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Thrift Shopping: gifts of a certain vintage

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When Pee-wee Herman got busted for patting his pecker in a public porn house a few years ago he sent the market in Pee-wee products into gyrations. As gifts for kids, all those grinning dolls in skimpy checked suits and red bow ties were suddenly so much dead meat. But on the adult circuit they enjoyed a brief rally.

"I was getting $35 and $40 for Pee-wee dolls right after the scandal," says Donald Martinez, manager of the antique shop at the Salvation Army store at 509 N. Union (738-4360), our first stop on a holiday thrift-shop gift-scouting spree. Martinez still has a supply of Pee-wees (some in better shape than others), and, demand having dropped off, the price has followed. At $7.50 we found them irresistible. Here's what else we found:

What Pee-wee probably needed: a genuine top-grain cowhide toiletries case with its own zipper. This incredibly strokable, richly colored piece of retro-macho sophistication is $3 at the Mount Sinai Hospital Resale Shop, 814 W. Diversey (935-1434).

A Giorgio Armani silk eyeball tie we caught staring back at us at the F.E.D.C. Thrift Shop, 648 N. Clark (787-8234). These free-floating eyeballs on a navy background are as eerie as a Magritte painting and look like they've never been worn--$18 and sure to give an unfair advantage to any wearer.

An Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche paisley-and-plaid wool dress (size eight) for $24.50 at the Good Byes Resale Shop, 3503 W. Lawrence (583-5118). Beautifully made, with burgundy velvet collar and cuffs. Also a jaeger wool and camel-hair jacket (top stitched, four pockets, size ten) at $7.50, and a black knit Sonia Rykiel blouse (XL), $9.50.

A luxe satin bag that grabbed us right away at the Ort Resale Shop, 3125 N. Lincoln (525-4969). It's a vintage coppery clutch, discreetly beaded, made in Japan in the days when they were sending us low-tech exports. Price: $18.

Wooden toys for kids. Remember the heft of them? The comforting way their colors would darken or fade? The slivers? The tasty paint? We found a clutch of them at the Junior League Thrift House, 920 Chicago Ave., Evanston (708-328-5778). Our favorites: a Pa Joad truck and a humpbacked car with outsized wooden wheels. They need freshening and are priced accordingly at 25 and 50 cents each. The nice wooden-car puzzle you last saw in kindergarten is also there, with all its pieces intact. Price: $3.

A book that turns into the Tower of London. The Brown Elephant Resale Shop, 3641 N. Halsted (549-3549), has it, complete with instructions, for $2. Build Your Own Tower Bridge and Tower of London promises "hours of fun." All you need are scissors, glue, ruler, X-Acto knife, needle, thread, masking tape, and a few hundred hours to kill. For an extra buck, throw in Trevor Hall's Charles & Diana, a chronicle of the "happy and compatible" couple's first year together.

A mysterious wooden bird sculpture that might or might not be the work of an undiscovered, self-taught genius. This imperious creature (eagle? vulture?) is $17.50 at the Michael Reese Thrift Shop, 54 W. Chicago Ave. (664-8164). It has obsessively carved feathers and large, dangerous-looking talons and is signed and dated, though we can't quite make out the artist's name.

A hand-knit, pink-and-white infant's sweater in perfect condition at the Right Place Resale Shop, 5219 N. Clark (561-7757). Only $2. We also like the clear vinyl high tops that had a starring role in the window at Right Place last week. Ten bucks and just begging for red velvet laces, Christmas-green toenails, and a foot fetish.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.

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