Posts Tagged antique

A Hot trail Ends At The Flea Market

21 May 2018

Some Saturday mornings are better than others. The population density is a bit thin in my area but spring brings a start to a robust garage sale season and with a diligent effort, I manage to find a few small treasures. In the past I’ve bagged vintage typewriters, drafting instruments, new old stock beer taps, assorted books on topics close to my heart and interesting old postcards and ephemera. one such Saturday morning was better than most. After sampling a few Garage sales billing themselves as “estate” sales although everybody looked lively and not in mourning.

The estate sale netted me an actual Tuco jigsaw puzzle with the usual quarter inch thick pieces. It’s the first one I have seen since moving to Port Angeles in 2002. I used to sell them on eBay all the time. If you can find the military/patriotic ones or the artistic pin-ups they are worth real money. There is one with a girl in tight ski pants and a well-packed sweater that was a 1950’s fantasy item. I think I got a hundred fifty bucks for that beauty. This one is not so noteworthy but it was nice to see it and for a dollar, I’m not complaining.

I finished the morning at the quaintly named Pumpkin Patch flea market. The venue is in the grass parking lot of a local seasonal tourist attraction that features a corn maze at Halloween. From the highway, You can see the large orange top of a pumpkin elevated two stories off the ground which serves as an observation tower. It doesn’t exactly scream “get your antiques and collectibles here” but I take them where I can get them nowadays.

On this morning The Pumpkin Patch was populated by 25 dealers which is about average. As I cruised the grounds I found a novel my wife would like and passed on some overpriced temptations. Approaching a particular dealers space my eyes wandered across a blue tarp spread on the ground beside his table. This guy always spreads out and takes up as much space as he can. I think it’s a power move to makes him look like Walmart amid the mom and pop shops. I saw mostly tools. There were Some axes and peaveys. Robust iron tools are a big item in these parts because everybody’s grandfather was a mighty slayer of the ubiquitous cedar and Douglas Fir. In one corner was a spread of books that looked like automotive shop manuals. On closer inspection, I could see that the assortment included some motorcycle material that looked to have signs of age. New stuff is not worth a glance but vintage cycle stuff always murmurs of money like the low rumble of a British twin.

I’m not much of a gear head when it comes to cars. I can hold my own in a conversation among serious mechanoids but two-wheeled vehicles are where I hang my wrench. I barely made it to high school graduation because of the poor grades I got as a result daydreaming about motorcycles. I’ve always liked street bikes and have owned several. So when I saw “BSA” and “Velocette” I knew I needed to look closer.

Included in the group where two owner’s manuals for Velocette motorcycles dated in the 1950’s. there was also a service manual and parts list book, owners manual for the 350 cc Ducati scrambler, “Driver’s Handbook And List Of Spare and Replacement Parts for The Famous James No. 98 Series 1.F. Lightweight Motorcycle,” and a 1952 edition of a maintenance manual for two-stroke motorcycles Published by Floyd Clymer. The dealer was asking three dollars apiece but as a group, we arrived at fifteen for the lot.

I’ve done well with this kind of material in the past and I will in the fullness of time offer these up on eBay. It’s a pleasure to have these and enjoy their contents until then. Guys like me are a sucker for the old photos and diagrams on tensioning chains or adjusting breaker points. In the age of fuel injection and computerized ignition systems books like these have all the charm of instructions to maintain your horse-drawn “surrey with the fringe on top.”

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The James Cycle Company Ltd was established in 1897. They didn’t attach engines to their two-wheeled vehicles until 1902. The company continued in the business until 1966.  I had acquired is a driver’s manual that runs down operations for the 98 cc model. The book bears no dates but a little research lets me know that it is from about 1949. Most of the book illustrates every part of the motorcycle with exploded drawings and lists of parts. A quaint feature of the diagram showing the handlebar controls is what is labeled as a “dipper switch.” Apparently, this is a Britishism for a headlight dimmer switch as explained in the text. You can add that to “lift” for elevator and “bonnet” for car hood to wow everyone at your next party.

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The Velocette is a fine old British marque that competed with the likes of Vincent, Triumph, B.S.A. and Royal Enfield. My group of four Velocette items includes an owner’s handbook for the Valiant model, the MAC model, a service manual for Viper, Venom, Mss, Clubman, and Scrambler.

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Ducati is a premier Italian brand that still exists. The 50cc engine was a junior version of the single cylinder four stroke engines that were their stock in trade when I was a teenager buzzing around on Yamahas. The Desmodromic valve system was a trademark technical feature. Singles, often called “thumpers” dominated the Ducati line-up from 1950 to 1974. I had a friend who had a 450 that demanded a firm positive starter kick with good follow through. Any half-assed effort would deliver a kickback that could be felt from the sole of your foot through the top of your head. Once running it had a great sound and plenty of torque.

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This useful item is a Floyd Clymer publication, Two-Stroke  Motorcycles. It covers the maintenance and repair of small two-stroke engines. There are two pages with photos of typical bikes of the era. The book has lots of detailed information and illustrations that show tools in action. It’s all meat and potatoes for those of us raised on the beefy mosquito buzz of engines too impatient to burn fuel than wait until the fourth stroke to do it. this book also predates oil injection when operators were obliged to mix the two-stroke oil into the gasoline before putting it into the tank. Besides the screaming wail of the exhaust, it was one more thing in common with chainsaws.

Books like these are decidedly non-fiction. But when they have the look and feel of a bygone and they give off a faint whiff of grease and dust they excite the imagination. You can read and absorb the detailed illustrations and find within the pages your own story. The road may call you and along the way there will be more trails to follow and treasures to be had.

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Wabi Sabi American Style

19 August 2015

Some people collect for the sake of collecting, most have a purpose beyond mere acquisitiveness. We collect because we connect with material things through memory, knowledge, inspiration and as many motivations as there are emotions in the human psyche. While some people maintain a degree of privacy, stuffing their collected items away where nobody sees them, others like to share. They fit their acquisitions into a decorating scheme or display a collection in a way that is artistically appealing, perhaps making a personal statement.  Antiques are sometimes valued for their utility as in a type of tool that is no longer made. Hand drills work well if you live off the grid. We also hold on to these things to appreciate them and show them off in a visually appealing manner. Aesthetics is simply this, how good does a thing look and how does it make you feel? It brings to mind Billy Crystal doing his Fernando Lamas imitation, “You look mahvalous. The most important thing is to look good.”

Looking good is an art.  It starts at the point of original design and continues as an object acquires the unique signature created by the usage of time. In short: dirt is beautiful. So are dings and scrapes and oil and wax. A nicer way to express it would be “environmental effects.” Well, that’s a little cold and analytical. Lets be more earthy. Let’s get comfortable in our own skins. It is a basic rule in antique restoration that you don’t want to strip an original finish or slather wood putty into the dents and dings. Old dirt and damage are the prime ingredients for a lovely patina. Antiques wear their history on the surface. Western sensibilities tend to like new items that look just like the day they were made. We do this with vintage automobiles and aircraft.  I think it works just fine in those areas. There is even a safety factor in preserving functionality in moving vehicles. You don’t want your 1920’s Curtiss biplane sputtering to a halt at odd moments. If you are going to drive your model T on occasion the brakes should work at least as well as they did in the old days.

I went through a period of fascination with Zen Buddhism back in the seventies. It wore off, but a little something stuck in the form of the Japanese attitude towards the simple beauty of utilitarian forms, ordinary objects made with care and superior craftsmanship.  Wabi Sabi is the reason the Japanese automobile industry kicked our butts back in the seventies. Some antiques come from an opposite visual perspective. The European renaissance gave us  a richness of decoration that was sometimes blindingly ornate. The level of workmanship was extraordinary but opulence is hard for most of us to relate to.

The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early twentieth century gave us mission furniture and similar styles. Gustav Stickley pioneered an approach to furniture design that became an enduring American style. The same lines and honest display of joinery echoes the construction of Japanese shoji screens and temple architecture. The influence continued in the architectural work of Greene and Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright. The blending of furniture and architecture was an inevitable outgrowth of the design elements that grew in the American heartland.

What was once a new thing aged in a dignified manner. American decorative arts survived to form the core of what I experienced in the antique trade. As a dealer on the lower rungs of that particular business ladder I had little contact with Chippendale and Sheraton, et al.  It was entertaining to hang out at auction and watch the New York or L.A. connected dealers throw money at each other.  The antiques I had a shot at moving through the mire of commerce were the common furnishings of my grandparents and great grandparents world: kitchen tables that showed the wear of rolling pins, knives, and elbows. Their patina was enhanced by spilled milk, smeared lard and the blood of both farm and game animals. It was all stoutly built of oak and ash, pine and maple. Mahogany, bird’s eye maple and crotch grain black walnut was reserved for the parlor or perhaps the bedroom. Those finer furnishings were better cared for but still took their own punishment. Look at the legs of old chairs and tables to see the traces of myriad collisions with toy trucks and the careless feet of children. Shellac finishes oxidized into a noticeably reptilian patterns. water glasses quickly left rings and spilled alcohol was like a dissolving tide.  The introduction of nitrocellulose lacquer made the household environment more durable and family friendly.

Metals and plastics not only brought forth new often “streamlined” styles they changed the nature of the way we regarded wear and tear. We were initially repulsed by rust, flaky chrome plating and sun faded plastics and chipped enamel. The postwar era ushered in the throwaway economy. Disposable material was a virtue to be worshiped by the culture of modern convenience. A decade later environmentalism criticized the attitude and threw roadblocks in the way that were ultimately hurdled by the acolytes of recycling. America stopped blithely disposing and engorging landfills with cultural detritus. It created a whole new gray market operating out of a vast network of garages manned by individual entrepreneurs. The antique marketers took notice.

Somewhere along the way while some of us were still trying to hawk the furnishings of our great grandparents a shift in time took place. The definition of antique went from 100 years old to 50, sometimes 25. Items of cultural significance that become overnight sensations become objects of nostalgia almost as fast.

The new ethos on the block was shabby chic which evolved into the art and craft of “re-purposing.” The market is driven as never before by domestic decorating. You can  see it on reality television as the public is regaled by tales of home makeovers and wandering duos of dealers pestering random hoarders for not only genuine historical artifacts but rusty gates, aging light fixtures and worn out leather jackets from pilots and motorcycle bums to bell bottom jeans that belonged to hippie girls who might have been at Woodstock.

The descendants of the industrial revolution will never stop making new and ever shinier things. It is their mission to attract the eye with things that are smooth or shiny or have a rough masculine feel or a soft feminine silkiness. We are intoxicated by the smell of a new car. What you remember most of all is the ragged old blanket that your first born hauled everywhere. your favorite coffee cup and the movie that makes you cry when you watch it every year at Christmas. The essence of utility built into every truly useful object is manifested in nostalgia and value lies at the intersection of purpose and beauty. The greatest creations of man are no more than this and that is all that they need to be.

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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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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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Restore China and Glass: DIY or Leave It To The Experts?

18 December 2010

Watch the dealers in an auction room full of antique china and glass.  Their fingers are everywhere.  They fondle and stroke plates and cups, goblets and glasses.  They are especially concerned with the edges where chips so often occur.  the broad surfaces of plates may yield their secret flaws when held up to the light.  Nowhere else in the antique world do you see such a constant search for perfection.You won’t see it in furniture collector’s and dealers.  They celebrate wear and tear.  The lowliest patch of grime and grit is elevated to the lofty status of “patina.”   Most areas of collecting carry on this ethic to some degree.  But glass is meant to sparkle.  You wouldn’t eat off of dirty plates so why collect it and put it on display.  We like to have it whole and blemish free.

Life happens and unless it is locked away for all time our precious bits of china may fall victim to breakage.   China and crystal are often family heirlooms soaked in memories and not easily discarded.  Repairing these items can be a difficult task ending in a thing of beauty degraded to a faded dream.  Before repairing these items take the time to think through your process. Assess your skills realistictly and use the right adhesives.

white glues don’t do much for smooth nonporous surfaces.  I have found that cyanoacrylate or “super glues” are overrated for this type of job.  I like epoxy because it give one the time to bring pieces together and reposition them more precisely if necessary.  always try to arrange a system of clamps to provide a bit of pressure to the mating surfaces.  With epoxy it need not be excessive pressure as long as good alignment of the objects with no gaps can be achieved.  Squeeze-out or smudges can be cleaned up with denatured alcohol.

If the do-it-yourself approach takes you out of your comfort zone or if you wish  to preserve as much of an object’s value as possible then consider handing it over to a china repair expert.  In homemade repairs one often sees that parts were glued together well but small chips were not recovered.  The result is something like a break in dark colored areas where the lighter ceramic shows through.  Experts use special ceramic fillers and dyes to patch cracks and create seamless repairs that are almost impossible to see.  Glass and crystal repair is even harder to perform satisfactorily by yourself.  In a professional repair shop, chips in crystal are ground and polished for a completely invisible repair.  They take advantage of non-yellowing epoxy formulations to glue broken pieces of glass together.  Some even provide materials or repair kits so that if you still want the satisfaction of making a repair at home it can be done with superior materials as well as expert guidance.

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History Lives in Auction Houses

30 November 2010

Auction houses display historic artifacts from the momumental to the mundane.  Spending time at auction is like being in a class room where everyone has come to participate.  You can learn much and often enjoy the simple emotion of amazement.  So many times I have seen things at auction that I dimly recall reading about.  Seeing a tangible object associated with an important person or event stirs the memory, engages the imagination and brings history to life.

I am not alone in the auction as history point of view.  Rosemary McKittrick writes about auctions at her website, Live Auction Talk.  She has been writing about art and antiques for over 20 years.  Her site archives over 800 articles covering a broad array of categories.   The depth of her experience and keen eye for the story behind the story shows clearly in her articles.  Typically they focus on a particular item that has come up for auction with a description of the historical personality who owned it.  Her research is very good and filled with educational nuggets of information.

Rosemary looks at auctions all over the world to find the story behind historic objects as they come up for sale at auction.    As she says:

“It could be Harry Houdini, Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth or William Randolph Hearst. I tell their stories through the handcuffs they’ve owned, books they’ve written, songs they’ve sung, planes they’ve flown, empires they’ve built and homeruns they’ve hit—all of which sold on the block.”

Her story on Baron Von Richthofen (The Red Baron) includes interesting details surrounding his untimely demise.  I’m a pilot and dedicated aviation history buff and had forgotten this story.  It’s nice to have it back in my memory bank.  One of his silver beakers commemorating a victory in aerial combat sold at auction for $28.000.

These articles contain some great research on auction prices realized.  Don’t pass up this kind of resource.  Rosemary gets it in one when she says, “When the bidding stops and the hammer falls, the value of an item is set. The buyer, not the seller, sets the price. This simple distinction cuts through all the chitchat about what art, antiques and collectibles are really worth.”

Go to Live Auction Talk and sign up for her free weekly subscription.  It includes an article on the 8 essentials of collections.  It will tell you exactly what needs to be at the forefront of your thinking every time you enter an auction house.  It’s brilliant stuff and lots of fun.

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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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