Selling Mid Century Modern Items

mid century modern 101

Selling Mid Century Modern Items


Selling Mid Century Modern items can be very profitable and you can learn to find many items at garage sales for under $1!The two most important things that an internet seller has to learn is 1) How to identify pieces that are the most sought-after from this period, and 2) How to effectively sell mid century eBay items for maximum profit.

This is one area of vintage eBay collectibles that is not just common sense.  You have to do your research and know what you are looking for and what terms must be in your titles and descriptions when selling mid century modern items.


mid century modern bowls

The Vibrant Colors of this 1960’s Melamine Bowl Set are Characteristic of the Mid-Century Modern Period

Important Mid Century Definitions and Terms 1945-1970

Before we get too deeply into finding and selling mid century items, readers need to know exactly what the terms that we will be discussing mean:

  • Mid Century Modern:  Generally accepted to mean the post World War 2 time period from 1945-1970, but the peak of the movement was 1950-1965.  Items in this movement were characterized by a style of decor, homes and furniture that was sleek, contoured, and defined by geometric chapes and curves instead of the preceding style of busy decorations and accessories.  Mod decor items were often made of Bakelite and Melamine.  Harvest orange and Avocado green were popular colors, and Atomic sunburst clocks and decor are highly sought after now.
  • Art Deco style:  Time period from 1925-45, with a revival in the mid-1960s.  Characterized by bright colors and sharply defined outlines, with geometric shapes and curves.  Many Art Deco items used boldly colored acrylics and art glass, with lavish embellishments.

    Eames era chair

    Original Eames Chairs from the 1950s can sell for $3000!

  • Eames Era: A collector’s term used often in eBay items of the 1950s, characterized as resembling pieces by the Eames Brothers, Charles Eames and Ray Eames.  Eames produced striking pieces of architecture and furniture.  Authentic Eames chairs can bring thousands of dollars at auction.  The term is also applied to collectible sunburst clocks and decor.
  • Bakelite:  Many of the decorative items, electronic shells and furniture accessories of the period were made of Bakelite, an acrylic plastic resin.  The substance appears opaque, which creates vibrant retro colors that are highly sought after by collectors of the period and items are often highly visually appealing which make them excellent for use in movie and TV studios.  Click HERE for 6 methods used to positively identify whether an item is Bakelite or not.
  • Melamine:  Another resin, similar to Bakelite.  Used in the Mid Century era, Melamine was often used in dinnerware sets.  It is also used today in dry-erase boards.
  • Catalin: Resin similar to Bakelite, but is transparent and able to be marbled with several colors.  Used in many Art Deco items from the late 1930s and early 40s.  Turns color from pink to yellow when tested with Simichrome.
  • Celluloid:  Another early plastic used for a variety of decorative purposes. Generally characterized by its shiny smooth surface, where Bakelite has a duller surface.  Guitar picks are one use of Celluloid today.  Highly flammable.


Finding Mid Century Modern Items and Identification of Eames Era and Retro eBay Collectibles


Mid-Century and retro items have had a very consistent demand among collectors, decorators and eBay bidders since the late 1980s.  That demand has skyrocketed lately, with the popularity of a number of recent cable TV shows set in the 1940s-1960s, including Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Magic City.

  • Locating mid century items is surprisingly easy.  They stick out like a sore thumb, once you know what they look like.  Start by searching eBay
    Eames era sunburst clock

    Original Atomic Sunburst Clocks like This Can Sell for $100-500, if they work.  Even Broken clocks sell for $50.   I have found a number of these for $1-3 at garage sales.

    Completed Listings in the Collectible:  Vintage, Retro, Mid-Century category

  • To make top dollar when selling mid century modern items, look for retro furniture and clocks.  I have found these items for $5-10 at garage sales and even on Craigslist for CHEAP.
  • Many times, owners of these items are seniors, who have had them in storage for years.  Most do not know the value of these pieces.  If you start finding Mid-Century era pieces, ask if the host has more items that they would like to sell.  Tell them that you are doing a room in retro-style.
  • Look at as many photos of these items as you can on the internet and in books BEFORE you go inventory picking.  The more you see this stuff, the more it sticks out.
  • Look in the free boxes.  I have found many small collectible mid-century items for free, including salt and pepper shakers, alarm clocks, utensils, costume jewelry, and curios.

Selling Bakelite eBay Collectibles: How to Identify Bakelite, Melamine and Other Retro Items for Big Profits


One of the easiest ways to identify mid century collectibles is to look for Bakelite.  Perhaps that is why so many collectors buy Bakelite items.  When you think 1950s, you think Bakelite plastic.  It was used everywhere!  The colorful plastic is representative of the era, and looks much different than current materials.  Most internet sellers can identify Bakelite by sight, in most cases.  When all else fails, Bakelite makes a dull ‘clunk’ when you hit items together.

bakelite bracelets

Among the Most Collectible and Highest Priced Items are Bakelite Bangle Bracelets. Originals can sell for $1500, and regularly sell for $50-100 on eBay

When you are selling mid century modern items, make sure that you positively ID them as Bakelite.  Sellers may choose to use Simichrome or Formula 409, if they are not sure of the composition of an item (some lacquered and/or black items do not test well with these substances)

Some Bakelite items that do very well at auction include:  Bakelite Jewelry (especially bead necklaces and bracelets), radios, serving pieces, pin-backs and brooches, poker chips and sets, dice, clocks, serving pieces and utensils, sculptures and even Bakelite buttons can sell very well.

To make this easy for you, Bakelite items are often cheap at garage sales and thrift stores.  Learn how to identify it, and if you see, buy it!



vintage bakelite radio

The Shells of Many 1940-60s Electronics Were Made of Catalin and Bakelite.  Many of These Old Bakelite Tube Radios are Worth Big Bucks, Even if They Don’t Work.


Selling Mid Century Modern and Retro Items on eBay and Etsy

When you start selling mid century modern items, you will notice right away what sets these items apart.  They are very unique and visually appealing.  That’s why they are used so often in visual arts works.  Make sure that your thumbnail photo shows the most appealing feature of the product.  You can make your item ‘pop’ even more by using a good background behind the colorful items.  Look at how successful auctions have used their thumbnails for similar items.Now that you have gone out and got some great retro items, how do we go about selling mid century treasures?

I have found that there are three things that you can easily do to maximize your profits when you sell them on Etsy, or eBay.  Remember, the key to ANY listing on either site is to get people to notice your item in the search lists and category lists.  How do we do that?  The thumbnail photo must be eye catching and the title must be interesting and tell potential bidders what they need to know.

  1. Use your title effectively.  Generate interest without sounding fake.  Don’t use All Caps, exclamation points, or bold.  Don’t use words like Rare, Scarce, or Must-Have.  These make your auction look unprofessional.  Experienced sellers very seldom use these terms.  My best advice is to go to the Mid-Century category on eBay.  Click completed listings, and sort by High Price.  Then start writing down words that are used in auctions that ended at high prices or got a lot of bids.
  2. This goes hand-in-hand with #2.  Know the lingo of collectors when selling mid century items.  Know what words they are looking for in titles, and be able to describe item condition effectively.  Make SURE that if you are calling an item Bakelite, that it is indeed Bakelite and not a modern reproduction.
  • Some terms used in titles often when selling mid century modern collectibles:  Mid Century, 1950s, 1960s, retro, Eames, Eames Era, bakelite, catalin, Herman Miller, lounge, mod, space age, vibrant, George Nelson clock, sunburst, starburst, atomic, atomic sunburst.

Mid-Century Collectibles: Finding Items for Your Home Decor or Art Deco Collection


Garage sales and yard sales can be outstanding places to find collectibles for your personal collection.  Cheap collectibles are found every day at garage sales, and garage sale hosts are also often willing to negotiate prices with collectors.Most people would much rather have cool collectibles transferred to fellow collectors than eBay sellers.  Let garage sale hosts know that you are a collector!  You will often get a better price, or you may be able to bundle a bunch of similar items together to get the best deal.


mid century modern image

Retro Rooms and Decor Like This are Sexy and Awesome. I have seen almost all of these Items at Garage Sales for Cheap (except the flooring). The fun is in the search for Mod and Retro Items!

Selling Mid Century Collectibles at Your Own Garage Sale

Effectively selling collectibles at garage sales and yard sales can make garage sale hosts a LOT of money, yet few hosts know how to accomplish the task.  I have been to many yard sales where the host had no clue how to sell mid-century collectibles, or even what they look like.  This is especially true of seniors, who have not spent much time on eBay or the internet in general.   Some of the common mistakes that I see every weekend are:


  • Not DISPLAYING collectibles effectively
  • Under-Pricing High End Collectibles
  • Not Preparing Collectible Items to Sell for the Highest Price


Do your homework and know what these items sell for online and price accordingly.

Article Name
Selling Mid Century Modern Items on eBay
Selling Mid Century Modern items can be very profitable. Learn how to identify and sell top-end items for excellent money. Mid Century items are hot on eBay!
Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013