How to make a fortune with a charity shop bargain in West Hampstead

Inspired by the story of a Ham&High reader who bought a handbag for �20 and found out it could be worth more than �350,000, reporter Rachael Getzels goes in search of a deal in West Hampstead’s fundraising stores.

I have �20 in hand and an afternoon to spend it. Not bad for a day’s work but I’m hunting for a bargain here – and I won’t stop until I get a return. A �100,000 return, that is.

Last month the Ham&High featured a West Hampstead man who had dug deep in the dusty depths of a charity shop and for just �20 purchased a Philip Treacy Elvis-design handbag which was later valued at �350,000 by some experts.

I decided that it could happen to me so I went on my merry way to West End Lane, which has the highest density of charity shops in Camden. My chances were good.

I’d heard that the West Hampstead charity shops are a bargain hunter’s paradise – stuffed to the gills with designer threads and vintage gowns. So I began with Marie Curie.

I didn’t expect my big breakthrough right away, so I was perfectly happy with a do-it-yourself burglar alarm for �1.50.

And a grow-your-own tomato (in the shape of a square). I never knew I wanted one until then but it only cost �2 so it wouldn’t break the bank and I was beginning to get hungry.

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Nearby Oxfam was a trusty standby, but a little too predictable. The rails were neat and organised and I couldn’t do much in the way of digging.

So I decided it was onward and upward to the disordered but dazzling rails of All Aboard, an independent charity shop that recently made Time Out’s top 10 list in London.

An attachable brunette ponytail, slightly knotted, was my best find there, but it wasn’t something I wanted to take home with me. However, I did learn that All Aboard had a history of stocking the bizarre.

Employee Yollando Brigo told me staff once found a pair of dentures in a bag of clothes delivered to the shop.

“You have to dispose of them – it’s not always pleasant,” she explained.

“But the thing is, it really is a cycle here. We get lots of lovely bags of clothes as people clean out their homes but then we get the other end of it. Sheets that we know people have died in.”

It was a sombre thought to add to my mission. The shop also had some curtains for sale and it did make me wonder whose glowing windows they once covered at night.

But time was ticking on and my mission was far from complete.

I wasn’t so keen on the �50 white wedding dress I found at one of the shops (and nor was it in my budget). But it would be a happy memory for someone who likes pineapple-tiered gowns.

I heard that this same shop once sold a black dress by late designer Alexander McQueen for a bargain �70.

But I wasn’t seeing any of that. So I went for practicality. If I couldn’t corner that golden find, I might as well invest in the gear for next time.

Desert boots for climbing a mountain – they’ll come in useful for my next treasure hunt and they only cost a fiver.

My next purchase was a black H&M top that I once had but have since lost – it may not go for millions but it’s a safe re-investment. The closest I could find to a designer bag was a Cath Kidson baby blue holdall.

It was the first label I recognised and it was an eighth of the original price so it felt like I’d struck gold.

I was beginning to feel guilty about my material indulgence so I went for something cerebral – The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (for 50p) would last a lifetime.

Hitting the �20 mark wasn’t too difficult – West Hampstead charity shops are known for being on the expensive side – but making my millions had been much more of a challenge.

In the end my finds probably aren’t worth a fortune, but only time will tell.

Until then, I’ve got my �1.50 burglar alarm to protect the lot. I don’t want to take any risks.