Anatomy of a flute figurine

I don’t go to the thrift shop quite as often as I used to. By thrift shop, I mean any one of the Goodwills, Thrift Worlds, Thrift Americas, and other randomly named discount shops peppering the metropolitan area. I don’t have a favorite shop, because every time I pick one, I find something fabulous at a different one. I’ve sworn off the myriad Goodwills more than once, only to find myself near one…..and parking.

But as I said, I’ve been going less. It’s partly because I use thrifting to stock up on craft supplies, and I haven’t been crafting too much lately. And, I have so. much. stuff. already. In fact, I need to donate some of it back. So my need for going has diminished. My need for (or addiction to) shopping can often be staved off by roaming around on eBay or Etsy or Zulily, although when I have the urge to get something tangible, thrifts are a solid go-to for cheap.

But there’s one unique thing I have found at thrift shops, and the only way to get that thing is to go again and again. Often, I come home empty-handed, but since moving to Nebraska, I seem to have come into a golden era of acquisition.

I’m speaking, of course, about flute player figurines.

I started playing the flute when I was 10 years old. Before it was determined that I would be a music major in college, be a professional flutist, or even play the flute in high school, I received my first flute player figurine from my mom. It’s one of the two white figurines below –  sadly, I can’t remember which one. Ironically, the very first flute player figurine went to my sister, Mary, who played piano and clarinet (below, right). Eventually, Mary was forced persuaded to give the figurine to me. Now, of course, it lives with her again.

Over the years of my life, I received many figurines, and I began to buy my own. Many were Hallmark ornaments or statues. My mom frequented an Omaha gift store, where she found quite a few. Eventually, she and I would keep an eye open wherever gifts and collectibles were sold – antique shows, flea markets, garage sales, and souvenir shops.

In the 80s, I joined the Hummel Club so I could get the ‘members only’ flute playing figurine. In the 90s, I went to Maine with my parents. We stopped for gas and they had a tacky gift store loaded to the gills with cheap collectibles. Mom got tired of looking at all of it, but I scoured every shelf and eventually found a treasure. As I said to Mom, “If you don’t look on every shelf, you miss the monkeys playing the flute.”

When eBay was invented, I spent a bit too much time and money adding to my collection. But it wasn’t until I moved to Richfield, Minnesota that things really changed. I lived three blocks from a thrift shop. I had never really considered thrifting in the past, thinking thrift shops were filled with unwanted and unloved cast-offs covered in a layer of grime. But MY thrift shop (as I still think of it) was awesome. It seemed like some old lady was donating her entire estate of vintage cool stuff at least once a week. I found amazing sheet music – in one stop, I purchased a bunch of woodwind quintet music someone had donated.

But the big thing eventually became flute player figurines. I can’t remember the first one I bought, but I can imagine my reaction, because I still have the same reaction today when I see that distinctive posture (and believe me, I can take in a large room in a glance, and tell you if there’s a flute playing figurine among the offerings). Inwardly, I clap my hands and yell, “Yeah!” Then I walk as quickly as possible – before someone else can grab it – and snatch that figurine out of the jaws of anyone who might think she deserves it more. I check the price, although that’s usually moot, and then I begin a very thorough check from top to bottom for flaws. Sadly, many flute player figurines have breakage. It is often the end of the flute, since it sticks out. It’s like a magnet for hitting the corner of a wall.

If it’s not broken and I don’t already own it, I buy it. And you’d be amazed how many new ones I find. If it’s not broken but I have it, I will still buy it if it’s vintage-ish. This is because vintage pieces seem to vary slightly, primarily in the way they are painted.

If it is broken in any way, I face a big decision – is it still worth the financial investment? I have many figurines that are chipped or cracked or broken in part. I’ve repaired some, like the marching band girl below, and others I have bought if they are unique. In the case of the figurine on the right, the top part of her flute was chopped off. I wouldn’t have bought this one, but I actually missed this flaw in the shop. I’m so used to checking the end of the flute for breakage that I missed it. But the price definitely plays a role with broken pieces. I found a cool boy figurine recently, but the end of the flute was broken, so I thought $6 was too much. I could have pointed it out to the store manager, but it just wasn’t that interesting.

Sometimes, I feel like the figurines have a siren song. The sheer frequency with which I find them is unnerving. It has become more so since I moved to Nebraska, and seems to extend to when I’m traveling. In one of my trips to Minnesota, I found 17 figurines in a two week period. This included some antique shops, but mostly it was thrifting. The last time I was there, I found figurines in five of the six thrift shops I went to over my two week stay.

I know, it’s eery.

So back to where I started – I haven’t been going much lately. It’s probably been three months since I hit some of the Nebraska stores. And there, in the Goodwill, on a shelf with a bunch of other angel figurines, was this beauty. She’s over a foot tall, and musical (although that appears to be broken). She was $15 – pretty pricey for a thrift shop, but I checked her very thoroughly and she has no chips, cracks, or other flaws. She is made of porcelain, and hand-painted.


As I continued wandering (not really expecting to find anything else, since I had already hit the motherload), I ran across this pretty stained glass votive.


What are the odds? Well, in Nebraska, the odds I will find a unique flute player figurine seem pretty high – take a look at these thrift shop finds since I moved here in 2017.

If nothing else, Nebraska has strengthened my commitment to addictive flute player figurine shopping. At one point in my life, I thought seriously about divesting my entire collection. I think the next day I found one of the figurines above, and realized  I’m not ready to live without the endorphin rush of a new collectible.


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