Posts Tagged militaria

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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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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Price Guides and the Dealers Home Library

25 April 2010

Whether you are a buyer or a seller it is easy to get burned by dealing from ignorance. I came into the antiques and collectibles on the cusp of a steep learning curve. I have always believed that when the going gets tough, the tough go to the library. Knowledge has never ceased to equate to power. When you first become fascinated with a particular area of collecting you have a need to come up to speed rapidly.

You never know everything there is to know about any subject. Be ready to continue your education as long as your involvement lasts with your collection. Some subjects are vast and varied. A subject such as militaria covers many events and so many different organized groups of people it is almost impossible to encompass everything. Conflict has been around as long as man has existed. On the other hand Mc Coy pottery began manufacture in 1910. 100 years as opposed to thousands. Still the wise collector has an intimate knowledge of his subject, large or small.

There is a large body of literature to help you be an informed shopper. There are books giving historical data of the artifacts you are interested in as well as price guides which catalog current values. These are usually based on prices realized at a broad array of auction houses. Illustrated guides are the most interesting to look through but it’s hard to fit a lot of items in a book when space is taken up by pictures. books that are made up of long lists with brief descriptions and prices may seem a little boring. However, from a pragmatic point of view they offer a lot of free cam4 chat bang for the buck.

What you need to know about any item is it’s age, condition, authenticity and value. Everything else is gravy. Get all the gravy you can but be aware of people spicing it up to make it seem worth more than it is. Experience will add to your fund of knowledge. Develop personal contacts so you can pick smart peoples brains like a garden.

Develop a personal library. the money you spend informing yourself is value added to your collection. There are a lot of good used books out there which can be had cheaply. Look out for badly outdated price guides they aren’t very useful. Modern publishing is a gold mine. The standard works can be obtained through Amazon.  A tried and true favorite is Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2010: America’s Bestselling and Most Up to Date Antiques Annual – 42nd Edition (Kovels’ Antiques and Collectibles Price List)

A very interesting source I found recently is  Collect.com This website features a huge selection of  resources in including price guides on many indidvidual collectible categories,  cd’s and dvd’s, webinars, and downloads.  The downloads really caught my attention.  There are such things as PDF versions of older gun catalogs, books on various kind’s of glassware, comics, surveyor’s instruments.  The areas covered are quite broad.  The prices are very reasonable.

The internet in general is a vast archive of the minutiae of our culture.  It is all by itself  the largest volume in your library.  What you need to know is either on the net or it can tell you where to get what you want.  So the next time the going gets tough, where are going to go?

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