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.