Yearly Archives: 2010

Vintage Postcards Transport The Viewer To Another Time

17 September 2010

Here is your trivia word for the day: Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards .  Not that it is trivial to the millions of post card collectors all over the world.  Haunt enough auctions buying up odd box lots and you are sure to end up with a collection of old postcards.  Do not take them lightly.  When they arrived on the scene in the 1860’s they were a rather utilitarian item.  They provided a cheap means of communicating a short, informal, message.  Think, the Twitter of the letter writing era.  Later on they became a virtual art and photography publishing medium.  Post cards became collectible in short order and the variety of images gave them an appeal to people with a wide variety of interests.

My favorite postcards have always been the transportation scenes, especially aircraft, ships and trains.  The amount of available material for collecting is unbelievable.  The early real photo postcards form an illustrated history that often includes events or vehicles not well recorded in books.

Cards featuring aviation related subjects may have photos of aviation pioneers or rare experimental aircraft that have become lost to history.

Back when eBay was in full swing in time to a vigorous economy they were a good source of regular sales in the $10.00 to $20.00 range with occasional “oh wow!” surprise bidding wars.  One of the beauties of postcards is that you often get duplications in lots purchased.  On those occasions I kept one copy for my personal collection and sold the other.  It can be a hobby that pays for itself.

Trains are another universal favorite.  They suited early photographers because they were good still subjects.  Quite a few early cards featured train wrecks.

Later on when cameras got better at stopping motion trains were often captured moving through dramatic scenery.   The railroad companies found postcards to be a handy advertising medium.  As a result a lot of railroad history is preserved for both scholars and railfans.

The hunt for old postcards is fun because so many people saved the cards informally. You find them in desk drawers and pigeonholes, in shoe boxes and coffee cans. They appear to have been the number one bookmark of all time.  They often come as part of a stack of paper items perhaps meant to be scrapbook material. You can find some good old advertising items, trade cards, tobacco cards, or small engravings.

It seems like printed cards of all types become handy items to trade.  Barter and baseball cards is practically a rite of passage for American children.  The value of post cards varies widely, naturally, the older the better. Condition counts a lot. It’s not unusual to have messages written on the front of early cards as the postal regulations reserved the back of the card for addresses only.  Tears and bends are what really downgrade a card.

When I started selling collectibles postcards came on to my radar screen along with vintage photographs.  They go hand-in-hand.  So much history was preserved at the same time that it was made accessible to the public.  We take that aspect for granted in the internet age.  At the time postcards were invented America was a largely rural society.  Radio was largely theoretical and the modern marvel of the day in personal transportation was the bicycle; another worthy topic for a post card collection.  You have the advantage to explore a century and more of our world unfolding before you in a handy format that is very user friendly.  Hitch a ride on history and be transported.

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Where is eBay Going?

8 September 2010

I was an eBay seller near the beginning.  I saw it go from a kind of curiosity that fed the popular press with stories of unusual and bizarre items for sale to a a wide open and profitable collectibles marketplace.  Some strange articles offered for sale included a U.S. Navy F/A-18A Hornet jet fighter, a man’s kidney, and Britney Spears’ chewed gum (note the past tense).  At it’s peak a seller could make something like a living wage.  I used it in conjunction with several stands in antique malls and occasional consulting jobs for antiques dealers who were anxious to get a piece of the ebay pie.  Today I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the pie.

The simple answer is, to borrow a political catch-phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  The same economy that has wreaked havoc with everything from blue chip stokes to hog futures has brought us an eBay that seems to be winding down.  In the last two weeks I have sold only one thing and the buyer has not answered his email or paid what he owes.  So the item will wait until such time as the funds arrive.

In conversations with other users I have heard a generally critical tone aimed at eBay itself.  I don’t think that eBay has endeared itself to sellers over the years.  rising fees and more restrictive rules have chased some people away.  Personally I was irked way back when they added the Buy It Now feature.  The auction fever aspect of eBay was part of what  gave me unexpected chunks of cash.  I had no idea what that JFK campaign poster I sold back in 1997 was worth.  I paid two bucks and there seemed llike plenty of gravy left over.  There were JFK poster reprints all over the auction site but none like mine.  By the second day the poster was up to $50.  It top out at $200.  That kind of thing was not unusual but it hasn’t happened to me in a long while.

Once upon a time I used a simple formula to estimate my sales total for the week.  It was simply 10 times the number of auctions listed.  If I listed 30 items I would sell $300.  No science was involved, no analytics or deep thought.  It was what I observed when I first started.  It held for about four years, better around the Christmas season.  There were big dips when Clinton jumped on Microsoft with both feet,  The dotcom “bubble” burst, and when a beautiful morning in September was ruined as airplanes crashed into the heart of America.

Lately eBay seems to be making some efforts to improve the situation with such things as free listing periods.  I guess they have figured out that they  are not a store with their own inventory.  It is the many individual sellers who bring the goods to market.  Furthermore it is the people who know antiques and collectibles that bring the unique and desirable items that make this market exciting.  One more electronic gizmo starting at 99 cents with an overcharge on shipping is not thrilling.  Even if it’s a bargain it is a dead common bargain.  The thrill is in finding something that you don’t see every day or that you can’t by within a days driving distance of home.

Let’s face it there is a lot less loose change in the average American’s pocket in the present day.   Inevitably eBay will scale down.  It looks like it already has.  The company I work for has become leaner and probably yours has too.  Let’s hope our favorite auction site leans itself down to a vigorous marketplace with exciting merchandise that will continue to be worth our time. and effort.

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Flying High With Aviation Collectibles

2 September 2010

Human powered flight encompasses a large area of collecting interest.  Aviation is equal parts technology and romance.  It occupies a small slice of the span of human history but is a defining element of the modern world.  Airplanes fascinated me as a kid who spent many hours in libraries.  I poured over all the books that showed airplanes and explained how they worked.  The magazine racks held Model Airplane News magazine.  I was one of those kids who hung on the airport fence and watched the planes take off.  After high school I got distracted by popular culture but came back to my earlier interests as I got settled into a steady job and home ownership.  I put the necessary time and money into getting a private pilot’s license which was one of the highlights of my life.  Virtually every aspect of Flying, it’s history and continuing development, civilian, military or commercial is part of an ongoing love affair..

The kind of feeling I grew up with for aviation is what makes a collector tick.  A lot of people have that feeling for automobiles, trains, dogs, horses, stamps, coins, you name it.  I have the same thing for sailboats, hence my other blog: Seaward Adventures.  As a dealer in collectible items, buying and selling to make a profit was the main consideration.  Aviation was one of the few areas I collected for myself.  My pride and joy was an assembly of aviator’s wing badges.

When I first started selling collectibles I naturally gravitated toward items that interested me personally.  My interests payed off surprisingly well.  I had stumbled onto the formula that became my business model.  Artifacts that relate to an activity engaged in by well educated people with a passion for the activity and a healthy income to support the activity equals profitability.  Lets face it you don’t see any poor people climbing into a Cessna 172 to go for a hundred dollar hamburger.

The aviation demographic was grown by WWII and the postwar economic growth that allowed many Americans to pursue their personal dreams. My customers were frequently people with good stories to tell.  I always enjoy some good hangar talk which is why my favorite podcast is Uncontrolled Airspace.  Jack, Jeb, Dave and the various other contributors to the podcast are entertaining and educational in a way that makes a pilot feel connected with the flying community.

Some interesting items I have handled in my business or personal collection are:  Pilot’s operating handbooks for various vintage aircraft, early variations on the E6B flight computer, parts for Jacob’s radial engines,  early pilot’s goggles and way too many other items to remember.  I divested myself of all those collections.  I still dabble.  I have a few items on eBay right now.   A recently acquired WWII item was the subject of a previous Adventures in antiquing post.  You may view it at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220663480133.

I find that people have fond memories of the aircraft they flew once upon a time.  The old sales literature with full color photos of prosperous young folks traveling cross country on business and pleasure have been good sellers.  I three examples on eBay right now.  See the Vintage Beech Sierra Sales Brochure 1973.

Sales have slowed down a bit because eBay is not a happening place lately.  Aviation itself is feeling the effects of the economic downturn.  Certainly some people will slow down their collecting as they tighten their budget.  Ultimately what sustains the market is passion.  Pin your business model on that

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Professional Writing Services Can Work For You!

26 August 2010

If you are interested in well written content for your blog or web site check out  Professional Writing Services on Casino Online Thumbtack. I am open to a wide variety of writing assignments. Contact me and tell me what you need.

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Coffee Tables as Collectibles, Ecclecticism Is Good For Business

20 August 2010

We think of  antiquing as being all about old stuff.   Mostly it is but there is also a process of evolution.  Everything new becomes old.  A trip to any antique mall will show you artifacts of our culture over a large span of time.  Some dealers resist this, others give themselves up to it eagerly.

I used to have a stand at Meadowview Antiques on route 322 in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania.  At the time they had two buildings full of dealer’s I was in the old milking barn.  It had a lot of rustic charm and an interesting group of  characters making some portion of their living dealing in a wide variety of antiques and collectibles.  The sales approaches and marketing niches varied widely.  Once you leave behind the old notion of “antiques” as museum pieces for the home you open up a lot of possibilities.  The “collectibles” dealer doesn’t mind reselling items that are virtually new as long as the demand is there in the market place. It seemed like the younger dealers often had a more open attitude to what they would sell.

Joe Plebani was one of the younger dealers in the barn.  He was very laid back, a skateboarder and aficionado of  the Plymouth Barracuda.  His stand was an eclectic mix of items that at first blush might seem out of place in anything styling itself as an antiques market.  Among the comic books, postsers, action figures and assorted elements of popular culture you could usually find furniture items far removed from the worlds of Chippendale and Sheraton.  Much of it was Online Pokies rescued from the garbage man or hunted down at garage sales and lower end auction houses.

A regular feature of his inventory was old lamps usually from the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  He would have everything from wierd abstract art floor lamps, and elegant plug in chandeliers to ceramic panthers with the avocado green shade that graced many a middle class living room one upon a time.  Joe had an eye for retro when retro was just becoming cool.  He was riding the wave and enjoying every moment.  I admired his courage.  To sell things that are patently unlovely takes guts or incredible good luck.

Joe’s furniture items were unlikely to include mahogany china cabinets and buffets.  A more likely item would be the time-honored icon of American decorative arts – the coffee table.  And, not just the standard round coffee table but also the classic kidney shaped “Judy Jetson” bleached mahogany model.  I’ve known people to fight pretty hard for these at auction.  For those who are not enamored of wood he was likely to have a glass top dining table just for a change of pace.

In the beginning my own stand ran more to walnut china cabinets and the like.  The furniture was definitely more pricey.   That began to change as I learned what the tourists were taking back to New jersey with them.  In business being a little hungry is educational.  I learned as much from young Joe as I did from some of the old-timers.  Know your niche markets from the inside out and don’t underestimate the value of popular culture.

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Wow! Free Auction Listings on eBay Once Again

18 August 2010

I almost missed this one.  My eBay auctions had done so poorly lately that I decided to concentrate on other areas of my life that needed time and energy.  I needed some information that I thought might be on “My eBay”.  I had a group of messages that were going unread.  They included a notice that there would be free auction listings from August 3 to September 7.

This kind of blows me away.  It’s very generous of eBay and very surprising given that they have already had free listings at Memorial day and Independence Day.  It leaves me wondering what motivated them to do this. Maybe I shouldn’t look a gift auction in the mouth.  Get out there and take advantage of the opportunity.  There’s nothing to lose and money to gain.

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SeeAuctions.com Takes on eBay

13 August 2010

There is a new game in town known as SeeAuctions.com.  At last someone has stepped up to take on an internet industry giant.  What does this mean for you?  The Internet has it’s thousand pound gorillas.  They get that way by building something new and attractive to a large share of the bandwidth hugging crowd.  When branding goes viral it is very difficult for anyone to compete.  So it has been since eBay appeared on the scene in 1995.

I have been involved in selling on the Internet’s largest auction site since 1996.  At one time I hired myself out to less tech savvy antique dealers as an eBay consultant.  In the good old days It was simpler and less expensive to do business on the web site.  As time went by I saw many dealers leave the fold in frustration.  Recent trends have caused my involvement in eBay to be sporadic.  The question is often asked, where else can I go to sell online? Why hasn’t a competitor appeared to scoop up all the disappointed dealers and buyers left in eBay’s wake?

You can build your own web site and sell directly to anyone who can wade through the cluttered wasteland of cyberspace  to pick you out of the thousands of other search engine hits.  That could be expensive to do well and who has time to be their own webmaster and run an antiques business at the same time?  Find another online auction?  Good luck with that.

There was a time when a large group of  net entrepreneurs were attracted to the gold that could be seen glittering brightly in them thar hills.  Nobody ever seemed to attract the traffic that eBay drew and the rules were usually just as complicated and the fees still seemed endless.  SeeAuctions.com  is seriously trying to garner market share in eBay’s back yard by offering commission free trading and no fees of any kind for the first year.  They are quite clear about there objectives as stated on their website:

“All new sellers receive a 1 year free trial at SeeAuctions.com! No listing fees, hidden fees, commissions, premiums, or funny contracts. We are confident that sellers will love our marketplace, so there is no requirement to stay after the first year. We plan to be the #1 online site for antique and collectible items. To that end you will notice an aggressive advertising campaign to let the world know about us. This will drive more buyers to your listings and result in higher sale prices. Selling will be 100% free until we meet that goal!”

What truly attracted me to SeeAuctions.com is that it is specifically an antique and collectible marketplace.  Your Victorian trade cards or Beatles memorabilia won’t be lost among the 99 cent mp3 players and CD collections of public domain documents.   As experienced antique dealers themselves the creators of this web site say, “We are dedicated to provide a better Internet trading site. We ensure a safe, flexible and fun experience, for buyers and sellers alike, offering such features as 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 21 & 30 day listings, commission-free trading with no extra costs or fees, options like 0, 1, 5 & 10 minute extended endings, instant payments from both Google Checkout & PayPal, automatic insurance calculation and never a buyer’s premium.”

I have registered with SeeAuctions.com and awaiting verification of seller status.  In the coming days I will post some auctions and see how things shake out.  I encourage my readers to do the same.  It’s free and it looks like fun.  Let me now what your experience with SeeAuctions.com is like.  Maybe we can participate in real economic recovery.

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Antique Auctions, Live and Online With a Lot of Zip.

7 August 2010

I don’t have access to an auction house of any sorts where I live.  The nearest one is about 79 miles away.  However, I really miss it and only stay away because it involves to much time and gasoline.  Thanks to this intriguing bit of technology we call the internet I may have found the solution.  On a recent visit to a local used car lot I entered the sales office and saw something wonderful.  the owner of the business has recently become a dad.  There he was sitting at his desk with baby on lap, watching and participating in the automobile auction he used to attend in person.  It seemed like an elegant solution to a modern problem.  One which I could borrow.

With a little searching I found Auction Zip.com.  This well put together web site brings together auctioneers from all over the United States.  The auctions are live webcasts so it’s like being there.  You can log in at the time of the auction or place a prior absentee bid.  I have to give this a try and will post a story if and when I get the chance.

I previewed some ephemera auctions and was basically satisfied with the format displaying the items offered.  It could be improved a bit with the use of thumbnail images giving more screen room for better browsing.  You can search the site somatroph hgh by subject matter and can probably find just about anything you want.  Be aware that most auctions seem to have a buyer’s premium and sometimes an extra little online fee.  the auction houses are responsible for shipping anything you win and will tack on shipping charges accordingly.

In going over the list of auctioneers I recognized a bunch of those which I regularly attended back east.  It was kind of nostalgic.  This new forum does lack some of the old familiar ambiance.  Like cheap hot dogs from the snack bar and crotchety local dealers whispering their deals in the back of the room and dour looking Amish men fresh from working the fields.  Just to get that authentic feeling, try sitting in front of the computer on a steel folding chair.  If it’s summer turn on the heat and reduce the ventilation in the room.  If it’s winter position yourself to catch a frigid draft every time someone opens the door.  Get your least favorite relatives to come and go through those doors frequently over the course of the auction.  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Maybe the good old days are getting better.  Give it a try.  Many of us are all old dogs and the new tricks are coming thick and fast.  Now all we need is an economy that keeps pace with our capacity for innovation.

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Japanese House With a Japanese View

14 July 2010

Every estate sale is a window into people, families, and the landscape of living. When attending these events I invariably analyze the details that are left in the four walls of the house. I don’t mean to be disrespectful. It is in my nature to profile people and places. People are much the same wherever you go. It is an advantage to me to keep my eyes open. This weekend provided a richer field than usual to wander in search of unusual artifacts and meaningful moments.

There are houses, and then, there are homes of distinction. It is a privilege to walk through certain doors because they lead to subtle riches. Sequim, Washington rests in a valley with it’s back to a towering range of mountains. North of the town is a much less imposing ridge running like a barrier to the shore line of the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Last Saturday found me at one of the best organized and best run estate sales I have been to in a long time. It was at a house on Medsker Road which runs along the ridge. The first thing that struck me about the house was the tiled roof. Covered in authentic Japanese ceramic tiles it is an eye catching structure with classic Japanese lines. The glazing is a brilliant blue accentuated by stark white walls.

The sale began in the three car garage where Swallow’s Nest Antique & Estate Sales was setup with cashier and will call tables. The garage had an array of tools and utilitarian household items. Once inside the house I was struck by the tasteful blending of Japanese and western design. Everywhere you looked was clear straight grained wood The rooms were spacious with an open plan that flowed beautifully from one end of the structure to the other. Furnishings throughout were Asian in style with good use of built-in features. A central element of the house is a Japanese tea room complete with shoji screens and tatami mats. When talking to the estate sale staff members I found out that the owners imported craftsmen from Japan to build this particular part of the house.

The merchandise was laid out in various rooms in an organized and uncluttered way which befitted the style of the abode. Prices were quite reasonable and I came away with some interesting smalls and several books that appealed to me personally. As I wandered through the building I was taken by the purposeful harmony of design. This became all the more evident when I looked out through the large windows that open up the south side of the house to a striking view. At that point the house became a complete work of art.

Architecture is at it’s organic best when it joins it’s surroundings seamlessly. A Japanese house needs a Japanese view. The valley extended before the house with a sweeping vista painted in the varying shades of early summer green.  The town spreadout beneath the towering backbone of the Olympic mountains which supported a clear blue sky. The fields below had been recently mowed and where dotted by bales of hay in patterns that crawled in orderly rows, not quite straight, but winding in sinuous progression. The pattern had that natural but intentional, random, but carefully arranged look of Ikebana. The effect was artistically complete and deeply satisfying.

In a business that deals in the tangible manifestations of intangible concepts one may begin to value economics over aesthetics. This is understandable in hard times such as these.  I experienced it long ago as a young woodcarver/sculptor watching his customer base swirl away in a recessionary spiral.  Beauty is not reserved for the fortunate. Even while casting about with dollar signs in my eyes I occasionally come upon a transcendent moment. Payday is any day that you are lifted up to a finer place than first hoped for.

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Slow Going on eBay

13 July 2010

I have to say that as much as I liked the fact that ebay gave out some free auction space it hasn’t done me much good. Out of 24 auctions which ended Sunday and Monday only three resulted in sales. None took any bids higher than the starting price. Maybe it’s something I’m doing wrong. Maybe it’s the economy

I have been out on the garage sale circuit quite a bit lately and they don’t seem as crowded as in past years. The same with estate sales. This business depends on the customer having discretionary funds. People will buy food and fuel before they buy nostalgia. I’ve seen it before. We just need to hang on and look to the future. Collectibles are like the stock market, always looking for an opportunity to go bullish.

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