Monthly Archives: October 2010

Sell Your Antiques Before They Grow Roots

18 October 2010

An antiques dealer spends as much time searching for stuff to sell as they do actually selling.  The skill is in acquiring desirable merchandise.  Some merchandise is immediately salable.  Some of it needs a little work. Well, maybe a lot of work.  For twenty five bucks you get a walnut buffet at the local low rent auction house.  The six 1/4 inch holes drilled randomly on the front of an otherwise attractive example of reproduction Sheraton furniture seriously detracts from it’s value.  You’d be surprised what you can do with some shellac sticks and a melting iron.  A little work can lead to the satisfaction of a sale.

Some items are beyond help.   They take root in your stand at the antiques mall and defy all efforts to shift them.  When I first started in business I was very impressed at the auction prices brought by blanket chests.  I managed to find three nice ones.  One of them was shellacked the others were grain painted.  Both were old with good original finish and patina.  They were not exceptional, especially in central Pennsylvania’s Amish country but they were genuine items in acceptable condition.  I had three and sold two.  The third one which was the one I personally liked the best became a fixture in my stand for three years.  I eventually marked it down 50% and it still didn’t sell.  The chest became a gift to my mother who was the only one other than myself who seemed to love it.

Fads Fade

Our buying choices often come from the desire to have the latest hottest item.  When Martha Stewart talked about her Fiesta Ware on television the value of the stuff went through the roof.  Before that it was considered dead common and dealers didn’t give it much of a look.  Some people bought it up as parts of box lots and stuffed it away in barns or garages.  When I got into my first antique mall I was probably the only one who didn’t have a shelf full of the brightly covered stuff.  I never did see much of it get sold.  The trend had already peaked and I suspect much of the inventory is back in the barns.

Timing is everything.  It takes a listening ear and good instincts tempered by experience, which takes time, which is everything.  See the circle here?  There are no college degrees in antique marketing, that I know of.  As time goes on you learn that a good solid niche market with customers who are interested in long term collecting is worth far more than a ride on the popularity roller coaster.  Just ask the sellers of Beanie Babies who missed the window of opportunity on that one.

A Costly Business

Capitalism 101: A price that is more than the traffic will bear is bound to put the brake on sales.  Do I really need to belabor this one?  Sell it for more than you paid for it but slightly less than what the other guy is charging.  Competition is good for the soul.

What trips your personal trigger

Probably your interest in some particular thing is at the root of your going into this business.   For me it was furniture.  As a life-long woodworker and student of the history of design I felt that restoring quality antique furniture would be an interesting way to make a living.  That was where I started in antiques.  It was hard to drum up work in the beginning and as I was spending a lot of time at auctions anyway I accumulated a pile of stuff that was interesting to me and looked like a fair bit of inventory for an antique mall stand with eBay on the side.  before long I was selling on eBay with the mall and furniture restoration on the side.

The greatest discovery I made was that the business was an outlet for my own interests flavored by my own tastes.  Some of my interests were aviation, sailing, militaria, books, prints and engravings, tools and scientific instruments.  Before starting the business I was barely aware of some of the sub categories like Victorian trade cards or Tobacco cards.  These subjects called out to me as I encountered them in shops, flea markets and estate sales.  I bought a little at first and found they sold well.  So I took the cue and bought a lot.  If that sounds like it isn’t rocket science it’s because it’s not.

At the same time I was looking at what others in the market where selling and trying to emulate their success.  Sometimes this worked out but at other times it didn’t.  Usually it didn’t work when I was trying to sell purely on the “copying success” formula with things that I didn’t give a rat’s hind end about.  I tried selling glass but I had no love for it and hated cleaning it and worrying over breakage.  It made little sense for me to bother with it.  My girl friend loved the stuff and she took over that end of the business in my antique mall stands.  She did much better with it and enjoyed the profits.

I guess there is a type of dealer who can simply play the antiques game in a coldly analytical fashion like playing the stock market in tune to a clever algorithm.  That’s not me and it’s not most of the dealers I’ve known.  As you ramble about in search of movable goods if you don’t have a passion for an item don’t waste your time on it.  Love the things you sell as much as the things you collect for yourself.  Send them away to good loving homes long before the roots begin to grow.

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You’re Not Getting Older, You’re Getting Collectable

10 October 2010

Aging creates value in a wide array of commodities.  Sometimes it’s an organic process like in wine, cheese or lasagna on the second day.  Everything has a special value when it’s brand new.  It will never again be as clean and bright, smell so good or make the same crystal clear sounds. Once the original luster of an object begins to fade depreciation sets in at a terrifying pace.    A magic age, defined at one time as 100 years, is reached and the depreciation stops and value can rise once again even though there has been no physical improvement in an object.

The 100 year mark is not as hard and fast a rule as it used to be.  I think this changed when collecting became accessible to the masses with the growth of the middle class.  When I was a kid we repainted or stripped and stained old furniture all the time.  Now we preserve the patina and grumble at anyone who would dare fill a scratch.  Antiques have been manufactured for quite a long time with the judicious application of chains, bricks and even the occasional shotgun.  The secret of the “distressed look” con was let out of the bag when furniture makers by the score started turning the stuff out direct from the shop to the showroom.

The patina distress/factor has always seemed to me to be disingenuous except in cases were an object has genuine historical significance or practical utility.  I can’t relate very well to Chippendale furniture that is better suited to a museum setting than my dining room.  However, I can feel connected to an object that wears it’s age well because it has proven it’s usefulness and is within it’s own field hard to improve own with modern substitutions.

I see this happen in the area of antique tools.  Because I have been a woodcarver and cabinetmaker by trade woodworking tools are best known to me.  I currently work in a modern production facility.  We have some excellent tools powered by all the electrical power we care to use in a day’s time.   They are for the most part very precise and I carry a digital caliper that reads to three decimal places.  But some jobs simply don’t need that kind of hair splitting accuracy.  Chisels and block planes still make their appearance and handle some jobs quickly and with no setup time needed.

I don’t wish to disparage any particular manufacturer of tools.  A lot of the old marques are log since dead anyway.  I have two block planes from the same manufacturer and one is significantly better than the other.  You guessed it the 70 year old model fits my hand like well packed snowball and the blade holds it’s edge longer and resharpens better than the newer one.  The newer model is also made in a foreign land although it bears the name of an old line American corporation.  I guess I could go on a rant over that but i won’t.

My time in antiques reinforced the idea that a tools value is in it’s performance, not it’s name.  A respect for good materials similarly lends itself to the character of quality.  In chisels especially steel is the determining factor of usefulness.  For a while stainless steel was everywhere.  Lot’s of claims were made about edges that would stay sharp for a very long time.  Of course nothing stays new forever and resharpening the stuff is tedious and best done with special (i.e. expensive) equipment.  Give me some good high carbon steel which holds it’s edge well and sharpens like a razor.  I treat my tools with great care so rust is not an issue.

Tools that will work when the power goes out still have their place.  I have a great old miter saw that is sort a monster.  I call it my “cordless radial armstrong” saw.  I don’t actually use it much but occasionally it has it’s uses and can perform in some very remote places.

The most ancient tool I have is an old gimlet.  This item is as simple and uncomplicated a method for making a hole in wood as you can get.  It is a classic antique item.  It shows the wear of many years of use and a wooden handle that has real patina.  The kind of patina that comes from perspiration, skin oil and some quantity of good old dirt.  The gimlet has been buffed and polished over a long period of time to a luster that is genuine and true.  It exemplifies the very best aspects of an historical artifact.  This small work-a-day tool says only what can be read for certain from it’s visual appearance. No lies emanate from it and it always get’s the job done when the workman is willing.

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eBay Free Listings

8 October 2010

eBay needs you!  That seems to be the message.  One would assume that the current state of the economy is not treating eBay any better than it is treating the stock market.  A persistent theme in these economically challenging time is  that all the devaluing of stocks, companies, commodities and the roof over your head creates a “buying opportunity.”  That is true on the basis of one man’s misfortune is another man’s ca-ching!  It is , however, the basis for a viable economic strategy in today’s world.

The latest opportunity in the world of eBay is yet another free listing period, the biggest one ever.  The online auction is beating the bushes for sellers. From September 28, 2010 until January 7, 2011 you can list items for free—no Insertion Fees, regardless of the starting price of the item.  They must be listed Auction-style with no reserve price. The latest promotion has a cap of 100 listings per month and applies to sellers who do not have an eBay Stores subscription.

There is another promotion for fixed price listings: one cent insertion fees.  That one is a shorter period from October 9 to 15.  I might give that a try as my auctions aren’t doing well.  Hopefully we will soon see the ramp up to the holiday shopping season.  Keep your fingers crossed and find some good merchandise.

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