As much as I’ve always enjoyed reading, I don’t consider myself A Book Person – those folk who have framed literary quotes on their walls and carry tote bags with declarations of their love of books and who complain publicly about how e-readers are a sign of the apocalypse. Still, I do enjoy a good second-hand bookshop, and I’ve a huge fan of charity shop shopping.
One would think that geek culture and charity shops are worlds apart – after all, charity shops are probably best known for becoming havens for kitsch decor and shabby suits and worn-out cassette tapes. That is, if you’ve not stepped foot in a charity shop in the last decade.
They’ve undergone something of a change in recent years. Charity shops, although largely volunteer-run, take on volunteers with specialist knowledge to pick out top-quality donations and display them with the same expertise as the best high-street shops. And yes, that sometimes includes specialists in geek culture. Where, ten or twenty years ago, a donated action figure or comic might have ended up in the bin, viewed as trash, now there’ll be people who can spot a rare geek treasure and make sure it’s priced and sold appropriately.
That means that you might find the rare bit of geek merch on the shop shelves, and also online – lots of charity shops sell online now (and some ship outside the UK), so if you’re after action figures or Funko Pops, online is often the best place to look. Oxfam’s online shop currently has a sizeable collection of action figures, Funko Pops, manga, and over 1,500 comics. The items that get listed online by charity shops aren’t going to be as cheap as the stuff on charity shop shelves – it will be items that have been spotted by volunteers who know their stuff and who have researched the value of things. But when you buy from charity shops, you know that your money is going to help people in need, and you’re helping to minimise waste and emissions and keeping items from going to landfill by not buying new.
That said, if you’re lucky, you might just spot something special: possibly my all-time favourite charity shop find was something I saw sticking out of a box of stuffed toys. A pink rabbit, looking a little the worse for wear, and priced at 99p. It looked familiar, so I checked the label and, sure enough, found the Banpresto logo. A 12″ plush Usa-chan from ‘Ouran High School Host Club’, that would have been about £30 new, just stuffed in with the other toys like it was nothing! I paid my 99p (and put a few extra coins in the donation box), took it home, cleaned it up and now it has a permanent place in my (very eclectic!) merch collection.
I’ve seen similar out-of-place collectables in charity shops, although not often my fandoms, sadly. A collection of assorted sentai-show action figures in a Barnado’s toy department. Sanrio stationery for 99p in an Oxfam bric-a-brac section. And be sure to check the children’s book shelves for manga! I’ll never forget the day I had to explain to a confused cashier why ‘Eerie Queerie’ probably shouldn’t have been shelved in the kids’ section…
I wouldn’t recommend charity shops if you have a specific item in mind to shop for: instead, think of them as places to stumble upon something unexpected. If you spot manga in a charity shop, you can blow a couple of pounds to find out if it’s worth committing to, rather than paying upwards of £8 for a new volume or looking for dodgy scanlations. I’ve found copies of big titles like ‘Akira’, and ‘Death Note’, as well as obscure English-language graphic novels I never would have picked up in a standard bookshop. I’ve also found translations of Japanese novels (I got my copy of ‘Battle Royale’ from a Cancer Research Shop) and guides to Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary.
If your tastes are a little more academic, then browsing the donated textbooks can reveal some great finds too. Books on media theory, or cult film theory, or even language study guides.
Likewise, if you’re a geek crafter, then charity shops are great places to find supplies. Scraps of acrylic yarn are ideal for amigurumi, and cheap charity shop clothes can make ideal bases for cosplay – I made a Serizawa cosplay from a charity shop bed sheet earlier this year. Tattered books or sheet music are perfect for making things like junk journals, and I’ve even done decoupage with old comics.
Be sure to check the clothing sections too – I’ve seen plenty of geeky T-shirts priced as low as 99p, and stuff like bags and keychains at equally low prices.
If there’s big con in your city, then pay special attention to local charity shops at the same time – sometimes shops will save up their geeky donations to do displays and promotions to coincide with the event. Same goes for big Marvel and Star Wars film releases – you might see lots of stuff go out for sale the same week to drive sales.
If you’re searching for something specific, then there’s always ebay – you can filter search results for used items only and know that you’ll find cheaper items from independent sellers (maybe even a fellow geek looking to make a few pounds) with a lower carbon footprint than buying new. Over half of my ‘Ouran High School Host Club’ manga came second-hand from ebay, compared to my ‘Fruits Basket’ collection which were all bought new and cost so much in total that I don’t even want to add it up because the total will likely terrify me.
I have a number of books I’ve picked up from charity shops in the last couple of weeks that I want to review in an upcoming Wednesday Reads Round-Up, and for the rest of September I’ll be spending my free time scouring local charity shops and second-hand shops to see what else I can find.
If you’re a second-hand geek shopper too, I’d love to hear about your finds – what rare gems have you discovered in thrift stores, charity shops and second-hand book shops? Have you found a rare comic at a car boot sale, or a collectable action figure at your local market? Which online shops do you use for buying or trading pre-loved geek ephemera? Go mad in the comments section and tell me all about it!