Thursday, December 27, 2012

December's Embers


Everything runs in streaks in this business. What was once hot is now lukewarm. The end of the year review reveals the bad buys and what should I spend less on or completely avoid in the future. When you're flipping for a quick profit, price generally doesn't matter as much. Long term investing though is a different story.

I held on to Victorian furniture for years. I bought it at fair prices when the market was hot. I took it to shows and turned down great offers on some of it thinking the prices would continue to steadily rise. In fact, just the opposite happened. Over the past 12 years, the prices of average to better quality pieces have steadily declined. This isn't including the Blue Chip Victorian like Belter, Meeks, Herter Brothers or the best Horner . Even though they have dropped in price, those names seem to hold steady for the top tier pieces. Some of those offers I turned down I would now gladly take half of what I was originally presented.

Looking back, I should have sold off more of the better pieces 10 years ago when prices were better. Sometimes holding everything and waiting for the prices to rise is just wishful thinking. It might take decades. A better way of collecting furniture would have been diversification. Decorating in a eclectic style mixing high quality 50's-60's and 70's designer pieces with Victorian and Mission furniture would be a nice balance when selling. Mid Century Modern has only increased and still strong.
So now it's time for a fire sale on the Victorian pieces I have left. I'm letting them go. I might get burned on one or two single pieces, but sold as a lot, I should break even or show a small profit. If I had not waited so long to sell, I could have easily doubled the numbers I will probably get. We'll see.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays

                                                                   Merry Christmas
                                                       "Get me down. This is stupid"

Thursday, December 20, 2012



Ivory. It's been used centuries for carvings, objects of art, jewelry, inlay on furniture, miniature paintings, boxes, the list is long. By definition, "The teeth and tusks of animals" or dentine. I'm specifically referring to elephant and walrus tusk. Whales tooth for Scrimshaw is usually just call "Ivory whale's tooth". (go figure)

This is for those who can't tell the difference between ivory, bone, and plastic. It's great when you're buying from someone who can't identify ivory, unless it's plastic priced like ivory. I still see it all the time "Real ivory carving" that is actually made from bone.

Elephant Ivory.

Can grow up to 8 feet long. Asian and African variety sometimes sold in tusk form all the way down to small rosette motif earrings. This is the easiest to spot due to the distinct cross hatching that is nearly impossible to reproduce. The overall appearance of antique ivory should have a warm caramel color over a light creamy yellow to yellow white. Cool to the touch and dense. Heavy in hand. The cross hatching diamond pattern should be visible on any carved piece. African ivory has darker lines. Asian ivory has the same pattern with lighter colored almost beige off white lines. The obvious subject matter, dragons, immortals, Netsukes, etc. would be an indication of origin.

                                            Netsuke. (Pronounced "Net-skee")

Chinese and Japanese ivories are probably the most copied from very convincing resins and plastics. These will have no lines, have a greasy feel to them, the decoration is dark and sometimes they will even have mold lines. The color is even with no variation, often grey-beige.

I don't recommend doing this but I know some people just won't be able to sleep at night if they don't know what they own. So if you're still not sure if the piece is ivory or plastic, there is a test you can use on a inconspicuous area of the piece. If it's not a collectible piece of jewelry, CAREFULLY heat the tip of a needle and touch the piece where it's not visible. It will sink into plastic. It will not do anything if it's ivory.
19th Century ivory Okimono

Note: I watched a dealer push a pin completely through the face from the back of a reproduction plastic mask giving it three nostrils. Do at your own risk. It will ruin plastic.

The tusk of a walrus are often found carved as mortals, Nesukes, Okimono, Chinese figures etc. Very popular in the late 19th century. Surface of antique walrus ivory has a warm caramel color a little richer and slightly deeper than elephant's ivory with swirls and faint irregular lines unlike those of the elephants. If polished down it will be lighter cream shades. Cool to the touch and very dense and smooth.

Easy to spot. Very porous, open grain, light white color. Light in weight Small black specks are usually visible to the naked eye. There is a lot of quickly and often crudely carved figures and jewelry sometimes sold as "Real ivory" by uniformed dealers. Buy with caution. Generally ivory will be more collectible but there are high quality beautiful contemporary works that can be sold legally.




This is a double edged sword. I have found real ivory necklaces in with junk jewelry. Lots of jewelry is out there that looks like ivory made from, celluloid, resin or plastic. Plastic beads will be even in color, light in weight, the cheap variety will even have mold lines. Celluloid made an attempt on some pieces to include the lines that ivory has but it is symmetrical even and thin. Dresser sets from the 20's used Celluloid that resembles ivory. Collectible in it's own right yet not convincing as ivory.
                                              Celluloid dresser set 1920s -30's
I don't buy or trade in new ivory. I will buy pre ban antique ivory and sell it through good aution houses. Due to restrictions, be aware that sites like Ebay don't allow the sale of some ivory though there is always ivory for sale on ebay. I don't know how they determine what is deemed acceptable, but I have had two pieces removed that were clearly antique. I have also seen clever "Pachyderm" wording to get pieces under the radar. I'm not suggesting it.. jus sayin...  If it is a good piece of antique ivory, it is best to sell through a quality auction house, your shop or locally and only trade in antique pieces.  The new ivory looks much better on the elephant.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cheap Can Opener

 Power failure, computer shut down mid sentence, *poof text vanished,  two lengthy blogs gone, lost files, electric can opener broke, bought cheap replacement at dollar store, brand new dollar can opener makes wonderful holes but doesn't open anything. Should be called a  can holer... Blogs coming soon.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Collecting Mistakes Part 2


So you like vintage match books or American Art Pottery. Maybe your grandmother left you a Maxfield Parrish print or a French doll and decided you wanted to add to the few pieces to the ones you already have. You've developed an interest in some item and now you want to collect it.

Good! The first thing you should do as a new collector is get informed. Know what you're gathering and why. It's important to know what makes a piece valuable and collectible. There are books on nearly every collectible imaginable. A wealth of resources exist and many of them are free. Libraries, shows, collector groups, shops, dealers. There's no excuse to be uninformed. If you're reading this post, you have access to the singles greatest resource available to you, the internet. Google and EBay will answer 98 percent of your collecting questions. Get familiar with both.

Mistake : No Direction

The first mistake many new collectors tend to make is to buy anything that fits the criteria with no plan or direction. The initial excitement of finding a piece in a shop compels them to make a rash decisions. Emotionally based impulse purchases "Ohh!! I have one of those!"

Let's take Hummels for example. I've seen large collections of these. There are millions in existence and continued to be made to this day. Figurines, plates, postcards, plaques, Christmas collection, Limited Editions, ornaments, Collector clubs. It's a mind blowing list. A new collector could end up with a large variety of these things including common and even repaired pieces that will likely never show a return on their investment. When the shelves are full of dozens even hundreds of figurines, they realize the early part of what they own consist of common easy to find and hard to resell pieces that they paid too much for.

Remedy: Focus

Specialize in a specific area. STUDY and LEARN what makes a piece more valuable than others. Know why a Crown mark Umbrella Boy Hummel with blue umbrella is much better than the Last Bee mark Umbrella Boy Hummel with the Brown umbrella. Don't buy everything that has the name of your collectible on it. Magazines, Hummel calendars, plates that rarely appreciate...yuck!

Collect the best you can afford. Resist the urge to buy low end common items. Pass on the repaired pieces. If you must have them, buy only if they are dirt cheap (10 to 15 percent of the value) Think of repaired chipped or cracked pieces as a windshield for a car. Would you buy a windshield for your car if it had a crack in it? Even at 80 percent off? There are some exceptions to the rule with damages. Some rare high end glass, some Flow Blue and Majolica and scarce high end pottery. Pieces that are used for parts. There are always buyers who don't mind some damage if the price is right. Think cheap. I'm talking about common mass produced items. Roseville, McCoy, Clocks, wristwatches, prints etc. Build a quality collection from the start and it will only appreciate and be easier to sell in the future.

Mistake: Keeping Everything

It is easy to love what you collect, but don't let it overwhelm you with clutter. Keeping doubles, common items, worthless beyond repair pieces, and dust catching entry level stuff for marginal sentimental reasons is not the best way to build a collection. It takes the room that a quality piece could fill and it ties up your cash. Volume is good thing if it is quality.

Remedy: Cull

When I was 15, I took a course in black and white photography. I was impressed with one of the instructors ability to consistently produce perfect images. They were beautiful. His office walls were filled with incredible pictures, many with honorable mentions or awards from shows. His portfolio was page after page of perfection and professional quality photographs. He was very good. I asked him how long it took him to learn to do this.

"How many years did it take you to stop shooting bad pictures?"

"I still do it all the time" He quickly answered.

"These are all great though" I said.

He said something that stuck with me to this day.

"Never show average or bad pictures to anyone. EVER. Discard them immediately. Don't even keep them around. Throw them away. If all you keep are very best, your client will think that is all you can produce. The best."

Common sense right? As profoundly simple as that sounds, few people actually follow through with it. Fortunes and great names have been built on that very premise. Tiffany, Rolls Royce, Rolex, etc. you won't find a $99. diamond ring at Tiffany. You expect the best and that is all you will see there.

It can be applied in many areas of your life. Including your collection. Learn to cull. Don't fall in love with every piece of crap out there, and yes, there is a lot of crap to  buy. Reject the inferior quality pieces and upgrade when you can. Sell off and trade up. You don't have to keep all of it JUST because it says "Roseville or Rookwood or Seth Thomas or Pez" on it, or what ever you may be collecting. Ford made the GT40 but they also made the Pinto. You get the idea. There's a finite amount of space for your collection. Fill it with quality even it it takes years to trade up. Keep only the best. Even if you're gathering common items, save the very best example of it. Crisp detail, rich or correct color, no damage. No apologies.

Finally, the main thing to remember is enjoy collecting. For some the hunt is the most rewarding part. That is what it is really all about if monetary return is not your priority. Buy smart, and buy what you like. Have FUN doing it. If you can do both, even better.