Story: Second-hand trade

Page 2. Charitable and informal trading

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Opportunity shops

Opportunity (op) shops, which sell donated goods to fund charitable services, were started by the Salvation Army in late-19th-century Britain. The first shops in New Zealand opened in the late 1920s. In the 2000s they were run by all the major religious denominations, as well as the Red Cross, hospices and other non-profit charitable organisations.

Clothing is the mainstay of op shops. They vary in style – ‘everything from the shack filled with bags behind the local church or kindergarten to huge marts with racks of clothes and rows of furniture’, wrote one journalist.1 Over time op shops moved into proper store fronts in suburbs and, increasingly, town centres – not necessarily physically close to the church or charity.

Crowd control

The scent of a bargain and the possibility of treasure among the junk can lead to unruly behaviour at jumble sales. Writer Rita Snowden was involved in charity jumble sales in the 1930s: ‘[C]rowds came – with unmannerly pushing and shoving all too often so that I still think of the jumble sales as “the lowest form of human activity” ... At one stage, a courageous male member of our staff stationed himself at the foot of our steep hill, to turn back under guard, outside buyers who came down pulling stolen goods out of their bloomer legs.’2

The poor and the budget-conscious used op shops rather than buying new goods from mainstream shops and department stores. The shops were also a popular destination for treasure hunters. Antique and collectable dealers sourced stock in op shops, and film-industry people bought clothing and props there.

Op shops relied on the goodwill of volunteers to run them, and originally provided a social and philanthropic outlet for middle-aged, middle-class women who were not in paid work. In the 2000s there were fewer such women, and some charities became more businesslike in their approach to fundraising. As a result the shops changed the way they operated. Some became professionalised. They looked similar to fashion boutiques and antique stores, and charged higher prices than before.

Fairs and jumble sales

Schools, churches and other community and charitable groups have held fundraising fairs and jumble sales since the 19th century. These allowed low-income people to buy cheap second-hand goods without going through a ‘middle man’. They were fun-filled events, and the stalls were popular for what the Wanganui Herald described in 1904 as their ‘heterogenous, miscellaneous (but here our adjectives fail) assortment of every conceivable shape and size’3 – something for everyone.

Prestigious prizes


School fairs in wealthy areas often have prestigious goods and services on offer in addition to the enduringly popular jumble stalls. In 2006 the Scots College gala in Wellington offered a week’s stay in a French villa, while Ngaio School’s fair had a helicopter ride, a new computer and original artwork up for grabs at auction.


In the 2000s schools held fairs (‘gala days’) and car-boot sales to top up government funding. ‘White elephant’ jumble stalls remained a mainstay of these events. High-decile schools – those in wealthier areas – were more likely to run fairs than their low-decile counterparts because parents were more easily able to donate goods and time, and the surrounding community had the ready cash to spend. High-decile schools also got less government funding and relied on parents and the community for extra money.

Garage sales

Garage sales have long been a regular Saturday-morning fixture in New Zealand. They were a way for householders to get rid of unwanted goods and make pocket money. Dealers and collectors frequented garage sales looking for a bargain, while neighbours and passers-by dropped in more casually. The first rush of eager punters through the garage door and buyer-seller haggling was expertly captured by the 2008 film Second hand wedding.

In the 2000s garage sales became less common because people were increasingly likely to dispose of unwanted goods for better profits on websites such as Trade Me. However, tough economic times and rising unemployment in 2009 led to a renewed increase in garage sales as people looked for simple ways to make extra money.


Traditionally second-hand goods were advertised for sale in newspapers. Trade & Exchange magazine (started in 1981) was the best-known advertising publication. Fairs and garage sales also relied on home-made signs tacked to neighbourhood fences. In the 2000s social networking websites, email and texting were new means of advertising.

  1. Cathrin Schaer, ‘Opportunity knocks.’ Canvas, 31 March 2008, (last accessed 27 August 2009). Back
  2. Rita F. Snowden, The sun is high. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974, p. 69. Back
  3. Wanganui Herald, 28 September 1904, p. 6. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock and Bronwyn Labrum, 'Second-hand trade - Charitable and informal trading', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 July 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock and Bronwyn Labrum, published 11 Mar 2010