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#Meet #Magpie #Ethel #G.O.A.T #Vintage #Collectors #WorthPoint

vintage collector Magpie Ethel
Magpie Ethel holding one of her many collections.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

When it comes to collections, most people focus on a few things to procure over the years. The sky is the limit for Magpie Ethel— real name: Laurie Romanaggi. If it’s vintage, it’s snapped up by the Portland native—a self-described “vintage-style crafter, collector, and estate-sale hunter.” She is such a spectacular amasser of seemingly every tchotchke, knick-knack, and bauble—often owning multiples of each item—that she is famous within the collecting world, locally, and even nationally. Periodicals like Flea Market Décor, Better Homes and Gardens, and Country Living have featured her amazing house, chock-full of her mega-collections. One might assume that this many antiques would seem overwhelming or cluttered, but one look inside her bright turquoise beach house proves that’s far from the case.

From her home’s under-the-sea exterior to her collections of vintage wedding decorations, beach towels, wallpaper, ephemera, clocks, bird cages, and food packaging, Magpie Ethel is the definition of “commitment.” Other vintage collections displayed prominently include life jackets, bathing caps, beach pails, inflatable beach toys, science kits, dish-soap bottles, food packaging/containers, buttons, baby rattles, flower frogs, watering cans, Dixie cups, drinking straws, birthday napkins, holiday décor, bubble bath bottles, tin trays, plastic storks, children’s scissors, play ironing boards, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.

vintage ballons, fish rattles, and orange juice cans
A few of the oddball collections Magpie Ethel has acquired over the years—balloons, fish rattles, and orange juice cans.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Meet Magpie Ethel, whose home is a vintage collector’s dream!

Q&A with Vintage Collector Magpie Ethel

Q. What is the story behind your handle “Magpie Ethel?”

A. I chose the name Magpie Ethel years ago when I started a blog and my crafting business. Magpies are birds that collect shiny things (like I do), and Ethel was my grandmother’s name.

Q. When did you start collecting?

A. I collected as a kid but very minimally, as we moved every three years or so. My first collection was postmarks, as they only took up a small binder. I started collecting more after I was married and had a house I could fill with vintage.

Q. What were your initial interests collecting-wise?

A. Initially, I started collecting for vintage holiday décor. I collected things for my vintage crafting. I collected things to decorate my house. I collected things that just made me happy to look at. I just started collecting and collecting! 

vintage holiday décor
Typical holiday decorations—all vintage—that Magpie Ethel rolls out each year.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. What are your favorite pieces to collect?

A. Probably vintage holiday. I collect and decorate for all the holidays in a BIG way. Each holiday, my house becomes a magical display of vintage things. I love to decorate my big front window as if it’s a store window, and my neighborhood looks for a new display as the holidays come and go.

Q. Where do you find most of your items? Is there a specific place that is your favorite—estate sales? Garage sales? Other?

A. I do most of my collecting from estate sales. I used to go each weekend to multiple estate sales. I also love flea markets and a good vintage show. One of my favorite types of vacations is traveling to a big flea market. I have been to some of the biggies like Round Top (Texas), Alameda and Sacramento Antique Faire (California), Brimfield (Massachusetts), Springfield Extravaganza (Ohio), and Elkhorn Flea Market (Wisconsin).

Magpie Ethel vintage haul collect
One of Magpie’s usual vintage hauls from estate sales, antique markets, and garage sales.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. You seem to flock to aquatic themes—i.e., your outdoor decorations, indoor beach stuff, etc. What is it about “under the sea” antiques and decorations that appeal to you?

A. I am lucky to have a beach house where I can embrace the vintage beach theme. I collect vintage swim caps, vintage ceramic fish, beach-related signs, sand buckets, pool inflatables, fish rattles … the list goes on and on. I also collect old beach towels (with great designs) and hang them as “art” on my walls.

Q. How many collections do you think you have amassed over the years?

A. Over 277 collections last time I counted.

Q. What is your oddest piece overall?

A. My oddest piece I own is probably an old swim mannequin from a local department store. She hangs from my ceiling in a swimming position—complete with swimsuit and swim cap.  I also have a huge fiberglass swan that is about three feet tall that lives in my living room.

Q. What is the holy grail piece(s) you have always wanted but can’t find?

A. I would love to find a particular municipal decoration Santa. My chances are slim!

Q. Why do you buy multiples of everything? Is this a deep-seated need to own all of one thing? Or is it something less psychological?

A. I like things in multiples because things have more impact when in a group. I collect old mothball tins with really great graphics. One doesn’t do much, but when you have a row of them in different colors, they are much more eye-catching!

Q. You create and sell decorations. Can you tell me more about this?

A. Part of my Magpie Ethel business is crafting. I have had an Etsy store for years and have also done shows locally for years during the holidays. I have a studio I work from that is chock-full of vintage eye candy as well as my vintage craft supplies. I primarily make holiday decorations. Half the fun of my estate sale shopping is hunting for the little bits and pieces I use in my crafts.

Halloween skeletons made of vintage curlers
An example of holiday crafts made by Magpie Ethel—Halloween skeletons made of vintage curlers.
Photo: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. Do you ever think to yourself, “I gotta slow down and stop collecting so much,” or is it just so much fun you see no need to slow your roll?

A. My collecting has probably slowed down a bit over the years, and I have become more selective. I rotate LOTS of stuff in and out. I also do a HUGE vintage garage sale each year that draws a big crowd.

Q. How do you come up with your décor ideas—like papering a wall with a collage of vintage wallpaper or making beach towels into curtains?

A. I have always been very crafty and really enjoy doing unusual projects. With the curtains I made from beach towels, I had a magazine shoot coming up and needed curtains for a sliding glass door. I knew beach towels would work well, so I sewed three together. The beach towel curtains were too short for the sliding door, so I needed extra length, and grass hula skirts sewed to the bottom was the answer.

vintage swim cap collection
Vintage aquatic-themed items like Magpie Ethel’s beach towel curtains and impressive swimming cap collection stand out in her home.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. Does it give you a thrill to score things most people wouldn’t even think to collect, like boxes of straws or chalk? Most people would pass by those at an estate sale, but not you.

A. I really like to collect the quirky things that people wouldn’t think to collect. Children’s shoe boxes (great graphics), anthropomorphic baby rattles, mothball tins, children’s birthday party invites, old jar lids, peanut butter jars (great labels), straw boxes (graphics), tin tape dispensers, ribbon bundles, celluloid swans, birthday candle packages (graphics), old Christmas hanger boxes (graphics) … the list goes on and on.

Q. Why the interest in vintage packaging—whether cardboard ice cream boxes, plastic margarine containers, or cookie tins?

A. I am definitely attracted to old packaging. They have fantastic graphics and are great to mix into a display. One of my favorite old food containers is old cottage cheese containers from the 1950s–1960s that were manufactured to be reused as Easter baskets. I have seen so much saved packaging at estate sales—probably a mindset leftover from the Great Depression. An entire drawer of old plastic bread ties. Unused Dixie cups. Stacks of old berry baskets. I am thankful for the people who saved things!

vintage packaging
Magpie Ethel goes “all in” with her vintage packaging collections.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. What do you look for graphics-wise when buying anything, especially the packaging mentioned above?

A. Often, it is the color or type style used. Sometimes, it is some great character that is a spokesperson for a brand. I definitely like the kitsch and the anthropomorphic when it comes to packaging, but there are lots of other ways packaging catches my eye, too.

Q. Any fun stories about buying and transferring some of your odder pieces?

A. I was with my mom at a show when I bought the swim mannequin I mentioned. Because the mannequin came apart at the waist, I carried half of her and my mom the other half as we walked through the show to our car. There were definitely lots of comments as we walked by carrying a naked gal!

Q. What is the farthest you have traveled to buy something? And what was it?

A. The farthest I have ever traveled for a specific item was a seven-hour drive to pick up an old dolphin playground spring ride. I made a five-hour trip to get a whale spring ride.

Magpie Ethel vintage children’s whale spring ride
Magpie Ethel and the children’s whale spring ride that she drove seven hours to buy.
Photo courtesy: Laurie Romanaggi

Q. Has anyone ever given you grief about how much you collect?

A. I do get grief occasionally about collecting. It is what it is. It is my house and what I enjoy doing, and to each his own! I also get asked what my husband thinks about it all. We have been married for thirty-four years, and he is super fine with what I do.

Q. Any special hints for people who want to go “all in” like you?

A. I would suggest collecting something that YOU enjoy. Don’t collect the trendy stuff everyone collects. There are so many things out there that are interesting.

Q. Describe yourself as a collector.

A. I have found my happy niche in life with vintage collecting and crafting. I have really enjoyed all the connections I have made from my blog and Instagram. Going to an estate sale is a social event. I have met awesome, like-minded people from all over. My vibe is happy, joyful, colorful, and whimsical, and hopefully, it all brings a smile to your face. My favorite comment from other collectors is, “I want to be Magpie Ethel when I grow up.”   

To check out all of Magpie Ethel’s collections or to purchase one of her holiday crafts, visit her Instagram page (@magpieethel) and her Etsy account.

Jenna Girard has been a freelance writer and copy editor for over 25 years, with a focus on feature writing. A lifelong collector of antiques and collectibles, Jenna has amassed a remarkable collection of entertainment ephemera, vintage fabrics, head vases, and mid-century art and home décor. After 16 years of living in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry, Jenna now resides in her home state of Michigan, where she continues to write/copy edit for LA-based media outlets.

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