five things | antique & vintage art supplies

by | Oct 22, 2020 | All Things Home, Antiques, Art, art supplies, Artistic Endeavors, Favorite Finds | 24 comments

Antique and vintage art supplies have become one of my favorite things to shop for and collect.  As I’ve hunted for them, I’ve learned that they are not the easiest thing to find!  I think that makes the hunt even more exciting, but it can also be frustrating when you’re hoping to find something specific.  I have managed to acquire some beautiful pieces recently, so I thought I would share those as well as five things I’ve learned about shopping for antique and vintage art supplies.

Warning: If you’re an art supply addict, as I am, prepare yourself for some gorgeousness…

one | look often & everywhere

I think this philosophy is true any time you’re shopping for antiques.  You just have to look everywhere and look regularly.  You never know when you’ll trip across some antique paint box that someone dropped off at the thrift store or an estate sale that is selling items from an artist’s studio.  Scroll on Etsy, eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to see what comes up.

antique paint pochade boxes | miss mustard seed

I used to never pay attention to cases at antique stores (I understand they are to prevent loss from theft, but they are so annoying to shop out of!)  I have started scouring them, though, because that’s often where brushes, inkwells, pencils, palettes, etc. are displayed.

To multiply your efforts, let friends and family know the kind of things you’re looking for, so they can keep an eye out for you as well.  I have a lot of friends who are antique dealers and they let me know when they find something they think I might like.  Some of my Instagram followers even tag me when they see art supplies for sale!

TWO | be particular & only buy what speaks to you

I think this is so, so important!  Since there isn’t a surplus of antique art supplies flooding the market, I always feel antsy when I see something cool.  It’s easy to jump on that antsy feeling and purchase something that’s cool, but I don’t really love it or it doesn’t speak to me.  Be very particular and look at every detail.  Do you like the tone of the wood and the hardware?  Do you like the shape and size?

antique paint pochade boxe | miss mustard seed

Is it broken or missing pieces?  Can you live with any imperfections?  Don’t get excited at finding the thing and then set yourself up for disappointment when you finally acknowledge it’s not exactly what you wanted.  Just wait.  Be patient and particular.

antique French artist pochade box | miss mustard seed

I found this beautiful French plein air paint box entirely by chance on Etsy during a late-night browsing session and I bought it right away.  I love the box, the hardware, the folding palette, and all of the fun goodies it came with.  And, it was a great price!  It ended up being about $150 including shipping.

antique French artist pochade box | miss mustard seed

It came with a couple of brushes, a dip pen and nibs, zinc bottles with brass lids for solvent and linseed oil, a silver pencil lead holder, and another unidentified tool with a bone handle.

antique French artist pochade box | miss mustard seed

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

Does anyone know what this is?  I thought it might be a kind of dip pen, but there isn’t any sort of reserve for the ink.  Any ideas?

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed


THREE | buy what you’ll use & use what you buy

This is important, too, because there isn’t a point in buying something if you’re not going to use it in some way.  Our homes are not storage units or museums.  Buy it and use it and enjoy it.  Add to its story.

antique art supplies | French watercolor paint box | miss mustard seed

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

Now, “use” is completely relative!  You can use it for display, for a photo prop, for art, or for its intended purpose.

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

This palette was a gift from Maria of Dreamy White and I hung it on my studio wall as art.

antique art supplies | paint palette as studio art | miss mustard seed

I use almost all of the antique and vintage art supplies I’ve purchased in one way or another.  And, if you can’t tell, I just love them!  I love being surrounded by beautiful, inspiring tools and supplies.

FOUR | compare vintage prices to new

Sometimes buying the vintage or antique thing is the same as buying something new.  Or it’s cheaper, or just a little bit more expensive.  The prices can dramatically vary, but I’ve seen plenty of new paint boxes that are more expensive than really beautiful antique ones.  It’s worth it to shop around and compare prices, especially if vintage and antique art supplies really speak to you.

antique art supplies | French watercolor box | miss mustard seed

I bought this vintage French watercolor box from Dreamy Whites.

antique art supplies | french watercolor box | miss mustard seed

FIVE | look for pieces that tell a story

The best part of antique and vintage pieces is they’ve already lived a long life.  They carry a story with them in all of their dents and dings, splatters and scratches, and patina.  I particularly like to find pieces that look like they were used by an artist who works the way I do…they organized their colors on the palette in a similar order, they have supplies that are similar to ones I already own or would want to have in my box, etc.  As I’m using the supplies, I’m just adding to the story.

The only vintage thing I don’t use is paints.  I love old paint tubes and bottles of linseed oil, but I just use those as decor.

antique art supplies | french watercolors | miss mustard seed

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

These zinc watercolor tubes were so corroded that I couldn’t even use the paints if I wanted to!  I just put them in a bottle to safely keep on display

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

Whether you’re an artist or you just love the beauty of art supplies, I hope this post inspires you!

antique art supplies | miss mustard seed

I also spent a little time shopping for some vintage and antique art supplies.  I was so tempted to buy a couple of them.  There is a fantastic watercolor box with a ceramic palette and a place for half pans and a vintage set of French pastels from the 1800’s.  Be still my heart!


If you’d like more evidence of my art supply habit, you can check out these posts…


  1. Dee

    Could it be a tool for clay modelling?

    • Jane Berg

      I love antique art supplies also and frequently find them overlooked at estate sales. You bave motivated me to try and display more of them instead of keeping them boxed away.
      Would you do a blog post on using dip pens? I have my grandfather’s nibs and pens but haven’t tried using them since childhood when I ended up with more ink on me than the paper. Doesn’t help being left handed.

  2. Carey

    I’m pretty Sure that the object you think may be a pen is a palette knife.

    • Jenni

      Yes, this is what I thought too.

      • Kim

        Yes, that was my first thought too.

  3. Holly

    I just saw a cool one on Facebook Marketplace and they called it an “ink scraper”.

  4. Valeri

    I always look forward to your posts! They are so varied and so very interesting. I also love vintage art supplies and hand made small tools and especially if they come in their original old boxes.

  5. Donna

    I agree with your opinion on vintage art supplies. Love, love, love the old palette and the old paint tubes. The tubes from another time look fun in the glass jar. When my niece in Duluth had a mini-wedding in June, I asked my friend from Red Wing if she had an old easel (she collects lots of vintage). She said yes & we used her old plein air easel. It was great and still had a small chunk of purple paint on the ledge where the canvas rests. I left the paint on because purple is my neice’s favorite color. The easel held a welcome sign/couple name to the outdoor reception. Because you are in the area and are an artist, do you know about the annual Red Wing plein air competition. It is fun to see the artists who go literally anywhere in the area on a certain weekend in the summer. We bumped into an artist one year painting inside an historic barn. These paintings are displayed in the Red Wing train depot which houses a small, but sweet gallery. It is just one block from the the St James Hotel and right on the Mississippi River. You may already have discovered this small gem. In Red Wing, there is a cool Scandinavian shop across from the St James called the Uff Da Shop. It carries some of the same things as the shop you mentioned on Lake St. in Minneapolis. Worth the stop. I am not from Red Wing, but it is a sweet trip from our home in St. Paul. One more place as I ramble on, if you are in St Paul, you may want to look up my absolute favorite antique store on Selby Ave, it is called the Missouri Mouse. A little dusty but full of treasures.

  6. Judy

    My daughter, an artist, will love this post as she has several vintage art supply wooden boxes with all of the ingredients for a lovely painting! And an antique wooden drafting table with original red painting on each side. I will forward your post; she will be delighted that others love those vintage pieces like she does.

  7. Meghan

    Marian, I followed Holly’s lead from her comment and searched on Google and ultimately came up with what is called a “dip pen ink eraser.” Also, a search of “bone ink eraser” (what a weird thing to Google…) shows tools very similar to what you have above.

  8. Debra

    Great finds! That piece in question is an ink scraper.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, someone found a picture of one and that’s just what it is!

  9. Leslie

    I love antique art supplies also! I think it may be called a Ruling Pen, which is a type of dip pen used for lettering and calligraphy that is tilted to vary the width of the lines. Check out Jonathan Bookseller for a photo and see what you think. Renee Mueller mentions one in her supply list for her upcoming abstract art workshop that I am excited to take. It involves vintage French postcards, so how could I resist? Especially since this time last year, I was in Paris!

    • Leslie

      Sorry- website is Jonathan Neal Books.

    • Marian Parsons

      I saw that on Renee’s sight and thought it might be one, but there isn’t a place for the ink. It’s just flat. I do think it’s an ink scraper, as one commenter said.

  10. Jean

    The tool looks like a ruling pen. Ink/paint goes in between two blades which are expandable (making a thicker line) by a screw mechanism. But it’s hard to tell for sure from the picture.

  11. marylisa

    Love the turns our collecting journey takes us on. I am a big believer in using our finds! Great treasures

  12. AnneMarie

    Hi Marian. I have a couple things from my great-Grammie’s studio that I am now inspired on how to display! I have a feeling you would really like the ground pigments from Zecchi’s in Florence, Italy. I have dozens from them and other stores that I use in preparing traditional egg tempera. Consider yourself warned, it’s addicting. 🙂

  13. Karen Keller-Eyer

    Ahhhhhh as a calligrapher that sweet little box of nibs had me drooling ! It would be fun to try them out and letter an envelope to someone who could use some pretty correspondence ! Enjoy !

  14. Cindy

    I love #5…look for pieces that tell a story. True for all vintage and antique items…and I know you know that! I feel the same way and named my Etsy business ‘Every Cupboard Tells a Story.’ So does everything in it. lol

  15. Deb

    Marian, this post makes me feel like I’m among kindred spirits! My parents never understand why I collect the things that I do, and this post reminds me. The vintage photographs, the old reading primers, the art pigment in a jar.. sometimes it’s okay to collect things that are not being used, they are just beautiful items that mean something to each of us.

  16. Kim

    Yes, that was my first thought too.

  17. Kim

    My mother was a lifelong painter, and I have a whole bunch of her brushes, tools, etc. that I not only display, but also use for my own paintings! I particularly like all of her wooden bridges (a device used to keep your hand/wrist/arm off of the surface) because they are works of art themselves thanks to all of the paint drippings, and I can easily see all of her favorite and most-used colors on them. Now I am adding my own paint marks to them as well.

  18. Maeva

    I was surprised that vintage artist supplies are a thing! I found a vintage artist box several years ago. I was so thrilled! I have not found any other vintage art supplies since. I will keep looking but they seem to be rare where I search!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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