Yearly Archives: 2011

Caring About Things That Last

28 July 2011

We spawn new  verbiage as fast as we mangle the old into new applications. Among the neglected nouns of the past is “muntin.” Also called muntin bars, they are the bits of wood that separate individual pieces of glass or lites in a window. They once had a wide application when glass was a luxury and the method had not been invented to make it in large sheets. As words go, muntin is not proving to be durable. The people who sell windows are apt to speak of “grids” which are made of plastic and snap off for easy cleaning.

The current bastardization of language runs parallel to the general decline of standards in manufactured goods. There is a lack of concern for quality as a measurement of suitability for the many common things in our lives. We accept lower quality from everyday items as if it had no effect on utility much less beauty. Items of everyday use freeze in our memories like often repeated words in a favorite book.

Why should we care about muntins? Their image remains on display in the mental pictures of our past. Muntin bars framed the physical view from within the home of many a child. They divided a living room window into many frosty pages of finger drawings. I have some stored in memory to browse through on cold winter days.

When you see a window made in the old way you know that an extra layer of craftsmanship has gone into it. The joining of a network of carefully shaped pieces of wood required a skill born of a coordination of hand and eye. The knowledge of materials and the guidance of tools put to the test a craftsman’s central nervous system. Such things are more likely to be cared for when we know that personal effort was applied to the making in an intimate way. The industrial age has found many ways to save labor while creating mountains of material that is easily cast off after a brief period of use.

Things of quality endure like friendships filled with trust, music that warms the soul, crackling dry humor and form that follows function. If the soul lasts forever then anything we make with soul will too. Good antiques are repositories of some long ago craftsman’s essence. To collect them is to save a portion of treasure which is worthy to decorate our lives.

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29 May 2011

This blog has been quiet for a while. Life has been busy adding it’s patina to my circumstances but I have not gone away. I will still be adding my voice to the conversation but it will be less frequently for some time to come. I am managing to put a few items on eBay occasionally. A few things are selling although it is minimal and barely covers the expense of gas to garage sales.

I have a new post in the works concerning aesthetics. After all, so much of antiquing is a search for beauty as well as other aspects of value. It is hard to find the time to research and write but I hope to have something available next week, stay tuned.

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The Best Old Things Are Old Friends

27 February 2011

We don’t call old friends antiques.  It might hurt their feelings.  We do collect them, at least for a time.  The memories of them are lined up on shelves in my mind.  Some of them are covered in dust.  Because I moved far away from where I spent the majority of my life most of them are beyond my reach.  I can not see them frequently and be reminded of their mannerisms and familiar behaviors.

The internet helps take up some of the slack in my memories.  Facebook has enabled me to renew old acquaintances.  I have a tendency to research names from the past that come to mind.  It’s a thrill of the hunt thing, like looking for rare collectibles.  When I find some person that I have wondered what became of them I don’t always get in touch.  Who am I to intrude on the lives of people who have been busy stemming the tides of life?  My own opinion of myself may not be shared by others who I have spent time with.

Sometimes it is just too late to pick up the pieces of a long severed relationship.  Through the power of Google I recently traced a friend from the 1970’s era. We lost track of each other a long time ago.  In 1972 Hurricane Agnes turned an impressive swath of Central Pennsylvania into a sodden mess.  It thereby created summer jobs for idle youth on flood cleanup crews.  Gene and I worked together on a crew of boys our own age but with differing attitudes.  We were unofficial partners and learned to drive iron rods through railroad ties repairing fish damns on trout streams. You come into an attitude of trust holding an iron rod while your partner swings a sledge hammer at the relatively small target that is the top end of the rod.  We already knew each other prior to that summer but our bond was strengthened with each ring of metal on metal.

My friend showed up on a Google search some time back.  It turns out that our paths were not unrelated.  He had become an antique conservator and restorer.  He has worked for an impressive client list and had carved out an excellent reputation in his field.  Unfortunately he is also very ill.  Time passes for us all.  The antique trade can make us fatalistic.  We gather the particles of culture unique to our own generation and venerate the dust of the ages beyond measure.  In the end “value” is in who we are, not in what we have. That can not be cataloged.

Addendum 3/13/2011: I guess timing is everything. Acting on the contact information I obtained on the internet I emailed my old friend Gene McCall in hopes of making contact.  Unfortunately the reply I received was from his wife who informs me that Gene passed due to a brain tumor on March 1st. The intelligent, creative and good humored soul that I remember must have been a blessing to his family and friends. I am sure they have a rich treasure trove of memories to give them comfort. God bless you Gene. Friendship knows no boundaries of time or space.

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Pickers Know How To Buy So They Can Sell

9 February 2011

Pickers are resourceful people with a strong native intelligence and a wealth of experience.  You can learn a lot from them and from trying some picking yourself.  The business of antiquing is all about buying and selling.  Being a collector is mostly about buying with maybe some beneficial horsetrading and occasional selling thrown in.  The following information may be valuable as many a collector who starts out selling duplicate items gets bit by the dealer bug.  Scratch a collector and you will find a merchant underneath.

Shy People Lose Out

One of the main lessons I have learned in this business is, don’t be shy.  That was tough for me.  I grew up kind of shy and introverted.  I didn’t come out of my shell fully until I went back to college at age forty.   I noticed that all the kids in class didn’t want to speak up.  I’d been kicked around enough by life that I didn’t care so much if I opened my mouth and what I said wasn’t immediately applauded.  You have to be ready to walk up to total strangers and talk about what you are interested in.  Look at what people have.  If you want it, make an offer.  Buy something you don’t want as much, at a price you can afford, and it may break the ice.

It works at a flea market too.  When you buy multiple items you can ask for a bigger discount for the whole group and thereby get the item you are most interested in for a good price.  The extra items in the group can be good low priced quick sale merchandise for your shop.  As a dealer you need cash flow and deals that attract repeat customers.  This is a clear win-win. It’s like buying box lots at auction.  Every box of junk has one item that you are sure of.  When you get it home and start rooting around some treasure may come to light that pays for all the boxes and the hot dog and soda that got you through yet another long night of earsplitting auctioneering.

On The Road Again And Again

Travel broadens the mind and deepens the pockets.  Be ready to get out and about in search of new buying venues.  When you are driving anywhere be looking for out of the way shops and flea markets.  When I was a kid my parents called them junk shops.  I loved them.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  The trashier the place looks the better may be your chances of low prices.  Sometimes a shop is intentionally junky.  I knew some people who stocked there antique mall spaces on this basis.  It appeals to a certain type of buyer and those dealers did quite well.   Take the back roads and state routes when you travel.  The highways are called limited access for a reason.

Develop a regular circuit of flea markets, swap meets and antique malls with a good turn around in merchandise.  I used to get up at five on a Sunday morning. I hit the local flea market in my home town and pestered people as they were unloading their vehicles.  I would then head east and hit three more by noon going out about twenty-five miles.  Once a month I would change up and head west.  There were fewer flea markets in that direction.  Always head for the target rich environments.

That was in the populous Northeast.  Where I live now it costs too much to get anywhere with a sizable population.  The price of fuel is a big chunk of overhead these days. Strategize according to past performance and what you have observed of current trends so that you aren’t going where buying opportunities are lacking.

Move On!

Time is money.  Don’t waste it by haggling with people who aren’t willing to part with their precious memories.  If you can’t break the ice with a smaller sale then move on to plow some looser soil.  Everybody behind a table at a flea market should be ready to come down to a price where you can afford to buy an item for resale.  If they don’t, remember those dealers and don’t hand over your valuable time to them again.  Develop a good visual scan so that you can move through a flea market and spot interesting items quickly.  There can be an awful lot of small items on a table and you will certainly miss some good things.  You can help the process if you have a partner who knows your want list.  My girl friend used to see stuff that totally escaped me because everybody has a different point of view.  Fresh eyes can be a valuable asset.  It is tempting to look in detail at every box in a crowded stand, but the clock is ticking.

Good flea market dealers will have boxes in orderly rows with not too much in each box.  All the books in one area, household in another, and so on.  There may be a separate table for the “special” items which will probably have the higher prices.  I knew a couple who cleaned out houses and worked this formula like a clockwork machine every Sunday at the local flea market.  I loved these guys.  They were all about the quick turnover.  They had a barn full of stuff all the time and what didn’t get sold got trashed.  It was easy to cruise through their stuff just walking the rows of boxes scanning for good stuff.  Then I’d visit the special table and usually pick up some nice smalls at a price that left room for me.  They got to know what I was looking for and soon I was being treated to items on reserve in the back of the car.  If they had aviation items or old slide rules, they were set aside for me to have first choice.  Every Sunday ten minutes of my time netted me salable material.

Tell Them What You Want

Let people know what you are looking to buy.  Some dealers put ads in the newspaper saying what they are buying.  People respond to the idea of getting immediate cash for their old junk.  If you are knocking on doors have a flyer that lists clearly the kind of items you are willing to pay cold hard cash for.  Hang a copy on every free bulletin board you see.  I used to have a list of wants printed on the back of my business cards for Timestream Antiques.  When you are buying from a dealer at a flea market let the person know that you are interested in buying more of the same and also other items.  Cultivate relationships with the people on your circuit.

Speaking up is easier than you think.  Come out of your shell.  Spend a little gas money (yeah! I know that’s getting harder).  Move on when the pickings are slim. Let everybody know what you want, what you really, really want!  When you get it be ready to go back for more.

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On The Road With American Pickers

19 January 2011

I have a new source of antiquing entertainment to fill up the spare time I don’t have.  Television is pretty much the wasteland that Newton Minnow tagged it.  There are a few notable oasis one of which is American Pickers starring Mike Wolfe and Frank fritz.  As a rule, reality TV bears no resemblance to normal life.  In each episode of this History Channel show Mike and Frank go on the road in search of real junk which proves their is life and history on the planet Earth.

In case you aren’t acquainted with the term, a “picker” in the antiques trade scours the countryside looking for old stuff to buy cheap and sell quick.  They often go from door to door or solicit more effectively by focusing on property that have the distinctive look of a junk yard.  A picker can sometimes buy the contents of an attic, basement or garage or even get the contents for free by offering to clean it out and dispose of the “junk.”  Among the discards of peoples lives are surprising treasures that have gone under-appreciated for many years.

The game is played most effectively by pickers who develop relationships both with good sources of junk and antiques dealers who are always hungry for good  inventory.  A good antiques dealer will know pickers who are well acquainted with the types of items the dealer is most interested in selling.  It’s symbiosis with a capitalist bent.  It works a treat.

Back in Pennsylvania we had a regular stream of pickers stopping in at Meadowview Antiques with a backseat or pickup bed filled with the latest finds wrestled from local households.  These guys were usually a bit colorful, some were a bit  light on formal education others had the sound of academe flowing from their lips. They all knew their business and were quick to figure out yours.  These pickers knew the market and could bargain well.  Any item they offered made them a profit and left enough meat on the bone to be a useful offering in your shop.

Some of the dealers I knew were old-timers who  came out of the pickers tradition having gone on the knock since they were young fellows.  One of them was still in the habit of looking for lace curtains in the windows of old houses.  It was a good indication that the occupant was an older woman who was likely to have some junk she needed to have cleaned out of the basement.

We also had a lot of dealers who based their inventory on “housecleaning.”  They ran adds in the shopping newspapers offering to clean out garages and even entire houses accepting the junk contents as payment or sometimes purchasing the contents of an estate.  They would shop the best stuff around to antique dealers and take the rest to a Sunday flea market and sell it dirt cheap for some quick cash.  After all the landfill does not pay you to bring garbage in.

Sometimes they missed good items.  I scored an old John F. Kennedy election poster from some house cleaners at the Sinking Spring flea market for $2.00.  it wasn’t my regular field of interest but I thought I could take a chance.  I researched it on eBay and found a ton of reproduction election posters but none had the same graphics as mine.  I put it on for a $10.00 starting bid and watched folks run it up to $2oo.oo by the end of the week.  Ahh! the good old days.

American Pickers gives me that nostalgic feeling for the antiquing game like nothing else does lately.  Mike and frank are the kind of guys you want to hang out with.  They love to travel the American back roads in search of opportunity.  Sometimes they are pursuing leads provided by the lovely Danielle who holds down the fort at Antique Archeology, their shop in LeClaire, Iowa.  If you watch the show for a while  you learn that Frank is addicted to old oil cans and Mike is turned on by old bikes and motorcycles.  Each one has special areas of interest they have cultivated fully.  Together they possess a range of knowledge that makes them an incredible team.  They often need to make purchasing decisions on the spot and they are able to be mutually supportive in a highly effective way.  They are also smart enough to search out an expert appraiser when it looks like they are getting out of their depth.

Some of their best and most entertaining picking is done when they are “freestyling.”   A house surrounded by junk cars and dilipidated storage sheds is meat and drink to these road warriors and they have no compunctions about introducing themselves to perfect strangers and beginning an instant relationship.

The people they meet are nothing if not interesting.  Unlike so much of reality TV the participants have not answered a casting call, talent contest, personality quiz or been focus grouped to make sure they matched the viewing demographics.  Most of the people are not beautiful or buff.  They don’t have to be because they are just like me and you.  They live genuine lives and are more worried about putting food on the table than being voted off the island.  Junk with precious memories attached is real,  the American people are real and Mike and Frank bring them to your television or computer screen.  Watch them on The History Channel Mondays 9/8 Central or catch the entire first season on Netflix.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to get in a van and go buy some junk.  Sit back and enjoy the thrill of the – hunt picker style.

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Do The Winter Doldrums Take The Wind From Your Sales?

1 January 2011

By now the ball has dropped and you’ve wished everyone a Happy New Year.  The Christmas decorations are put away and eBay looks like a Ghost town.  A virtual gust of desert wind blows tumbleweeds through the dusty circuit boards of their many servers.  Soon even that breeze may die completely as the Winter doldrums set in.  Every business has it’s cycles.  Typically this time of year features the slowest sales of the year coupled with the fewest buying opportunities for new antique inventory items.  Outdoor flea markets are closed, no one is having garage sails and many auction houses close down for a week or two while they do inventory and take a vacation.

The doldrums need not be unproductive.  It’s all in how you use the time.  There is a ton of things a dealer can do to make use of the time.  Start with taking inventory.  It’s not just a dry exercise in counting stuff.  You can take the opportunity to rearrange and categorize items fro easier access.  I used to find things I had forgotten I had.  You may also identify the dog items that should be cleared out to make space for more proven merchandise.  Have a clearance sale and get rid of these turkeys. Your profits won’t soar but you just need to have some cash flow right now.

Catch up on your accounting.  It will soon be time to file your taxes anyway and it’s easier if you lay the groundwork ahead of time.  As you look at your sales records try to identify the profit makers and include them in your marketing plans.

If you sell on eBay set up a little photo shoot area to take pictures or scan the items You are looking to auction off soon.  Stock up on packing materials.  Christmas can yield a lot of peanuts and bubble wrap if you let friends and relatives know that you would be happy to take them off their hands.  Update your software now while you can spare the time to work through the set up that often accompanies new programs.

If you have a space at an antique mall strip it out and put in as much new merchandise as you can.  It’s also a good time to revisit picking sources you haven’t seen for a long time.  Keep in mind that just like you a lot of dealers are discounted the stuff that doesn’t work for them.  Some of that stuff may be niche market items that can be had cheap and moved on to your established repeat buyers.

Of course if you are a collector and not busying yourself with all these business concerns, get out there and go shopping.  It’s a great time to bargain!

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