What does being a Steampunk cost?

Steamcycle, Freecycle, Charity Shops, Junk Shops, Car Boot Sales and “Antique” Shops, how to use them and what to look for.

By Mat McCall

Most of the props I make are made from objects found in one or more of these sources. If you are into brass and copper they are a great source of old brass pots and ornaments.

They are a great source of clothes of course, especially if you are adventurous enough to have a go at alteration and know which end of a sewing needle to use. I brought Nikki's first hat for Steampunk at a Charity Shop in Cardiff.

I have had some wonderful finds at Car Boot Sales, like three beautiful antique smoking pipes in an old box for a fiver.

So, how do you find these begins?

One; Perseverance. You may be lucky and find something brilliant in the first shop or sale you go to but really it’s a case of perseverance. Go regularly to every jumble and Car Booty you can, if there are Charity Shops, Junk Shops or Antique Shops in your town then become a regular visitor.

And I mean regular – weekly at least. If you work in town or near such shops make it a habit of popping in a couple of times a week. With chain Charity Shops (Oxfam, BHF etc) find out when they put their new stock out. Chat up the staff, let them know what you would be interested in– they might just have something out back or think of you when that special jacket comes in.

Two; Be dedicated. Become a Junk Shop hawk. If you are visiting a new town or shopping centre go looking for the Charity Shops, Junk Shops and local Antique markets. You will be surprised how often you get lucky.

There are a lot of small towns and villages that don’t have Steamers living in them and those town’s shops make well have stuff that might just tickle your fancy.

Three; Don’t hesitate.  Golden rule; Buy it NOW, there and then, it will not be there when you come back. If you have to pop off to the cash point to get the money DO NOT leave it behind. Get a friend to hold on to it for a few minutes, or get the staff to put it aside while you go get the cash, or put a deposit on it.

When I was more innocent to the ways of bargain hunting I had several fantastic objects snatched from under my nose because I hesitated. People watch each other in such shops, if you pick up and show interest in something other people in the shop will notice and as soon as you are gone they may well buy it.

Especially if you have been foolish enough to talk about it with a companion, “Oh that'd make a brilliant…..” or “That’s like one we saw on Bargain Hunt….”

Four; Potential, potential, potential. If it speaks to you, buy it. This is really for those who haunt Charity Shops and Car Boot Sales (otherwise it can get expensive) but if you see something that really speaks to you get it. Watch the budget but bric-a-brac in Charity Shops is cheap to buy and Car Boot Sales are often cheaper.

So don’t miss out and remember if it cost pennies then does it matter if it sits in your resource collection for a year? And if you eventually decide it has no use either Steamcycle it or flog it on Xander’s British Steampunk Traders - Buy Sell Trade FB page. If you saw something in it, then others will do.

Five; Haggle. Especially in Car Boot Sales and Junk Shops, and, if you are less sentimental, Charity Shops. It is expected in Antiques shops (Often the shop owner is allowed to deal up to 10% off the top without contacting the seller!).

Be tough, it’s a game and they want your money more than you want that item…. well maybe..  And if it hasn’t got a price on it…open with a ridiculously low bid, it may have been sitting around in their shop for months and they just want to get rid of it.

Six; Don’t be blinkered. Don’t go in and look in the same area all the time. None specific Charity Shops sell a wide range of stuff and often they don’t know what it is. I have seen Nerf guns in the children’s toy bins, Tail Coats in with the suit jackets, Role Playing game rules in with the children’s books and Top Hats stuck on high shelves well above the average eye line ( When I pointed at it and asked to see it the Saturday assistant was shocked; she hadn’t even noticed it up there herself.).

Seven; Use your imagination. If you are a maker then remember objects are resources often within resources; mechanical clocks are a vast supply of screws and other brass bits, not just cogs.

Battery powered plastic toys are often full of LEDs, little motors and electronic components. Broken mechanical things like old power drills have a thousand bits and pieces when stripped down and probably almost as many uses.

Eight; Don’t be put off. Don’t go hunting with someone who’s going to say thing as like; “Why do you need that?” or “You’ve got a load of junk already…we don’t need more,” or “You haven’t finished the last five projects yet.”

You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Nine; Have fun. For me part of the fun of making and thus part of the fun of the whole Steampunks experience is encountering something new and exciting. 

Ten; Keep your eyes open. I often find things in the street, in skips, or just put out on the street for people to take - take it.

Eleven; Join Steamcycle and your local Freecycle group.

Steamcycle is a group for Steampunks to swap with or give away things to other Steampunks. There must be NO MONEY involved - cost of postage etc is born by the person sending the item.

I could boringly list the brilliant finds I have had but really it’s all about the enjoyment of finding something wonderful and full of potential in the midst of a lot of old tat.