All you thrifters out there know that one of the most often-found kitchen items are popcorn makers. Usually they are the 80s air popcorn makers, some with their original boxes touting the health benefits of air poppers.
I came upon this great "Theater II High Temperature Popcorn Popper" at the hospice thrift store. It is essentially an aluminum bowl with a removable lid that has pouring flaps on either side, and a contraption attached to a hand crank which moves the kernels around the bottom of the pan. It claims to be able to reach the same temperature as commercial poppers, hence the name. This item retails for about $50 new, so I'm happy with the three dollars I paid for mine. I also found product called a "Whirley-Pop" here which looks almost identical and seems to function the same.
I have experimented with this product a few times now, and can confirm that this makes GREAT popcorn! The key is in the kernels being constantly moved around to avoid burning while allowing the fluffier popped kernels to rise to the surface. I have tried using regular pans and woks to prepare popcorn in the past, but usually end up with more unpopped kernels. Further, the lid on this product has steam vents, which allow the popcorn to stay dry and crispy.
I have always avoided microwave popcorn because that "butter-flavoured topping" scares me. As a teenager, I worked the popcorn booth at the local baseball stadium one summer. I'll never forget how our Supervisors asked us to avoid calling it butter, cause it's just some kind of processed oil! It always pained me when a customer asked for extra butter... because that's not what they were getting!
I like the fact that I can control what I'm adding to my kernels when I make my own popcorn at home. This little contraption makes it so neat and easy to make a successful batch. It's quite possible that my piece isn't vintage, but it's comforting to know that they haven't had to change the design after all these years.