsy is beautiful, refined, and perfectly presented. I’m sure you’ve always wanted to know about the person behind the shop, so read on!
Q: Tell our lovely readers a bit about yourself. Is buying and selling vintage your full-time gig or a hobby? How and when did you get started in this business?
A: I sort of backed into selling vintage, almost by accident. A few years ago I started out making jewelry with vintage buttons as Christmas presents for friends. Then I read about Etsy in the New York Times, and a few months later I opened a store for my jewelry. Almost immediately I became aware of the wonderful vintage for sale there, and, well, I’ve got lots of junk, you know? I’ve been buying vintage for years (I have flea market dreams that seem to last for hours), so at first I was just clearing out a few things and then I got well and truly hooked.
I’ve been selling vintage for only 2 years now, though I’ve collected for decades. So I consider myself a newbie and am constantly bumping my head up against my ignorance, but there are so many resources out there, and so many helpful people, it’s been wonderful.
This is not my full-time job—I’m also a freelance editor and a fiction writer (the latter remaining securely in the realm of hobby). I’d love to be able to devote more time to it, but you work with what you’ve got.
Q: Do you have any favorite, never-let-you-down, treasure hunting spots? Would you like to share, or are they top-secret?
A: One of my favorites you know quite well: the Belle Clair flea market in Belleville, Illinois. The challenge there isn’t finding good stuff, it’s finding good stuff at a good price. Aside from that I’m mostly a garage sale gal—estate sales when I feel like getting up really early and standing in line, but also just your basic garage sale, where you can find a Depression glass plate wedged up against old tennis shoes and jelly jars. Some days you come up empty, but then there are the fabulous finds, like the unmarked and unrecognized McCoys jumbled in with a pile of old pots.
Q: Is there a certain aesthetic you look for when you’re thrifting? How do you decide what to pick up, or just pass on? Do you wait for an item to speak to you?
A: I truly admire the shops that have a clear aesthetic—an era or style that they specialize in, that give them a coherent look. But my shop is more like my house—a little of the kitschy treasures my grandma would have loved, some weathered wood and boxes, old toys, books. I do have a few things I tend to carry, like hats and tins, because I love them and have found they sell. But in general I just look for things that are amusing or beautiful, or sometimes both.
Q: Be honest, do you keep many of your finds, or is it strictly business? And do you have any personal collections that you have built over time through thrifting?
A: Of course I’ve kept some stuff—who wouldn’t? A stone Buddha head is one; a small McCoy pot from the 30s; some Russell Wright chartreuse plates; a perfect black straw pillbox hat (one of the few that actually fits my head). But I force myself to sell most of it, including some pieces I truly love. Aside from books and rocks, I don’t have any collection that extends beyond five or six pieces (a reaction to my mother, I think, who is a compulsive, outrageous collector). I just have lots (and lots) of different things.
Q: Are there any items you’ve regretted selling and wish you would have kept for yourself?
A: Absolutely—an Art Deco statue of a woman; a small rough wood box with the most gorgeous patina. But the hardest was wrapping up my old Olive Oyl marionette from when I was a kid. She’d been in my basement for decades, and it was fitting that she find a new home, but it was painful. The only thing that made me feel better is she was purchased by a toy museum in Seoul, South Korea–so cool to think of tourists and Korean school kids visiting her in her little glass case.
Q: Pick one and tell us about it: Weirdest, most valuable, or most satisfying find?
A: I’ve sold several hats by Mr. John, one of the great characters of American millinery (who once designed a hat for an elephant). The first one I bought was a navy blue straw pillbox hat with a large rose that sticks out in front, right over the woman’s face, and bobs when she moves her head. Simply divine.
Hope you enjoyed meeting Susan and learning about her background! Hop on over to Callooh Callay on Etsy to dig in even deeper!
Robin Eastwood is a treasure hunter and vintage fanatic. Visit The Fancy Lamb on Etsy to drool over some of her latest finds, and follow Robin on Twitter to hear about her latest thrifting adventures.