Exploring New Venues for Buying and Selling

28 June 2010

It’s easy for me to get stuck following the same old paths but sometimes it becomes apparent that I need to think outside the rut.  Living in a smaller more remote communinty than previously has taken away a lot of choices for funding good collectibles either for myself or to sell. There must be others who have falen into the same situation.  It is time to beat the bushes and start down the path less traveled.  Who knows what fine collectible cliches we may find.

In the near future I will be uncovering  and reporting on alternative venues for buying and selling antique and collectible items.  Ebay is not the only game in town even if it is the biggest, which it is.  Certainly I am not completely soured on the Bay as some have become.  Local antique stores don’t seem to have as broad a selection as I like and the prices often leave no room for me if I choose to sell.

A quick recon of internet alternatives shows that the competing auctions tend to be more narrow in focus.  For instance I just registered at mynotera.com which is an auction site specializing in ephemera.  As this was a favorite niche market of mine back in the day I am going to check it out with a little interactive testing.  I will be reporting back in due course.  Sites like this have nowhere near the numbers of dealers or buyers as the 800 pound gorilla. Is that a good reason to stay away?  If nobody goes to these sites they will not prosper and grow.  Let’s put the competition back in capitalism and build a healthy marketplace.  If you know of a particular internet auction or collectible store that you would like me to check out send an email my way.  I think I’m ready to shake things up, are you?

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An Antique Attitude

23 June 2010

Som where on the way to 57 I became cranky.  Not mean and nasty, just cranky.  I got into the antiques trade as a stress reliever.  The law firm I worked in as a paralegal was a collection of tightly wound people crouching behind typewriters. They dug through endless file folders for the scattered parts of statutory weapons with which to bludgeon their prey.  You can probably tell I wasn’t happy in that job.  On Saturdays I spent most of the day cruising garage sales.  It was where I first got caught up in the thrill of the hunt.

Antiqueing brought me back into a saner world.  However, some baggage remains from those times and here I am – a crank.  let me use an “antique” word and say curmudgeon.  A curmudgeon is a guy with an antique attitude.  The motivation comes from the past.  you can’t be a proper curmudgeon without a sense of history.  The things I get cranky about are based on ways of living that the world has passed by.  I see a worn and work polished old hand tool and it seems like any one of various abandoned moral codes.  I have a fine old low angle block plane of a type Stanley doesn’t make anymore.  It is beautiful in it’s simplicity and reliability.  Only a cranky guy like me would actually use it in a modern electrified cabinet making shop.  It delights my soul when some young woodshop wunderkind asks to borrow it.  Why is there an antiques trade?  Because quality endures.

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Cap Pistol Collectors Go To The Round Up

16 June 2010

Bang, bang! You’re dead.  No I’m not. Yes you are!  Ah, the peaceful days of childhood.  Why is making noise such a large part of being a kid?  Whether we old guys like it or not, noise is fun.  One of the all time great kid noisemakers is the cap gun.  They first showed up sometime after the Civil War when gun manufacturers augmented their reduced sales revenue with toy guns that fired loud gunpowder caps.  They became a common American toy but really came into their own after WWII when radio, then television popularized western dramas.  When the genre faded about 1965 so did the cap gun market.  As the children of that time period grew up a collectible marketplace was born.  The number one driver collectibles in the economy is nostalgia.

The memories of shoot ’em up days is about to surface at auction. Kenton, Ohio resident Bob Bailey will be auctioning off his extensive collection of over 230 cap pistols at Kenton’s 17Th annual Gene Autry Days, June 26-27 at the Pokies Hardin County Fairgrounds.  Bailey’s collection is the largest in the country and features guns made by the Kenton Hardware Company from 1904 to 1950.  He has one Gene Autry model gun from each year of manufacture from 1938 to 1950.  His collection is on display at the Hardin County Historical Society.

It will be interesting to see what kind of interest will be shown in this day when children are more likely to relate to light sabers and and ecologically friendly fun.  Social change also made cap guns a less popular item on the American scene.  The 1960’s anti-war movement, the counterculture in general and academics in the field of psychology pointed to violence on TV and violent toys as influencing violent behavior in children.  The point is debatabe but the effects of the discussion can be seen on the shelves of  toy departments across the nation.  It’s clear that  the big box stores are kinder and gentler places than the old Woolworth’s stores of my youth.  And quite a bit more sterile.

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Ebay Does it For Free

9 June 2010

This past Sunday saw the end of my eBay auctions which were listed the previous week.  They did one of their rare free listing periods.  Essentially an eBay dealer could list anything without being charged an insertion fee.  You pay nothing unless an item sells at which time the usual final value fee is taken.  It’s a pretty good deal.  If you are selling on eBay always keep on the look out for these opportunities.

The recent occurrence offered free listing of auction style sales only from May 30 to June 1.  This gave a little boost to sales which typically flatten out around summer holidays.  When the nation goes vacationing in a big way they tend to leave eBay at home.  Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Labor Day usually show less activity in page views and watchers.  Sales can slow to a crawl. It’s a good time Casino En Ligne for dealers to take a break .

free listing opportunities sometimes show up around holidays.  This one a bit of an intrusion but as a dyed in the wool capitalist I rose to the bait and put up 22 auctions.  All I had to do during the holiday weekend was post the auctions on Sunday at 6:00, my favorite eBay sweet spot.  The real action occurred the following Sunday as the auctions came into their last moments and snipers came out of the wood work.  I didn’t make a killing but it did net me some much needed cash to feed to a hungry gas station.

Unfortunately this means that it will be some time before another free listing day occurs.  I always hope for one around Christmas.  They have done it before and when they do it is worth all the time and effort you can spare.

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My Newest Collection – Old Friends on Facebook

3 June 2010

It’s been a long time since I started a new collection.  Without realizing it I have done just that.  I have been gathering friends on Facebook for about two months.  I was unsure about becoming involved with this particular piece of popular culture.   I’m generally not what you’d call “cool” or extremely social.  I mostly joined Facebook because the current thing in internet businesses is “social media” and I didn’t want to ignore a valuable marketing tool.  I’m not sure that it has done much for marketing but it has been fascinating.

I am on the other side of the continent from almost everyone I knew up until eight years ago.  That’s a lot of people who I have not been in contact with for a long time.  It was a revelation to find out how many of my relatives had Facebook accounts.  Facebook kindly offered to make me friends with various members of my high school class.  I declined that one because of the years of therapy it might bring on.  However, it occured to me that there might be other connections that I could reestablish with some degree of comfort. The results have amazed me.  I am now in touch with valued friends I haven’t seen or heard from in decades.  One recent connection was bittersweet as It brought me the knowledge of a friend’s passing.

Friend’s are the two-way artifacts of social interaction.  They point to us and we point to them.  I hold them in fond memory and reread the pages of our stories like a good book that always has a new twist waiting to be revealed.  There is a value to my collection of old friends transcending time and ever increasing in value.  You won’t find that at an auction.

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WWII, the Home Front Tells a New Story

26 May 2010

I got into the antiques and collectibles business to do more than just sell stuff.  I’m not even a very good salesman.  I like the cash to flow but I’m also very interested in the things I sell.  If nothing deeper mattered and I was a good closer I would sell insurance.  There’s more money in it.  The historian in me analyzes my trade goods as artifacts.  Sometimes I get a priceless glimpse into the past.

Last Saturday I bought a book at a local antique shop and put it on eBay.  Click here to see. While scanning the photographic pages I detected a distinct slant to the presentation.  It’s a WWII era photographic booklet, We Keep e’m Flying.  It shows life for the men and women at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee. The 44 pages are replete with black and white images of the camp and it’s happy, smiling personnel.  Besides showing training scenes with guns and airplanes there is a heavy emphasis on recreational activities  and social life. You would hardly know there was a war going on.

I’ve handled a number of the yearbooks published for various military aviation training bases.  They tell a story of a generation of Americans who took loyalty to their country seriously.  The patriotism is openly expressed.  The subtext is often more telling.  In case you doubt that society has changed since the 1940’s look at  books, magazines and films the government published for consumption on the home front.  Some call it propaganda some call it public relations but that flavor is present as a matter of intent.

Equality blossoms in the war effort.

We all know about Rosie the Riveter.  She began as wartime propaganda and letter became a feminist folk hero.  In this book there are a surprising number of women shown  working along side of men, handling mechanics duties and training in the same ways.  One wonders if the emphasis was overstated compared to the reality.  The summer camp flavor of the piece stands out in contrast to the realities of life in a combat zone.

I recently sold a yearbook for a pilot training base in Kansas.  The ranks of photos of eager young cadets showed only Caucasian faces except for one training squadron that was all black.  We Keep ’em Flying presents a parade of fresh white faces except for the photo of the base laundry.  Here young black women wield irons as they press uniforms.  A solitary black male sweeps the floor.  It seems a sad note in the cheery picture.  It probably went unnoticed in 1945.  Now it leaps out and grabs our attention.

I do not mean to be too critical of the people of the time, context matters.  After all, out of the same crucible of war and societal upheaval came the Tuskegee Airmen.  No reasonable person questions the value of their contribution or denies their sacrifice.  Valor has no color or gender.

We all live in the context of our times.  What we do today may be judged differently tomorrow.  More than ever our lives are recorded for the future to see.  When our children look at us smiling back in artificial images will they only see the movie and not get the message?

The contrast shows behind the scenes

A collector is motivated by appreciation of  his acquisitions to value them for meaning as well as worth.  As dealers we tend to think of the bottom line.  The artifacts we engage with contribute to our worldview as we examine their place in our culture.  To paraphrase a  navy recruiting slogan: It’s more than a job, it’s a  classroom.

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Garage Sale Blues

22 May 2010

Garage sales are an unsure way of getting good merchandise for resale.  I score a certain amount of treasure but lately it’s been hit and miss, mostly miss. The fuel costs will eat you alive.  When I find that I can’t stand looking at another stack of baby clothes or box of used lawnmower parts I head for a more centralized collection of quality junk.  A flea market would be great.  Once upon a time I had a Sunday routine that included about a dozen markets in central Pennsylvania.  I had three regular stops and rotated the others from Sunday to Sunday.

Port Angeles, Washington has no flea markets or swap meets.  There are a few shops and several antique malls.  That is where I went today after coming down with a case of Garage Sale Blues that just made me want to cry.

I needed a quick fix of preselected merch absent the worn household items or new kitsch that wasn’t worth regifting come this Christmas.  I stopped in at a small shop on First Street called The Mousetrap.  There I found a few items worth chancing on the rocky world of eBay.  On a rack holding various books were several aviation related titles, right up my alley.  There is no market in old approach plate manuals unless they belonged to Lindbergh himself. The gem is a WWII era book from the Memphis Tennessee Naval Air Technical training Center. It has lots of nice pictures and should excite some interest.

There were some almost worth it items I wasn’t ready to part with cash for.  I picked out several nice old postcards.  You’d be surprised, good historical interest and plenty of nostalgia value.  The shopkeeper threw them in for free.  Fifteen bucks lighter I felt more like I was back in the old game.  Now I have to see that they get posted for Sunday prime time 6:00 pm.  Then we’ll see how effective an antidote they are for the blues.

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You Are What you Collect

20 May 2010

The first time I had a collection was when I was about eight years old.  My mother worked part time in a department store.  Every payday she would bring home a ceramic dog.  each one had a chain around it’s neck that had  metal plate stating the breed.  I still have them.  Later on my plastic models of ships and airplanes formed a large collection displayed in my bedroom. I put a lot of myself into those but they disappeared over the years.

I have always been a voracious reader and collector of books.  They are not just a momentary exercise in symbolic recognition.  If I like a book I want to keep it.  I like having plenty of reference works at hand.  Some books are kept as a result of an appreciation of an attractive, well crafted, binding.  I have always felt at home in libraries and it seems completely natural to make one a part of the home.

Because of dramatic changes in my life I no longer possess some of my collections.  I used to have a selection of hand thrown pottery.  Ceramic birds that decorated an antique fireplace surround.  There was also about a hundred bookmarks old and new.  I am fascinated by navigation and collected maps and plotting tools.  Anything old and related to aviation caught my eye.  My coolest collection ever was an assembly of pilot’s wings.  They came from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilot’s organizations, the military and some old radio show premiums.  The whole lot were kept displayed on a ball cap that had wings on each side.  It was given to me as a gift from a friend when I got my pilot’s license in 1984. I sold the whole hat to a dealer in militaria at a time when I was jobless and the family needed food.

I don’t have huge regrets about the loss.  I don’t make idols of these things. That would be blasphemous.  Besides I learned one thing sitting at hundreds of auctions: If you don’t get the winning bid today there will be another chance eventually. Very few things are so unique that another won’t come around again sometime.

In their time all these things meant something special to me and I had a lot of fun hunting them down.  I still prowl around always on the lookout for a pair of wings, a rare book, or a beautifully drawn and lithographed map.  As I look on this listing I see some of my personal history, my interests, and a glimpse into who I am.

What do you like to collect?  What does it mean to you and what does it tell other people?  Gather your goodies and thrill in the hunt.  You can’t “take them with you”  but you can enjoy them while you are here.

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Niche Markets and the Value of Emotion

16 May 2010

There are thousands of niche markets in the field of antiques and collectible and they are easy to miss. You have to be open to the trends. When I started selling the castoff relics of fading eras it was because, let’s face it, being a paralegal was both boring and highly stressful. I don’t know how something could be both things at once, but it’s true. Sorry if you are a paralegal and loving, it more power to ya! The biggest surprise at the start was the power of nostalgia in creating niche markets.

Old stuff is not infused with some mystical aura that grows on it as time passes while waiting unseen in the dark recesses of forgotten memory. That’s mold your thinking off. I’m thinking of another kind of green. Minty green as in paper. One of the keys to understanding value is the emotion we attach to the past and the artifacts that are a part of experience. We like to stay linked to childhood or to the prosperous times in our lives.

Priceless memories.

One of the biggest collectible categories is toys. Who doesn’t remember their favorite teddy bear, doll, toy soldier, cap gun, or model airplane? We loved these things. They were sent from Santa, our parents, weird uncle Bob, or our favorite Grandma. Sixty-five years ago America’s industrial might produced the tools for a world at war to subdue history’s worst tyrants and then went right back to making Lionel trains and inventing Barbie.

1950’s kid oriented TV shows on local stations might seem like the most forgettable bit of history ever experienced by mortal children. However, I have never failed to sell an old photo, button, toy premium or whatever of Sally Starr or Chief Halftown. In case you don’t know them they had shows on a Philadelphia television station and are remembered today by people all over the country. Most of the items I sold about these two were purchased by people in states other than Pennsylvania.

One of the most reliable markets I had back in the beginning of eBay’s rise to prominence was the slide rule. It’s not hard to find a person now a days who has no clue what they are or how they were used. The calculator followed by the personal computer made them obsolete in a short period of time. Generations of engineers built airplanes, skyscrapers, bridges and highways. Scientists split the atom, discovered DNA and invented the microwave oven. These men and women who passed through the analog age via the digital revolution frequently did the same thing with their formerly valuable calculating tool. They stuck it in a drawer.

Not all archeology is done in desert sands or steaming jungles. Sifting through the layers of a person’s life at an estate sale can unearth much that is mundane. It takes a combination of experience and intuition to discover a good niche market. They are often made up of quite ordinary things. Was your teddy bear bear ordinary to you? What is the value of emotion? Connect with peoples pasts and you may find the way to their hearts.

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Sales on eBay trend upward For Now

13 May 2010

As an early adopter of eBay I experienced the heyday of online auction fever.  It was an economic frontier, wild and lawless.  in time there were more rules and restrictions, some good, some oppressive.  Having taken a break from the collectibles business for several years my re-entry has been a little bit turbulent.  The inconsistency of eBay sales trends is  disconcerting.  I can hardly believe I could make a living on eBay at one time.

Living in a smaller more remote community than I used to is enough of a challenge.  The volatile economic and political landscape has a larger impact on my personal little corner of capitalism.  I remember well the big hits my business took over the years.  From the time I started sales were on a steadily rising slope.  There were seasonal peaks and valleys.  Aside from those, stock market fluctuations had a strong effect.  The customer demographic in my niche areas coincided with upper middle class educated people with a tidy supply of discretionary funds. Over all the trends were logical and easy to track.   in 2000 we had the dot com bubble popping rather loudly all over this land.  Sales tanked for a while then started a slow ramp up following the stock markets performance.

By midsummer of 2001 I felt that all the losses had been pretty well regained.  I was very hopeful for the future, very focused on inventory acquisition and exploring new niches.  One bright September morning I was standing in line to get a number at Conestoga Auction Company in Manheim, Pennsylvania.  People around me were speaking in hushed tones, telling an unlikely story about airplanes crashing into buildings.  I got my number then went to my car and turned on the radio.  The unlikely story was playing out in real time.  Surrealistically, the blue sky and crisp air of a Pennsylvania September morning which had put me in such a good mood contrasted strongly with the destruction being wreaked a hundred miles away in a city I have visited often.  The impact of September 11 affected so many things including bringing eBay sales to a crashing halt.  I don’t remember selling any of the 70 or so prime collectibles I had listed just the day before.

The recovery was a slow climb from a very low place.  A year later I was starting to feel confident again and was on a roll.  I was lucking into some very good buys.  The star purchases of the year were my $800 slide rule I got on a seven dollar tray lot and a ships half model I paid $200 for and sold for $1500 on eBay.  Then life changed and I set the antique and collectible high life aside for awhile.  I did a couple months run on eBay last summer and had some decent sales although the cost of gasoline ate into my profits along with eBay’s usual fees.  I set things aside again.

I am taking another run at eBay in a small way because I feel that if I’m going to spout off about in a blog I should also have some skin in the game.  I’m also defraying some of the expense of starting up my new media empire.   Hopefully my selection of advertisers will take up the baton and provide an income stream soon.

I find eBay to be fairly healthy right now.  I am starting slowly putting up about three to five items per week.  Most of it has sold and I had some very nice items including an aircraft loadmaster slide rule that went for $82.00 and as well as the $177 silk fly line that I blogged about in earlier posts.  This represents a small sampling in comparison to what I used to do with an average of 50 auctions a week.  By some standards even that was small time although my stuff is all genuinely vintage collectible.  I can’t get this in a container load from the far east.  I have to run the fence rows in search of my quarry.  Which is what makes it so damn sporting and so much fun.

The thing that encourages me most right now is the number of watchers and bidders I have been getting lately.  right now I have a n item up with 5 bids on it and 11 watchers.  That is the spirit of competition.  Ebay’s own fascination with it’s “stores” and “Buy it Now” robbed the site of it’s spontaneity and kind of missed the point of auctioning off unique or hard to get merchandise.  It would be nice to see things stay this way for a while.  That was the model that built eBay and will always be it’s heart and soul as long as they aspire to be something different that provides the thrill of the hunt for buyers and sellers alike..

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