Personal Finance

How to Thrift Shop for Vintage Fire-King Coffee Cups

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Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in this series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: vintage Fire-King coffee cups

The next time you’re thrift shopping, make a beeline to the selection of coffee cups. Hidden among the chipped souvenir mugs, you just may find a Fire-King cup.

Introduced in 1942, Fire-King was an extensive line of oven-proof dishware from the glass giant Anchor Hocking. Many pieces have become hot collectibles, but Fire-King coffee mugs are a favorite thrift store score of mine. They slip through the cracks at most secondhand shops — priced for a dollar or two and added to the jumble of cast-off cups.

Since Fire-King cups is a fairly broad category, let’s narrow our focus and define exactly what types we’re talking about:

  • Milk glass: Most Fire-King cups were made of milk glass, a dense, opaque glass. White cups were often used for promotional purposes and printed with various company logos.
  • Jadeite and turquoise glass: Opaque like milk glass, Fire-King’s jadeite (jade-ite) cups are green and its turquoise cups are light blue.
  • Restaurant-ware: Fire-King designed a line of heavier dishware for restaurants. A restaurant-ware cup is about twice as thick as a standard cup.

Why buy it

Fire-King was popular because it was innovative and durable. Pieces could withstand high heat and were practically chip-proof — a big selling point in an era when consumer plastics weren’t as common as they are now.

Today, people buy for one of two reasons:

  1. Fire-King cups are the perfect accent to a simple, modern aesthetic. They’re functional and practical, but unique enough to get noticed.
  2. Fire-King hits our nostalgia nerve. My grandparents had a set, and I vividly remember the cups my parents used until the 1980s.

For resellers, that nostalgia fuels a strong market. This single milk glass cup advertising Stuckey’s convenience stores recently sold for $710 on eBay. And this lot of jadeite restaurant-ware mugs brought $330.

Those prices are even more impressive when you consider that vintage Fire-King is fairly plentiful in the secondhand market. Last month at a yard sale, I found two Fire-King cups featuring characters from the Peanuts comic strip. I paid 50 cents for each and flipped the pair for $80.

Pro tip: The oven-proof quality of Fire-King glass may deteriorate over the decades. Avoid putting mugs in the microwave.

What to look for

As with all glass, condition is everything. Avoid pieces with a dull or rough surface; they’ve likely been exposed to high heat and heavy detergents in the dishwasher.

Pro tip: It’s tough to spot cracks in opaque glass — especially jadeite. Before you buy, hold the cup up to a window or bright light. Cracks usually occur where the handle meets the body of the cup.

If you’re buying to resell, remember: Not all Fire-King is created equal. Buyers pay a premium for:

  • Multiple matching cups or full sets
  • Cups that advertise national brands such as Bazooka Bubble Gum, Coca-Cola and Burger King
  • Unique styles and colors (like this Kimberly diamond pattern set in an iridescent finish called Moonglow)
  • Restaurant-ware

You can find the impressed Fire-King mark on the underside of each piece. In one version of the logo, the words “Anchor Hocking, Made in U.S.A.” encircle an image of an anchor entwined with the letter “H.” Below the anchor, are the words “Fire-King Ovenware” or “Fire-King Ware”.

In another version of the mark, the words “T.M. Reg. Made in U.S.A.” encircle an all-caps “FIRE-KING” without the anchor.

Reproduction alert: Fire-King’s popularity has inspired new lines of jadeite products. This three-piece jadeite set by The Pioneer Woman is available at Walmart. While contemporary pieces by other makers may be valuable in their own right, they’re not the same as Fire-King originals.

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