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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Now, “use” is completely relative! You can use it for display, for a photo prop, for art, or for its intended purpose.
This palette was a gift from Maria of Dreamy White and I hung it on my studio wall as art.
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.
I bought this vintage French watercolor box from Dreamy Whites.
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.
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
Whether you’re an artist or you just love the beauty of art supplies, I hope this post inspires you!
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!