Saturday, 7 April 2012

Charity Shops Ain't What They Used to Be - the Biba Poster Dilemma

I'm not about to become a charity shop blogger - there are ladies much better at it, and more dedicated, than I am, like Lakota at Faith Hope and Chariy Shopping, or Scarlett Loves Elvis. But I had an experience in a local charity shop recently that has left me puzzled.

Let me explain.

I was practically brought up in charity shops ('thrift stores' to American readers, or 'op shops' to Australian readers). My mum would drag me around Goodwill as a child in San Francisco, and when I was a teenager, I liked nothing more than spending afternoons in the local Salvation Army, picking up bits and pieces that I would re-make. So the charity shop habit is hard to break. But it's frustrating in London, as I rarely find anything worthwhile- it all seems to be H&M from a couple of years ago - and don't even get me started on the prices.

But ever the optimist, I wandered into a local charity emporium with the hope of maybe finding a little treasure. (I won't name the shop, just that it rhymes with Boxjam...) I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw these tacked above the mens racks:

Could these really be Biba posters? And those shiny bits in the corners - is that sellotape? I had to get a closer look:

Sorry about the quality - I was nervous I would get told off for taking photos...

On closer inspection, they appeared to be the real thing - Biba logo in the corner, suitably aged and yellow. Could they be fakes or reproductions? I doubt it - not the sort of thing someone would bother faking, and the quality of the paper seemed too good. And they were stuck to the wall with big bits of sticky sellotape! SELLOTAPE!!!

I couldn't see a price. I approached the till, trying to act all casual. 'How much for the 2 posters over there?' Notice I didn't mention Biba, in case they put a huge price on it (tactics!). But I didn't expect this response:

Boxjam dude - 'They're not for sale.'

Me (flustered) - 'Really? Why not - I'm willing to offer a good price.' Of course, I had no idea what this would be. And the fact they'd treated them with such disrespect implied they didn't really care about them - so just take my money and give it to the starving children!!

'They're just for decoration. It's hard to display posters for sale, and these were just gathering dust downstairs, so, no - they're not for sale'

Me - 'OK, but you do realise they're probably worth quite a lot. Maybe they shouldn't be stuck up with tape?'

Charity guy - shrugs - 'They were just gathering dust, no one new they were there, so we just hung them up to brighten the place up.'

Me - 'Are you sure you won't sell them?'

'They're not for sale.'

And with that, I walked out of the store a bit dazed. Is it just me, or does anyone else think it's odd that a charity shop, that prides itself on helping the starving and needy abroad, would refuse an offer of money? Or should I have admired their defiantly anti-capitalist stance? Was it wrong of me to expect that the offer of money would get me whatever I wanted?

Maybe they were just junk, and I was getting all worked up over nothing. So I consulted the oracle of all antiques - Ebay - to find that the 1 of the posters, in good condition, was selling for $275/£173!!! (See it here

The posters were originally made to advertise Biba cosmetics around 1970, and were shot by Sarah Moon; the description in the Ebay listing exactly describes the one I saw. This made me even more frustrated, but of course I don't have a spare £170 for a poster. More than anything, I was just really annoyed that such lovely pieces were being treated so badly, and that a store which usually goes out of it's way to price more desirable pieces in a higher bracket had missed something so obvious.

What do you think? Have you ever had a similar experience?


  1. The best stuff here in Perth (well, the best stuff in my opinion) is never for sale. Quite frequently I spot something wonderful in an oppie, get all excited, rush over etc only to find a NFS sticker staring me in the face.
    And on the sticky tape, WHY do they do that??? And not just sticky tape, why oh why do they insisit on sticking price tags in inappropriate places? Like the front of a beautiful old book for example. You just know you're going to lose a piece of the cover when you try to (very carefully) peel it off. It makes me very cross.

    p.s.that chap should've sold you the Bibba posters.

  2. Holy crap, I'd keep gong back and ask someone else if you could buy them, that's crazy!

    I keep hoping to find a Biba score when I visit London but I'm never that lucky.

  3. I have an original Biba poster tucked away somewhere - I didn't realise how much they've risen in price!!!

    If I were you, I'd go back when that guy isn't there and try your luck with another member of staff.

  4. Thanks! Not sure I'm the most dedicated charity shop blogger either to be honest, but I do try. How mental that they stuck them up with sellotape - and agree with Kylie about ridiculous price labelling on old things. Mind you, shops do the same thing with their security tags, huge things at the neck which make clothes almost impossible to try on!

    I'd try going in again and asking when a different member of staff is working. Failing that, there's some cheaper ones on eBay at the moment

    Faith Hope and Charity Swap 2012 Sign up now OPEN!

  5. Not for sale? Oh my, I'd be just as upset. I would find out who is in charge if you really wanted them and offer a plea. Weird how they brushed you off like that.

  6. Oh no... that is so silly! Maybe if you go back and there's someone else at the counter they will consider selling it to you?

  7. Yes, try again with different staff-i have tried that with success before! One of our local charity shops writes prices on their pottery/china with black indelible marker-it's flipping impossible to get off so often puts me off buying, crazy!

  8. I found your blog via We Sew Retro and was just reading back in time a bit. Did you go back and ask someone else about the posters? I'm sure the manager of the shop would have sold them to you.
    My local Goodwill puts those plastic garment tags that puncture the fabric on the clothes. I found a 1970s Yves St. Laurent silk blouse -- worth quite a bit of money -- and it had a small hole in the shoulder from the tag. I complained and asked that the tags be put somewhere less visible, but I doubt anything was done.
    I'm in the U.S. and spend part of the year in London and have the feelings about London charity shops -- they're rarely worth visiting.

  9. "If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"! mawaddainternationalaid

  10. I recently found two BIBA posters for $1 each at a garage sale. i bought them both thinking they were just vintage/ kinda scary looking. when i looked up what they are from i was surprised, are they really worth that much? mine are mounted on some foam board but they're in good condition. where could i find more information on them?? if anyone knows anything email me at :]

  11. I sell one very nicely framed for 200€, but in Spain. I will also sale 2-3 bottles of cosmetics from Biba.

  12. hi the image in the poster is ingred boulting she was a young actress in the 60s and made a couple of films like the witches for hammer she was very beautiful blonde she became the face of BIBA but I think their is some fakes after the closing of biba in 1975


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