What you can find at a house clearance

Homes & Antiques’ vintage blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood shares her favourite discoveries

Sarah-Jane runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her monthly blog for H&A she’ll be writing about her most recent finds, vintage-hunting experiences and the stories she discovers along the way. This month she shares some of her best house clearance finds

The house clearance is a rare and precious task for an antiques trader. Mostly they are undertaken by specialist companies and auction houses but dealers can be called in for valuations or to see if they want to buy particular items of interest.

On the whole, it’s not often that the public have a chance to see a clearance as it involves hard graft, large vans, rubbish removal and storage facilities. Much depends on the nature of the chattels (the legal term for the person’s property). A home containing valuable collections, period furniture or fine art, such as – at the extreme end of the scale – the Duchess of Roxburghe’s home that featured in the June issue of Homes & Antiques, would be handled by an auction house or clearance company. The way to find out and potentially bag a bargain? Ring up your local auctioneers or look out for news of house clearances online.

Now and again families decide to advertise a clearance in the local paper. This is an interesting chance for the public to browse the finds. Items can range from antique dressers to vintage kitchenalia that has been passed down over generations.

Call me a sentimental soul, but it is thanks to these everyday pieces that I find clearances to be tinged with nostalgia. The house clearances I have experienced have been jobs done alongside my mother, an antiques dealer of 37 years standing. Perhaps it was because of working with a much-loved member of an older generation, but as I spent time sorting through the rooms, the story that unfurled with the possessions I found had acute poignancy. Lives that were lived out mainly in the 1950s and 1960s seemed eerily present and I tried to treat everything, no matter the value, with equal importance.

My standout finds may not necessarily be worth the most but it was the sheer fact that they existed that thrilled me. Here are my five most-valued, and surprisingly valuable, discoveries.

  1. At my first house clearance I came across a forlorn Victorian side table deserving another chance. Normally I’d never paint an antique or vintage item unless it was in a very bad way. This, however, was in need of more love so I used three coats of a basic white matt emulsion and sold it on for £50.
  2. In the same home, exploring a dusty attic room I opened a plain wooden white box and the smell of Germolene ointment filled the musty air. Inside was an entire set of original first aid contents, vintage tins, lotions and bottles. Given the trend for apothecary sets and ophthalmology kits, this could prove to be a valuable find.
  3. I was beside myself with delight when, rummaging in a box of Union Jack flags and bunting celebrating the Jubilee once, I found a flag marked ‘God Save the King’. It would have been made for the coronation of King George IV in 1936 and though I’d price it at around £180, I am holding on to it for now!
  4. Still housed in one under stairs cupboard I came across was an early Hoover vacuum cleaner. A little research tells me that it is an early 1929 model and a coveted find for collectors. It might seem a mundane object (imagine saving your Dyson!) but I once saw one valued at £600 and I wouldn’t sell mine for less than £200, if I ever bear to part with it.
  5. Finally, my favourite. A vintage Clarks shoe box in the most beautiful 1950s design (pictured above). Quite apart from it having survived 65 years without being thrown away, it has more meaning to me since my mother modelled for Clarks in the swinging Sixties. I’ve never seen another – most would have ended up in the rubbish – and so graceful are the pretty carefree fashion sketches that dance around the edge that they are almost worth their own canvas.

Of course it would be impractical for us to keep everything, for our homes would be overflowing in a sea of possessions. But when these rare glimpses of the past appear in their original setting (another benefit of the house clearance), I cannot help but smile to myself that someone decided that certain things just had to stay put.

Tweet Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm

June's best antiques and vintage fairs
previous feature article
VIDEO: An expert look at vintage posters
next feature article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here