Posts Tagged dealer

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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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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A Passion for Paper

1 July 2010

What does a dealer in collectibles collect for himself?  For me it was paper.  There is something about printed media that interests me on many levels.  Maybe it’s the pack rat in me.  As I grew into the antique and collectible field I continually came across what is called in the trade “ephemera.”  It fascinated me like nothing else in the profession.  I like the way the name suggests something that is lacking in substance and liable to imminent decay.  It suggests that not only our lives but the physical traces of our path through history are but dust in the wind.  The great paper trail of society comes in many forms: advertising, books, maps, documents, trading cards, lithography, prints and engravings.  The field is a grand combination of history and art.

I am fascinated with the artwork found on old documents.  Check out an antique stock certificate.  The engraved illustrations can be quite beautiful.  A postage stamp album is an art gallery in miniature.  Old checks and bank drafts often have very well done engravings or lithographed pictures.  As an item to collect collect old paper can include a broad array of subject matter or be highly specialized.  I have enjoyed maps since I was very small.  they feed the imagination as well as keep one from getting lost.  They record the locations of history and remind us of so many things now gone.  I used to have a climber’s map of Mount St. Helens that I kind of took for granted until one day it became instantly collectible as it became apparent that they weren’t going to need to print anymore of them.

Remember when road maps could be had for free at any gas station?  They are quite collectible especially if they have the right art work on the front panel.  If you are new to collecting road maps be advised that the printers didn’t always place a date on them in an obvious way.  Instead, they had a code in one of the margins.  you can read the date codes at websites such as http://www.roadmaps.org/date.html.  Maps were one of my first surprises in the collectible business.  I had always appreciated them and enjoyed them and didn’t realize what a treasure they were until I put one on eBay for a dollar and it got bid up to sixty.

One of my other favorite items were Victorian trade cards.  I had hardly known of their existence.  They keep showing up in box lots and stuffed into old books as page markers.  I admired the many charming lithographed designs and appreciated the historical detail they conveyed.  The light soon came on in my head and I adopted them as a lively little niche market.  They were doubly fun as I could gather them up at estate sales and flea markets. I kept the ones that interested me and sold everything else.  It was the first hobby I ever had that paid for itself and then some.

Of course the category includes books but that is a huge subject I will leave for another day.  There is so much more to cover in this fascinating area.  The use of paper spans centuries and the printers art has been so important in developing civilization it can hardly be grasped.  The invention of the printing press was every bit as world-changing as the invention of the Internet.   Before photography brought every man’s eye view to printed pages the graphic arts flourished wherever ink landed on paper.   Art in the hands of the common man is democratizing.

There seems an endless supply of ephemera stashed away in attics, basements and store rooms.  A good specialty shop in the field is like a god mine.  Back east I loved to go to Mr. 3L, Leonard L. Lasko’s shop on The Lincoln Highway east of Lancaster, PA.  Mr. lasko is a character and he’s been in his business for a long time.  The shop is not the neatest and if you like organization forget it.  This is a place to adjust your attitude and surrender to the thrill of the hunt.  You can find a staggering array of old advertising sometimes in new old stock wholesale units.  I remember finding packets of old Seven-Up soda bottle labels that had never been used.  They were just as they had come from the printer.  I bought them for a good price and sold them in small lots on eBay for over a year for a healthy profit.  Deals like that are just the ticket for steady cash flow.

Lasko doesn’t have much of  an internet presence but apparently he is still in business if you are interested.  You can find him at 2931 Lincoln Highway East, 17529 Gordonsville, PA, Phone: 001 (717) 687-6165.  oddly enough his favorite advertising strategy is announcing a “going out if business sale.”  he’s been going out of business for as long as I can remember.  Maybe he will shutter his shop someday but it’s still worth stopping in sometime just in case.  After all business in this day and age can be somewhat ephemeral.

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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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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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How Cooperative Are You?

2 May 2010

The antiques business is filled with characters. It seems to appeal to people with eclectic tastes and individualistic temperaments. I have met very few boring dealers or serious collectors.  Not many people start up in this business early in life.  Most of us come to it after having gone through earlier job or career cycles.  Retirees are common in the trade.  There are a lot of part-timers supplementing their primary income.  Auctioneers are a whole subspecies of their own.

At one time I was in two different antique mall cooperatives. The personalities involved were interesting and sometimes challenging. A co-op is a weird assembly, a sort of  team effort but with the understanding that every man is in it for himself. At both places there was a requirement to work at the establishment for two days each month. I found the experience was good research into buyers habits and desires yet some dealers chose to pay other coop members to stand-in for them.

One co-op was in a large, drafty, former milking barn. Winter days found us huddled around the woodstove giving the place the ambienceof an old country store. The social interaction was great and we really got to know each other.  I heard stories of people from many walks of life.  I knew a guy who was an aide de camp to a general in WWII.  He was still in the army during the Bay of pigs incident in Cuba.  There were people who experienced the great depression.  We could learn a thing or two from those folks now.

In the other mall we had good heat and a tight insulated building.  we also had some old timers who knew there way around the business pretty well.  There was a husband and wife who were retired and sold antiques both to supplement income and as a way to stay active and engaged in the community.  He had been a music teacher at the local high school and she was a former District Justice.  They were both well read and didn’t lack culture.  He was a distinguished gentleman who seemed to be constantly in search of the “perfect Manhattan.”  They knew everybody and their kin for miles around and were a better guide to local history than any book was.  In his younger days he ran with some fellows who learned the trade by going “on the knock.”  Their guide to finding antiques was to look for old houses with lace curtains.  Nine times out of ten there would be an old woman living there and it could be well worth the trouble to stop and inquire if she had any old furniture she wanted to get rid of or a garage or attic needing to be cleaned out.

Most of the old guys I knew who had that kind of chutzpah had a barn stuffed to the rafters with good old stuff to sell.  While most dealers put a lot of effort into presenting a neat display of there wares in the particular booth they rented.  Some of these guys created a studied disorder that created an impression of clutter to draw buyers into the idea of finding special treasure amongst the obvious junk.  Some people seem to like something more if they “discovered” it.  The most successful dealer I knew operated this way.  Just keep things messy enough to make people feel that they are in terra incognita and hang up a 10% off sign and the world will beat a path to your door.  It always seemed to work with the tourists from New York.  and we loved New Yorkers.  But that’s another story.

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