Friday, August 31, 2012

The Time To Buy An Antique Is When You See It

            "The time to buy an antique is when you see it"


One of the first dealers I met in this business was Otis. A man who had done junking and antiquing most of his life. In his late 50's, out spoken, likable, flamboyant, street smart and sometimes abrasive, Otis didn't have a problem speaking his mind to others.

During an antique market in Atlanta, a customer in his booth couldn’t make his mind up on an item Otis had for sale.

"I'll have to think about it." the man said and put the piece back on the table.

"The time to buy an antique is when you see it!" Otis stated matter -of- factly with back turned to the man and one finger pointing his in the air.

Seems pretty obvious doesn't it? I can't tell you how many times I have kicked myself for not following this very basic premise when I first started. A simple piece of advice that can make an average buyer into a great buyer. 

I have gone shopping at markets, found nice objects on tables, inspected them, liked them, yet agonized with myself over 10 or 20 or 100 bucks only to put it back on the table and walk around stewing over it because it was out of my comfort zone. In fear of losing money, I would become a genius at coming up with excuses and reasons not to buy it. "Eh, it's too close to what it's worth, or I'm not sure if it will make a profit, or it's more than I usually spend, or it might be a reproduction, or I THINK it's good but I'm not sure HOW good." I would walk away, sometimes change my mind within minutes. Run back to get it only to find the piece had just sold. Sometimes another dealer would be waiting for me just to put it down and snatch it up right as soon as I put it back down.

It's a sinking feeling. A combination of "Oh that was a mistake and dammit! I knew I should have bought it!" Mad at myself for the rest of the day.

One of those mistakes was a colorful green and yellow polka dot bracelet with matching earrings. It was in a dealer's booth who sold a lot of jewelry so of course I made the assumption the she had to know what the item was worth.

It was 50 bucks. When I picked it up she said,

"I've already been offered 40 and I'm not taking any less than fifty."

My first thought was, "It's fake" It was very clean and I know these bracelets sell in the hundreds for some of them and this one was a set and she already turned down an offer. What self respecting jewelry dealer would sell these for such a low price?

The thought of someone else turning it down and the possibility of it being a fake, I decided to pass on it.

It didn't take long for word to get out.

"Hey did you hear what Tony just bought? He picked up a rare Bakelite set on aisle 1"

I saw Tony about 20 minutes later in a good mood, puffing on a cigarette. I didn't even ask. I tried to avoid eye contact. I could hear his feet crunching in the gravel towards me.

"C'mere, c'mere!" Grabbing my arm as I passed pulling me to the side.

"Look at this shit! Fifty bucks!! heh heh These are big bucks" Showing me the very set I had in my hand less than an hour earlier. Dealers love to brag about their finds. It makes them feel immortal I guess. I don't blame him. It's a rush when you score a hit like that. I didn't ask what the value was in fear of puking on his very best flea market Dale Earnhardt tee shirt with mustard stains on it. Though I did find out a few weeks later it sold for 3300 dollars to a collector in Texas. Though the market has come down in the last 12 years, these rare sets still command over 2000. today.

There is an upside to these mistakes. You never forget them. It made me study. Study HARD! I read, learned, asked questions and paid attention to everything Bakelite for the next 2 months. It forced me to gain knowledge in an area that I wasn't very strong in. I learned what was rare, what was most likely to be a fake, how to test it, what it smelled like, what carving to look for, forms shapes and colors to look for. I could buy them very cheap at estate sales and cherry pick from dealers. Learning from your mistakes is costly only if you continue repeating the same mistakes. Don't be afraid to gamble sometimes. It works both ways. Buy it when you see it. Most of the time you can't go back.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

MidWeek Tip


                                               "Carry Lots of One Dollar Bills"


When shopping at a flea market, it's about getting there early and moving quickly from booth to booth. I hate to use clich├ęs,

but the early bird truly DOES get the worm. You would be surprised how many dealers show up unprepared with no change or bags. Waiting around for them to scrape up change for a 20.00 from their neighbor or look in the ashtray of their van cost you precious shopping time. Bring your own bag, lots of ones, pay them and move! You never know what you might be missing just a few yards away

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Big Bang

I buy antiques and collectables a number of different ways from flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales, estates sales, house calls and auctions. They are all good but the one I like the most is house calls. There is no competition and they ususally have everything out on a table or in a cabinet and call me because they are ready to sell their stuff. The negotiating is casual and pressure free.

One of my favorite places to buy is a gated retirement community 55 and older with tight deeds restrictions that is not too far from where I live.

It's a well kept and maintained neighborhood with nice homes and neatly cropped lawns and landscaping. Most of the residents take the same amount of pride in their interiors and the stuff they own. It's clean and generally good quality. I always get excited when I get a call from this place.

On one particular call, the woman said she had some art work to sell and would like me to come take a look at it. I set up an appointment for the following day.
Upon arrival, lady in her mid sixties answered the door and introduced herself as Karen. She invited me in and I followed her to the living room where the art was hung.

As an antique dealer, it is only natural to take a glance at everything else in the house on the way. The paintings were done by a relative of hers in the 1940's.Beach and landscape scenes that weren't really well done but the frames were beautiful. If they were cheap enough, I would buy them just for the frames.

On the wall next to one of the paintings was a vertical curio cabinet completely filled with LLadros, Dresden figures with lace dresses and Royal Doulton figures all nicely displayed on 5 glass shelves including the bottom. I've sold enough of these figures over the years to know an average price.
The figures ranged in value between 75 to 200 a piece some may bring up to 400 or more depending on the mark. Focusing my attention back on the paintings.

"How much do you want for the 3 paintings?" I asked.

"Well, I'd like to get twenty five for the two small ones and forty for the big one"

That was more than I wanted to spend but thought I would make her an offer on some of the items in the case and try to make a package deal if she was interested in selling them.
I gestured toward the curio cabinet,

"Are you selling anything in the case?"

 "Oh no. I've had those for years and some of them were gifts." she replied.

 I've heard this line before and sometimes when you throw an offer at them sentiment goes right out the window for the cash.

I quickly counted in my head the amount figures including two Bradford Exchange collectable plates that weren't very valuable there was 41 pieces in the case. Thinking 50 a piece and 90 for the paintings was 2090. So I would start at 2000.

"Would you sell the contents of the case and the paintings for two thousand cash?" Karen paused a few seconds for thought.
A long pause is usually a good indication of a sale because they are considering it.

 "No those are LLadros. Do you know what they are?"

 "Here sit down." She said. There was a chair directly to the left of curio. I sat down and she gently tugged on the case door slightly rattling the figures on the shelves. She slowly swung the door open
reaching in to remove a Royal Doulton figure.

 "This is a Royal Doulton" she said proudly.

She held it in front of me revealing the bottom then carefully placed it back in the cabinet. Then she pulled out a LLadro figurine of a girl.

"These are LLadros. They are from Spain. I bought this in a gift shop in 1976"

I call this show and tell. The sellers like to give a history or little story on how or where they got the piece and I usually play along with it if I think they are going to sell something.
Items to me are a commodity to be bought and sold while Karen has understandably placed sentimental value on them. Each piece has a special meaning with a memory attched to it.
 I upped the offer.

 "I can go as high as twenty five hundred for everything if that would make a difference." I said.

 She had Dresden figures in there that have these frilly lace dresses and they tend to break and chip easily with the slightest bump. At that time I was doing 3 antique shows a month and I didn't like wrapping and moving them around.

She started to say something as she put the piece back on the top shelf then I heard a "TINK" followed by a tremendous KERRRASH!! CRASH!!
Somehow the top shelf gave way and came down in an avalanche of glass and porcelain taking out all the other shelves below shattering everything in the case spilling on the carpet.
The sound was incredible. Loud fast and surprising.

"Wow......."I thought.

It was surreal looking down at the pile of broken glass and porcelain dismembered hands, heads, fingers, legs and arms in the bottom of the case and floor that only moments before was neatly displayed in a lit cabinet.

 I was at a loss for words. "What happened?" is all I could say.

 I was just waiting for her to angrily snap "Ok, I'll TAKE your offer MISTER CHEAPO!"
Instead, she just stood there slack jawed and stunned, "I, I don't know...I just put it on the shelf and it fell"

 Now, I've heard stories of dealers shelves crashing down in a case at an antique show but I have never witnessed it first had.
I felt terrible. Tragic and unfortunate but it happened and I really didn't know what to say or do.

I started looking at some of the bigger pieces that might have minor damage but
most of them were beyond repairing. I think one figurine and one of the two plates were the only thing left intact in the entire case. Everything else needed a broom and a garbage can.

My immediate next thought was "flee the scene before Mister Karen gets home"
There was nothing I could do. . I Shoulder shrugged and half smiling suggested to her keeping the pieces and finding a good restorer.

 Out of guilt I ended up buying the paintings from her after she refused another offer to help her clean it up.

 A lot of times people will just let me look through their cases and cabinets,
and as I was backing out of her driveway, I kept thinking over to myself, "I'm so glad I didn't touch anything in the case, I'm sooooo glad I didn't do that!"


Friday, August 17, 2012

Fair Grounds Fun

I have some junk in my garage that I've been wanting to get rid of and though I've had many yard sales over the years, the thought of taking 2 dollar offers on 30 dollar items in my own yard is about the same amount of fun as getting smashed in the sack with a snow shovel. Instead of the unpleasant task of dealing with the grabby masses and their finely honed "reality-TV-show-auction-bargain-war-negotiating-skills", I decided to gather my stuff and bring it to the local flea market. The logic being bigger crowds who would bring me a dump truck load of cash, a day in the sun and a sense of adventure. ...ok not really, it's a lot of work but at least this way I'd be a little more committed to sell the stuff off and not feel like I took a load of trash out a for a joy ride and a movie.

  I arrived at the market before the management got there to open the office. After pulling in the wrong gate and parking in the field like I owned the place, I noticed I was the only dealer in the outside vendor area. In the distance across a big field I saw an SUV parked in front of the correct dealer entrance with one truck behind hers. The first lady opened the gate while the truck in the rear promptly raced around her pulling up to the only covered spot in the entire field. The manager finally pulled up between us, rolled down her window, looked at me and said,

"You're the first one here. It's first come first serve. Do you want the covered spot?"

  I glanced at the other dealer who shot out of the gate like a cat that was plunged into a full tub of ice water to get to the coveted spot as she glared back at me with bitter determination almost daring me, the newbie guy, to take the prized spot. She was known around these parts as Joanne, maybe in her early sixties, bigger than me, but she was no Kong. I figured if it came to blows, I could probably take her.

  "Sure! That would be great!" I replied

Turns out Joanne was a really nice gal. She had a sense of humor, interesting stories and We became fast friends. We were also the only two foolish enough to show up for this outdoor EZ bake oven market trying to peddle our wares in 92 degree heat so we made the best of it. She brought her own canopy chair but I insisted that she hung around my luxurious accommodations sometimes so she wouldn't burn her ass off. Somehow the bathrooms were overlooked and weren't held to the same high standards as my booth.

Joanne did warn me about the facilities and all the "Cheap dealers" that try to get discounts.

  "They ain’t got no money an they want it cheeeeeep CHEAP!" she said.

I noticed later that everything in her booth was one dollar. Seems like they would be her target market, but what do I know?.... My booth looked like it was sold by the pound or scooped from a landfill and dropped from 15 feet in the air.


In the end, I had a great time, made a new friend, a bunch of one dollar bills and a sunburn on the back of my neck that looks like I'd been beaten with a fly swatter. I took an old loaf of bread and fed the the sky scavenger Seagulls to close the day out. I understand wheat bread is better than white for them to eat but if they're not standing around in parking lots looking at each other, they are usually fighting over Cheetos, French fries and discarded burger buns so what's a slice or two Wonder Bread going to hurt?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Coming soon... Antiques and Junk

Antiques, junking, sales, tips and stories. Over 20 years in the antiques and collectibles business here to share advice on buying, selling, markets, auctions, online sales and general knowledge. Keep checking back.