One of the very best parts of being an Antiques/Collectibles dealer is being able to take an item from a place where it is undervalued and unloved and place it with someone who takes true joy in the ownership.
Even better is the very rare occasion when we can take a lost heirloom and return it home. Last year, I had that opportunity.
I was wandering through a garage sale, when I noticed two World War II footlockers. I asked how much they wanted for them, was told $10 a piece, and I bought them.
The footlockers were well marked, so I decided to research the owner. Imagine my surprise to discover that Judge Marion W. Gooding was well-known, well-respected, and held his own place in Jacksonville’s history.
He was a decorated World War II veteran.
He was a well respected upstanding member of the Jacksonville community.
And…in August of 1956, he was the Judge who, after seeing a show and a near riot in Orlando, told a young headliner at the Florida Theatre that if he gyrated, he would be jailed. That young man was Elvis Presley.
It wasn’t difficult to find the judge’s sons…who had misplaced the footlockers 30 years earlier. They were amazed and astounded to discover that not only were the footlockers still in Jacksonville, but that we would, of course!, return them to the family.
One of the sons, Mack Gooding (a veteran himself) met us and we were able to return the lockers to him. He sent us the newspaper article and the picture of his father so that we could share this tale. Oh, and he insisted on giving us back the $20 we paid.
Ask any antique dealer and they will tell you, the joy of the hunt, is a huge part of what makes us drag ourselves out of bed at 6:00 a.m. every Saturday morning. It is knowing that you could discover something amazing around the next corner. And on occasion, you get to send that amazing item home.
I love going to auction. But one of the disadvantages of being professional, is you don’t normally get to go just for fun! Mind you, we have fun…but now I go to auction with a specific purchase in mind.
This week, the purchase was german stein.
The above pictures were posted on the auction website. After spending several hours researching, I was armed with the information I needed to tell if it was real or a reproduction.
One of the issues with Auction houses and Auctioneers is that they are usually in a hurry. The little ones are barely making ends meet and the auctioneer rarely has time to research the items the way he thought he would when he got into the business. The Auctioneer hopes that his steady customers will do the research and therefore provide his consigner with a reasonable profit. Us steady customers really hope no one else researches the items at all…so we can get a good deal!
Upon arriving at the auction, I casually picked up the mug and took a picture.
O.k. so it wasn’t a clear picture.
Among the other scribbles were the two things I needed to know. One is under the blue circle. That would be a very blurry Mettlach stamp. The other was the 2007 stamp (yellow circle red arrow). This stamp and that mark meant that this particular mug was from around 1891.
It was a really stormy night, so I had high hopes that no one would show up.
My hopes were horribly dashed. A really stormy night meant that only the diehard dealers showed up. And dang it, the old man was one of them.
I don’t know the old man’s name. He is quite the dapper fella. Very distinguished. And if I’ve done my research, and if I’ve picked the very best item in the auction to bid on, and if the old man is there, he is going to win it.
That doesn’t mean I give up. Nope, nope, nope. It just means unless I over bid, I’m gonna lose.
I’ve tried sidling up to the old man and striking up the conversation. Sometime last year, after five or more years going to the same auctions, he actually began to recognize me. We even exchanged words a few times. But no indication that he had warmed up to me at all. The old man seemed to know everyone, but didn’t seem to spend much time talking to anyone. All business.
I’ve been watching him for years. Noticing what he bid on. Figuring I got it right when I bid on the same items before he did. Discovering I went a little too high, the one time I did actually out bid him.
I didn’t see him at the auction until he bid on a nice quilt. I have to say I was a little auction blind and excited. It didn’t occur to me that he was there for my item. I opened the bid at $10. He countered. We went back and forth until I got to my limit. He went over it and won the mug.
I was sort of disappointed, but not really. I had been outplayed. He walked over to me and said, “Are you the one who ran up my bid?” I answered, “Yes sir.”, He counter “That’s o.k.” and gave me a huge grin.
We then stepped away from the auction and discussed the mug. Where it was from, how we knew it was real, the issue with the crack in the medialon, all the things we each had discovered before we came to auction. We had walked a lot of the same paths researching it and some different ones which we shared. Another dealer came up and said, “You know it’s a reproduction right? It’s marked 2007.” The old man proceeded to explain that the “2007” stamp was the model, not the year. Then he grinned at me and went to gather his mug…and to check the spot where I said it might have been patched or it might just be dirty.
My husband and I ended up walking out right behind the old man. We’d loss the item we came for. But I had more fun than I’ve had in a long time and I grinned for days when I got introduced by the old man as the lady who ran up the bid on his mug!
P.S. If you want to run up the bid on his mug yourself, or just see how the story actually turns out, it seems the old man placed it on eBay.
P.P.S. The Auction finished for a grand total of $307.52. I won’t tell you what he paid for it…but it twas a handsome profit he made.
I’ve been reading the book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. It is an awesome book on the value of a proper checklist. It turns out that checklists, particularly for things we know well and do often, save time and improve our processes. As an Antique and Collectibles dealer, what I am good at is buying the right item. However, what I end up doing way too frequently is buying interesting junk. My life, my shop, and, most of all, my home, no longer has room for interesting junk.
In the interest of saving myself time, money and the trouble of finding homes for really unloved items, I have created the following checklist. I’ll try it out. If it works, I’ll let you know. If you’d like to try it, please feel free. Let me know how it works for you.
1) Does the item have an intrinsic value of its own?
If the answer is yes, if you are certain the item is real, and if the value of the item is greater than the cost (i.e. $1.00 for a 10k gold chain) buy it.
2) What condition is the item in: (Very Poor, Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Excellent)
Stop – if it is in less than Good condition, don’t buy it.
3) Do you know this item? Or is it very well marked?
Stop – if the answer is no. Spending hours researching an item is not normally worth your time. If you are thinking about buying it anyway go directly to checkpoint Number 4.
4) Does the item feel right?
Is it the right weight, the right texture, the right condition for the age? Is there something about it that feels right? If you aren’t sure, stop.
5) Can you sell it? Or if it is for you, can you picture where you will display it?
Will it fit in your store/home? Will anyone actually appreciate it? Do you know someone would be thrilled by it? Is it an item you can ship? If no, stop.
What do you think? Did I miss something? Let me know. I’ve included the short checklist below. I’m putting it in my garage sale/auction purse. Here’s hoping it will help keep me out of trouble. I’ll let you know.
4. Feels Valuable
5. Belongs somewhere.
Buy what you like…if you like it, chances are someone else will too. That’s the theory. In the interest of making this blog a little more interactive, we’ll find out if it is true together.
A couple of weeks ago, I was checking out a local auction’s preview pictures and ran across this picture.
As you can see, it is a very small picture of several box lots. Fortunately, with this auction, you can click on the picture and see a slightly larger version.
Check out the red item in the upper-left corner. It looked like a set of ruby glass scales to me. Hmm, that was kind of interesting. I hadn’t seen a set of those in years. But usually, if an item is special, it isn’t in a box lot….so the big question was “Is it actually worth anything?”
There were still a few days before auction, so I did some research. I looked the item up on eBay, with the following results.
It wasn’t quite the scale I was looking at, so I went to the other pricing source I use, www.priceminer.com. It is a membership-based pricing resource that I really appreciate. The results in this case, however, weren’t all that helpful. But this set was fairly close, and had an eBay sold price of $46.00.
So that at least gave me a starting point, though honestly I thought the one at auction was much prettier!
Still uncertain, I decided to twitter about the item, and discussed it with one of my good twitter buds, Linnetwoods. Linnetwoods runs the twitterhood (Check it out!). She really liked the description of the scale…and I did too. So I decided to make a trip to the auction to see it in person.
Once I got to the auction, I nonchalantly took this picture and sent it to Twitter so Linnetwoods could see it.
At this time I could see the other denizens of the box lot: a ruby glass chicken on a nest and two Pyrex butter dishes. Linnetwoods seemed to think the scale was a pretty item, and CarolD jumped in and agreed (twitter discussions can become multiperson very quickly) and I really liked it myself. So I bid.
After some competition, I won the bid. Now, if this were just business, I wouldn’t mention here what I paid. After all, I am going to put these items up for auction. But we’re going to have some fun, so I’ll tell you I won the lot for $35+$3.50 buyer’s premium totalling $38.50. Not all that far from what the other scale sold for on eBay. However, that includes the chicken and the butter dishes, too. As well as a funky crystal nut dish and an M&M camera.
The items from this box lot went up for sale today on eBay. You know what I paid, and honestly, so will the buyer because they will have access to this blog. Putting that aside, we have until Sunday (July 5th, 2009) to see how it all goes. And after Saturday, I will post to the blog what the results were. Below are pictures of the items. You can click on the pictures and it will take you to the eBay Listings.
This is part of what being an antique dealer feels like…pretend it is your time and money on the line. Watch the auctions, and see if they do well. Stay tuned and see if I found hidden treasures, or lost my shirt. We can enjoy the experience together.
The most asked question I get is “How do you know what something is worth?”
That question leads to the “hours of research and years of study” answer. It’s kind of boring.
The question should be: “How do you know what it is?”
Now that’s a fun question, because sometimes we really have no idea…at all. I will frequently purchase something (if it is inexpensive enough) just because I don’t know what it is and want to research it more thoroughly.
Through recent conversations with other dealers, I have discovered that I am not the only one who does this. To a certain extent, the “Need to Know” seems to run fairly deep in the Antique Dealer species.
Sometimes, we don’t actually buy the unknown item on purpose. At auctions, for those of you who haven’t been, there are box lots. A box lot is literally a box of items. Before the auction, you have the opportunity to look at, and frequently pick up the items. Usually a box lot has one or two nice items and a good deal of stuff the auctioneer knew he couldn’t sell by itself. I bid on the good stuff, and have to take the funky stuff with the good.
Recently I purchased a box lot because it had a beautiful vintage bar pin in it. The pin was marked 14K gold and had a small diamond in the middle. For this reason, I purchased the box.
I did not purchase it for the gold teeth (Ewwwwwww! Probably first on the list of worst things I’ve discovered in a box lot) nor did I purchase it for the small pins that were also in the box.
However, the small pins were intriguing. They were obviously old. One was sterling, the other some form of gold (plated, filled, or 10K but no markings). They were simple in design and very small, less than 1 inch long.
I put them aside, in the When-I-have-a-moment-to-research pile. A short while later, serendipity stepped in to give me an assist. I have a twitter buddy, aneD, who has a very nice store, Gardenartus Antiques – http://www.rubylane.com/shops/gardenartusantiques. Occasionally, as we all do, she will post a link to an item in her store. As a good twitter buddy, I go check out the item and then usually spend more time than I should wandering online through her other items. One of the items she had online was a lingerie pin which, in form and in size, bore a striking resemblance to my little pins.
It turns out these little pins were used in Victorian times to decorate/hold together a woman’s lingerie. Currently they sell very well as vintage Doll pins because they are of the right age and the right size to decorate a Victorian Doll. From now on, when I am looking at box lots, and small jewelry items at a sale, I will be looking for the lingerie pins, because now I know to do so.
This is how we know what to buy, and what things are…first, we study a lot and try to learn as much as we can; next, if we don’t know we may take the chance and buy the item, then we work hard and research the item…and sometimes, we just get lucky.
But, there is a lot of hard work behind that lucky.
If you want to play the “Mystery Item” Antique guessing game, Barbara Crews has a new item every Wednesday. Her archive is here: http://collectibles.about.com/od/quizzesforcollectors/tp/MysteryItems.htm
First, at the very tip top of my loathe list, is that dealer at the garage sale just ahead of me, the one who grabbed that awesome treasure I spotted from the curb, and is now in the process of bullying the homeowner into lowering the price.
It took me a lot of years to realize that, yes, I have the right to buy an item at fifty cents that I think may be worth more. I have spent 35 years learning about antiques and that buys me the ability to know that an item may be worth more than is being asked for it. I am not stealing when I do this. Anyone else has the right to spend the same amount of time learning what I have learned and utilizing the knowledge.
I will not, however, stand by and watch another dealer bully someone into a lower price when the item is already worth ten times the cost. I will step in and offer to pay the full price, whether I actually want the item or not. Be fair gentle dealers. It is only right. I will ask someone if they will take less, particularly on an item I’m not sure I can move quickly or that I don’t have the fundage for at this time. But I will be respectful if they say no and wish them a good day. Be fair. Be nice.
Second on my loathe list is the online auction dealer who, upon discovering I have an item that is actually getting bids, puts up a similar item, and ends their dad blasted auction before mine. It is the equivalent of stealing the wind out of my sails and it is truly bad business. First off, neither of us is going to get the top amount we could have gotten. Both of our items will suffer by comparison by appearing ‘common.’ Secondly, if your item is a better example than my item, you are served so much better by waiting until I get the most I can out of it. You’ll pick up the bidders who were excited by my auction and they will be expecting to pay more. You may even pick up the bidder who won my item, as now they are interested in adding to the collection. As dealers, it is really wrong to participate in ‘bid sniping.’ It doesn’t help any of us.
Third Loathe. If you are helping the auctioneer at an auction, you cannot ALWAYS be the first person to bid on an item. I understand that everyone who works at an auction house has a bidder card and has the right to bid on the items. This is fair as many auctioneers and assistants have their own antique sidelines. I can live with that. However, if the assistants frequently take the opening bid, that is the equivalent of shilling – it raises the prices and it often costs me the item I have been waiting for. It also costs the auctioneer a customer as I will not return. In our area we have someone who assists at different auctions – a lot. He consistently takes the opening bid. I will not stay at an auction he is working. Period.
Finally…what I absolutely love the most about being an antique dealer…..other antique dealers!
I know, it sounds like just the opposite of what I’ve been saying, but for every one dealer who practices what I loathe, there are a hundred who stand beside me.
There is no other industry where every truly successful person you meet has these qualities: They care, they share, and they are there for you. They care about the items. They care about each other. They care about and for the customers. I know of very few communities where you can be in direct competition and still willingly, joyfully, share every bit of knowledge you can with one another. We’re a little bit crazy that way.
Join me on twitter. Check out the people I converse with. Meet AneD, RedAntiques, Norbridge, MacQuid,thevintagelist, and so many others. Follow the people I follow. Ask a question. Post a twitpic and see how many people will reach out to help you find what you have! Watch us drum up sales for each other. We commiserate together and work together to bring the customers more information and better products. We celebrate each other’s sales and wish for better May’s than April’s and better June’s than May’s. Antique dealers are a tremendous, wondrous group of people and I am blessed to know several.
What I love…who I love..outweighs what I loathe by tons.
For me the simple answer is this is when my Mom did it. I remember being a young adult and working with Mom starting her own business. Years later, we still view that time differently. I believe she views it as an interesting, if failed, experiment. I viewed it then and still view it now, as an unmitigated success. I learned more watching my mother build a business from scratch than I have learned from any other process since. So in very real terms, I am doing this now, because my mother did this when I was my kid’s age. This is what you do to show your children how to succeed, even if the business doesn’t.
Money is a very good reason, with stability right behind it. We can use the extra income. Kids are pricey, but teenagers are downright expensive! The extra income is helpful, sometimes just in the timing. I may spend as much as I make some weeks, but the money comes in between paychecks and that helps! Stability in this market may seem a strange idea, but it’s like this: My husband is in construction. He builds signs. If the economy goes to pot, people don’t buy signs. But people will always need gifts, and someone will always have the money for a true antique. So this is the back-up plan, albeit not one we want to use.
Time is another reason. I have more of it now, though it does seem to run a wee bit faster. The kids are somewhat self sufficient, and occasionally helpful. I don’t do laundry, I just throw mine in when the kids need to do theirs. I don’t clean, that’s their paid chore. My husband took up cooking a few years ago, so I have time, and on the horizon I see myself having more of it. The kids will go away and I’ve never been much of a putterer. I need goals to keep me busy..or a heck of a lot of novels. Goals are cheaper.
Control. I get to have control. Swine Flu, hours at work, kids, the economy, it all doesn’t really matter to the store. I put in the hours, the store gives back the money. Not as much as I would like, hourly pay really does suck right now, but it does give back almost exactly what I put in. I post – some percentage sells. I don’t post – nothing new sells. Instant results that I have control over. Doesn’t sell, then I need to change something. I change something and the sell happens, or I change something else. No matter what else happens, I have control over a small portion of my world. I like that.
The final reason is that time is going to pass whether I start a business or not. The hours I will spend working would be spent whether I built something during that time, or just watched time drift by. I’ve chosen to build something. The important part is that what I am choosing to build isn’t as transitory as a business can be. What I am really building is a better me. The business is just the classroom I am using to do so.
Because we never actually wanted to keep the items in the first place, we just wanted to protect them.
There isn’t an antique dealer out there who doesn’t cringe when an antique is being abused. There is very little like the awe on our faces when we see something unique, different, or just wonderfully made. There is almost a reverence in us when we squat before the item that has caught our eye.
Because our spouses won’t let us keep them…
In the British version of “Cash in the Attic” the poor collector is often accused of being a hoarder. The host shakes his head a little and looks sadly at the person in question. Yes we hoard, at least a little, but mostly we just protect, until we can pass it on. Remember we found these items on dusty shelves, on blankets in yards, wrapped in ancient newspapers, or even in box lots. We have respect for the items. O.k. we might be a little like the proverbial dragon with the gold, but we’ll give to the just prince/princess on a quest. Happily!
Because we LIVE for the hunt…
Just one more garage sale, just one more auction, there will be something awesome around that corner! In another age, we might have been the great tribal hunters. We’ve dilligently studied our prey. We’ve spent years searching the different habitats. We are good at coming back with the goods.
Because we get to do work we love, and others walk away happy for it!
I think this is the most important part. We love finding the items. We love holding them, learning about them, discovering their history, and protecting them. It is a matter of honor for us to leave the antiques in better hands than we found them. Those hands are the many people who are on their own quests. The ones who know what it is we have in our shops, possibly better than we do. The customer who has been looking for this item forever, or the one who’s heart was just grabbed by the item. This is the true joy and the true reason we deal in antiques..to find underloved, undervalued items and place them in the hands of those who will love, cherish and protect them.
Yeah, as my sister put it, we’re foster homes for old stuff.
And we love it.
I am antiques and collectibles dealer. I scour garage sales, auctions, and thrift stores for underloved items and foster the little things until we can find them the proper home. I also have a new toy store on Amazon. So I have a varied amount of inventory for four different online stores scatter around my home most of the time!
When my family and I first discovered that this was actually going to be a business and not just a passing fancy, it became apparent we needed to find a way to store the stores! The first bright idea was to buy clear bins. Since we could see through them, we should be able to find what we need right? Yeah o.k. that doesn’t work unless you can afford a LOT of clear bins, and then only if you have x-ray vision to see through what’s in front of the item you are actually looking for.
O.k. Paper boxes. They are free from the real job. They stack nicely…and now my house looks like I am perpetually in the process of moving. However, they do work for most items, and you can put the name of each store on them so you know where to look for the item by what store sold it.
When one store ends up with more than nine boxes, your shipping department (in my case my husband) starts to complain about having to dig through all nine boxes to find the item we just sold. Hmm…now what?
Current plan! Go through and put a code and a number on each box. The first AntiquiHut Box can be AH1. Now go through each AntquiHut listing and put the code for the box the item is in on the item listing. That way when the item sells I should be able to tell the shipping department to look in box AH1.
This is what we are currently trying. I’ll let you know how it goes.
By the way, welcome to my blog. I’m hoping to share a little more of how this antiques/toys business works for me..and my family. Enjoy my mistakes, and hey, maybe we can all come up with better ways.
All the Best,
- Returning Heirlooms to Heirs
- The Joy of the hunt…
- Five Checkpoints to Save the Curious Antique Dealer/Collector from Buying Interesting Junk!
- Hidden Treasure?
- The Question is: “How do you know what it is?”
- Things that, as an antique dealer, I loathe and love.
- Why in the world would I start a small business NOW?
- Why we deal in antiques…
- Inventory Hades