White Elephant Sale

It is safe to say that I never met a White Elephant I did not like. For those not familiar with the term, it is often associated with a sale to benefit a church or other organization—and those sales are usually made up of donated items, many of which are vintage and antique.

The meaning White Elephant actually applies to items that are hard to get rid of or expensive to maintain, but I guess the name was eventually given to rummage sales which embody the concept that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I went to many such sales where I found everything from Vintage Christmas ornaments to china to ephemera. I started collecting all of this by the age of seven, so White Elephant Sales became a great portal for finding inexpensive items that filled my childhood bedroom.

As I grew up, I continued to attend the sales and often began to appreciate the community aspect around them as well. The fact that a team of people solicits, organizes and sells items to raise money is a subject that interests me greatly. Of course I like the actual stuff and the thrill of finding it, but I really also appreciate all the hard work that goes into organizing such a sale.


A few weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure of attending what I can honestly say was the very best, most organized White Elephant Sale I’ve had the pleasure of shopping. It was a benefit for The Oakland Museum in Oakland, California.

As I stood outside waiting to enter, I felt a great sense of anticipation and glee because this sale was about five times the size of any I’d ever seen. Once inside, I was hit with sensory overload, as my eyes danced around the room, taking in all of the treasures. The stadium-sized warehouse where the sale was held was broken up into sections, much like a department store.


The truth is that this sale was organized and run like well-oiled machine. It was clear to me that volunteers worked on this all year long. In addition to everything being meticulously priced and well organized, there were plenty of people to help in each department and expert wrapping available. (So it was clear to me that people donated lots of time before the sale and also donated not only the merchandise, but packing supplies as well).

I quickly learned that The Oakland Museum Women’s Board (founded in 1955) aggregates an army of over 1,000 volunteers who help to make this sale such an annual success. As such it has become Northern California’s biggest and most celebrated event of its kind. I made lots of new friends and was wildly impressed and excited to be there.



So what did a buy? I first headed to the china section where I found some Royal Doulton china pieces (creamer and sugar and salt and pepper) made for the Cunard Cruise Ships.


Then I happened by the Christmas department where I found a sweet 1950s Santa, a green beaded garland and a white glass bell ornament. I particularly loved the labeling on each item. It further spoke to the care and attention that went into every aspect of this sale. The bell read: “Beautiful American-Made Glass Ornament.” (love that!).


One of my favorite finds was a 1930s wedding cake topper. The bride packed it along with a sash from her gown and wax orange blossoms that were in her bouquet. Since I’m a huge fan of sentimental finds, this item had to go home with me.


Finally, I found several vintage compacts and perfume bottles which make great gifts and were easy to pack in my suitcase and take home!




For more information about this fantastic event, go to www.WhiteElephantSale.org

I can guarantee you that I’ll be back next year!

About Bob Richter

Specializing in a marriage of comfort and smart design, Bob offers up a fresh take on living with stuff.
This entry was posted in Antiques and Flea Market Finds, Design Mantras and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>