Sunday, November 25, 2012

Collecting Mistakes. Part 1


First let me say, you should always collect what you truly enjoy and like, after all, you have to live with it every day.

Conversely, I don't think that buying what you like or love is always the best advice if you ever want to pass it on as a family heirloom or sell it some day as an investment. Let's be real here, not everyone has the same refined good taste you may or may not have. Eventually you might have to part with your six hundred assorted antique flat irons and find your family says "Thanks but I'll just take one or two" or worse you need some cash quickly. Try to get liquid with the three hundred fifty seven Beanie Babies you over paid for at the peak of the market. Be prepared to cry or rip their heads off with your teeth when you find out most of them are only good for dog toys when sold 4 for 1.00.

You hear it all the time on segments of TV morning news or collector shows, magazines etc. "Buy what you love". But what if you like manhole covers, balls of old yarn, boring clear common Mason jars, red pencils, or rail road spikes?

If the only criteria for your collection is "I WUV it"! and you aren't concerned with value, investment potential, resale, or desirability then yes, buy what you love. That's what it all about...(Sorta)

If you have the love for the item, the drive and commitment to build a quality collection, and most importantly, buy smart, you can also end up with a nice little nest egg when done properly without filling your house with hard to sell trash.

I can't tell you how many times I've received calls over the years from collectors ready to part with their accumulations. Always exciting but equally disappointing sometimes.

I went to a house in Citrus County in the mid 1990's. She lived a few blocks away from a large flea market which she attended regularly buying items. Over three decades she managed to build a collection that filled her modest home.

"I have a house full of stuff I need to get rid of" she told me over the phone.

Normally, when I enter a house it's natural for me to look at the objects for sale along with the stuff that isn't for sale. I will immediately spot the things that I'm interested in, taking mental notes and formulating offers in my head. If you're an antique dealer, you know what I'm talking about. You're initially drawn to the items you want to buy spotting the "gems" straight away.

Upon arrival at her house, I was shock at the immense volume crammed in it. Every wall had cabinets or home made shelves built on them. One wall had floor to ceiling shelves filled with nothing but reproduction cobalt blue glass with a few old pieces mixed in. There were, dolls, cracked crocks, clock parts, reproduction advertising trays, plastic toys from the 1980's, canning jars with no lids, faded prints, cheap fishing poles, lamp bases with no shades..It was sensory over load. Too much to take in at one time.

In this house packed with stuff, there was nothing, just nothing jumping out at me. The closer I looked at her stuff, the more I realized most of it was junk. A lot of it damaged. Some of it still had faded tags. ".25 cents, $2.00." Chipped glass, reproduction carnival glass from the 1970s, clocks with replaced quartz movements, common platinum rimmed plates from the 50's, partial sets of dishes, naked Barbie dolls, stacks of sheet music... Depressing and coated in dust. I just wanted to leave... It looked like the tail end of a yard sale on a Sunday with all the leftovers. Clearly the woman put a lot of time, cash and years of effort gathering this stuff. Thousands of pieces, but none of what I saw had resale value with out apologizing for it, even at flea market prices. I saw WORK! Lots of work with minimal returns for the amount of time involved cleaning and selling it.

From talking with her I found out she tried to stick with a 5 dollar maximum spending limit. It's a shame, but unless the house was already picked over by another dealer, there was little value in her "collection". She wanted to sell all of it as a lot of course.

"Make me an offer an take it all"! She said.

Being cordial I found a few things that I made an offer on hoping she would refuse. I told her the collection was too big for me to handle and referred a local guy. I really didn't want any part of it.
On the other side of that coin, I've gone into houses and even mobile homes and found collections that got my heart literally pounding in disbelief...Sometimes the contents were worth more than the homes they were kept in.

One of the best calls I've ever been on was in a double wide trailer in a low income area. The lady said she had some things "I would like"... She wasn't kidding.

The outside of her run down mobile home was a hidden partially by two very large arborvitae bushes. It needed paint and landscape work to clear the overgrown bushes I had to duck under just to get to the half covered sidewalk scattered with rusty lawn mower parts and barrels, and plastic flower pots tipped on their side.

I knocked on the door and could hear the shuffling of what sounded like slippers on a sandy linoleum floor come to a halt.

"Yes?" replied a small voice behind the thin aluminum trailer home door .

"Hi, it's Bill. You called me about some items you had for sale."

The door slowly opened and there stood a frail lady, maybe in her late seventies, pale and slightly hunched over, wearing layers of clothing in the middle of the Summer with long grey hair tied back. She squinted as if to look at my shoes, smiled and said,

"Come in"

Inside was a dingy yellow time capsule. A faded haze of dust, aged vinyl, and tobacco colored film indicative of neglected old trailers. Everything looked to be what it was originally sold with in the late 1960s including the brown wood panelling  and tan curtains with tea pot motif sagging in the window.

First thing I noticed was a, completely out of place, large mahogany drop front secretary with a shell carving on the drop front lid. Over that hung a well done Impressionist style painting of a beach scene flanked by bronze French torchieres. "Wow" I thought.

She was leading me to the front of the trailer where the "good stuff" was kept. I was so preoccupied with the incredible stuff on the walls as I followed, I almost plowed into her from behind as she shuffled along.

At the end of the hallway there was a sheet that covered a doorway. When she pulled back the dirty sheet to the side, the light from the large bay window that dominated the wall illuminated the room revealing no less than 10 assorted reverse painted and leaded glass lamps. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was like I was entering Oz...

"This can't be....Really? In HERE?" I thought to myself.

One of the lamps had a peacock reverse painted on the inside, she had the palm tree Handel lamp I recognized immediately with the correct base. I was stunned. There was silver overlay vases on footed trays, a table with 5 or 6 mesh hand bags from the 1920s. These are the calls we all dream about as dealers. Years of fresh, untouched merchandise, hidden away by in a run down home for sale by the original owner or family. I was keeping cool with my "Meh... yeah this stuff is ok I guess...I've seen better though" attitude.

While on the inside I was really thinking "HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! YESSSSS!!" I wanted to run out in the parking lot and do back flips. The more I looked the more excited I got. Period furniture, high end art glass, Steuben, Loetz, Belleek tea service, sterling silver trinkets, Handel lamps, Tiffany silver, jewelry and paintings. Angled in the corner, was the very best French vitrine (scenic painted curio cabinet) I've ever seen. Big wide, bombe, ormolu mounts, FILLED with fairy lamps, miniature bronzes, carved ivory, painted plaques and jewelry, big allegorical scenic shell cameos in fitted cases, the kind of quality I've only seen in magazines and auction catalogs at the time. The lamps were all on knock out period furniture or French painted tables.

I realized I wasn't saying very much to her in my state of awe as she sat there, grinning at me, in the only chair that wasn't covered with stuff. I looked at the table next her "Mahogany?" I blurted out as I inspected it closer.

"That's a Spider leg table" she said pointing at it with a thin, white, bent finger.

"What kind of price are you looking for on that? I asked.

"Six fifty" She immediately replied.

I like it when a seller knows exactly what they want for their stuff.  Negotiating a price is not as romantic and fun as these reality shows make it seem. It's a daunting and sometimes stressful task. A part of the business that's expected though not always necessary.  You can easily insult someone if you cut the price too low on their objects of affection. If I did counter offer it was usually followed with an explanation.

The tabled was nice, but the most I've ever seen them priced was around 300.

"How about the palm tree lamp?"

"$2500" she said.

"What did you want for the curio cabinet?" I inquired

"I'll take five thousand"

...Five grand.."ugh" That's when a sinking feeling began in me. The prices were spot on retail and some much more. The lady was sharp and she knew what she was doing. I began to think she had no real intention of letting anything go at prices where I could make something on them. These were show and shop prices so now I was more interested in the story behind the glory. How she acquired all this stuff and why she hadn't sold it off to raise her standards of living just a little.

It was already apparent the women collected the best she could afford and had an eye for quality. Turns out the meat of the collection was inherited. Her mother at one time bought and sold antiques. That's the best way to learn. See it. Live with it. She followed in her mother's foot steps and continued adding to it over the years. She even asked ME if I had items to sell. I also found out I wasn't the only dealer that had been there. There were many over the course of years and they left with little to nothing.

In the end, I did manage to buy a few small pieces. One was the Belleek Nautilus shell on coral, a Tiffany sterling punch ladle, a large Imari bowl on a stand and other choice perfume bottles. I kept in contact with her for many years buying a piece here and there. She didn’t like selling it, but loved to show it off.

If it's not yet obvious to you what I am getting at between the two calls, that same desire and passion you feel about your collecting should be just as exciting to the dealers and buyers you're showing it to when you go to sell it. Excitement. Passion. Interest. They should want to own it and not feel like they are taking on a ton of work to show a decent profit. There are many buyers for this level of quality. At the risk of getting too lengthy here, I'll go over some ways to build a good collection in a part 2 soon to follow.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Weekly Buy Pass $20.00


Each week I will feature a quick list of items in a fixed price range to buy or pass on. This is strictly a general guide that I use to make a prompt decision while I'm out buying. It's not set in stone... it is something that works for me. Some of you may buy selected items that I marked as "PASS". If you have a shop to stock and don't mind holding merchandise for a long time, you could buy the "PASS" items to keep shelves full or you may have a client list that is searching for a specific pattern or piece to add to their collection. This list is for a quick turn around. To buy profitable pieces for a short term sales or a "flip".

Everyone has 20 bucks. Let's go spend it...or not.

More CAMERAS! Twenty dollars is a hard number to work with. Generally vintage cameras are worth less than twenty or waaaaay more. Not much grey area. Though there's big profits on the under priced mistakes being sold. Here's a few to look for. 
Nikon F2 Photomic 35mm Professional

A true 1970s classic. Nikon produced a broad range of high quality 35mm SLR cameras. 20 bucks is super cheap for this model in clean condition. This is one that will still bring $150+ depending on condition. Always check the lens for spots and the shutter speed for smooth and accurate operation. The best way to do this is set it on 1 second. Click the shutter and listen to the action. The sound it makes should take exactly one second. No more, no less. Some older cameras will get stuck for 1 1/2 to 2 or even 3 seconds in that mode. This will affect value. Also don't overlook wear to high spots. These were popular field cameras for the professional and many of them will show bag wear and rubs. Original lens caps and cleaning kits are good signs to see in the bag. The owner cared for it.
                                          Pentax K-1000 w/ after market lens

Great starter camera. It came with all the basic features necessary that other entry level 35 mm SLR's of the day had to produce professional looking images in the right hands. However, if the lens is replaced with a cheaper version of the original 50 mm, has excessive wear and shows its age, this drops the value significantly. They can be bought on Ebay from $6.00 to $30. in this condition. Put your money into something else.
                                                  Graflex Press Cameras

Worth $100-$250, (model specific) in good clean condition $500+ if minty with all the books, accessories, plates and original case. Why is it in with the "$20 Buy" items you ask? If they were left in grandpa's estate to the kids, sometimes they don't even know what it is or it just looks like an old Polaroid to them when closed. If they don't know how to open it, often times it's donated or dumped at estate sales. I found 2 of these cameras within 4 months of each other both closed and under 20 bucks. One looked like an attempt was made to open it with a screw driver, the other was in a box of tools. The inside is usually well preserved. The bellows should be free from mold rips and tears and the track should slide and lock smoothly. Even if you don't use this camera, it looks cool open and displayed in a library or office.
                                              Kodak 1920s-30s Folding

Eastman Kodak vintage folding cameras. Although they look neat and add an air of nostalgia and history to a room, no one uses these pieces of crap. You can't find film for them, and if you did, they take terrible grainy images and are really only good for decoration. Okay..A little harsh on our little Kodak folding camera, but for some reason, new dealers, and some uniformed shops regularly over price these common cameras. If it's mint condition, you can pay 5 bucks...and sell it for 6. or 10. It' WON'T bring $125. as I have seen these priced sometimes. It just won't. With that said, there are some harder to find accordion cameras with RED bellows that sell for $40-$200. Buy those. 
                                          Vintage Wood Cameras 1880- 1910

Wood Studio cameras by Kodak and other makers are highly collectible even if they are slightly battered. They don't necessarily need to be complete to fetch strong prices due to the cross over appeal to decorators for large format cameras with period wood tripods. Unlikely the large plate models to be found in the twenty dollar range but sometimes smaller versions turn up found dirty, unappreciated and neglected in a box at yard sales.
                                                 Brownie Box Cameras

                      No...Just say no...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Collectible Cameras 1930s-80s


This is a broad subject and impossible to cover in a few paragraphs. I'm not talking about digital cameras, but instead the common SLR (Single Lens Reflex) 35MM cameras made between 1920-1985. Though most people consider these cameras obsolete, some are still very collectible and can command thousands of dollars.

Most of what you'll come across at sales are the 1970s -1980s cameras like Canon, Pentax, Minolta, and Olympus. Great names in their day but as a rule, most of the common entry level bodies with 50MM lenses sell for under $50. on the secondary market. 

For example, the Pentax K-1000 35MM in good clean working order can be bought online between 20.00 and 50.00 I see them over priced in shops, with some extra accessories, for 150.00 and more. They are also still sitting there collecting dust when I go back 2 months later. The Minolta, Canon, and Pentax cameras that are functioning properly with clear lenses should be bought for resale 10 bucks or less...Really. Some people think a lot of these cameras and would be insulted by an offer of ten bucks but the reality is, they just don't bring much anymore.

Below are a few examples of $10 to $50. (Camera, case and lens only)

Try not to pay more than $5 or $10 for any of these in clean working condition. If they have ANY issues, pass on them unless they come with a bag full of lenses and filters. Market not strong on these.

 Pentax K 1000 $10 $50 .
                                                   Yashica FX-2 $10-$50
                                                 Minolta SR t 101 $20 $50
                        Olympus OM-10 this one sold for $6.99 with free shipping

  Canon AE-1 $5-$30

Now for the opposite end of the spectrum.  Say "BIG cheese!"

Most of the better name in photographic equipment came out of Germany. The important name not to be confused or compared with the cameras above is Leica. Some of the rare models still bring 10,000 to 18,000 in minty condition. There are even confirmed sales over 20,000 for the Leica 1 A Anastigmat f3 of which there are only 150 in existence.

The main two rules that apply here are:

1. Like new to excellent condition on common cameras.

2. Rare cameras should be acquired regardless of condition though poor and damaged will factor into the pricing. Rare Leica models have seen their values increase disproportionately to common ones.

Things to look for: That little hockey stick shaped piece of metal on the left side of the lens when you're facing the camera. If you're lucky enough to find one of these at a garage sale and the owner recites the story of how much grandpa admired it because his dad gave it to him when he was a kid...Home run! "That's been in my family since the 1930's"

The early cameras had a simple rectangular streamline bodies with 50mm lenses. If you do pick up one of these rare models, don't rush to dump it on Ebay. Do your research. Serial numbers and lenses make a world of difference in the price. They are in such demand there are copies of rare cameras out there. Contact a professional and get at least two opinions. Dealers will show immediate interest and may offer a high price. Don't be tempted by the first offer. It's amazing what collectors will sometimes offer beyond book value.

Below are a few examples of Leica:

                                                          Leica 111B  $900.

                                    Leitz 3.5mm F/3.5 Summaron M Leica $350.

                              Leica 1 A Elmar Fu 50MM 1926-30 $1500 - $4500

                                    Leica 1 (B) Compur with Elmar $3000-$7000
Leica 111g 1956-60 $800-$2200 Leica
As stated condition is everything. Collectors and dealers often first ask if the lenses have mold in them. This is a problem with all older cameras if stored in area of extreme temperature swings. Look for spots on the inside on the lens when back lit. If sandwiched between the lens, it will have to be professionally corrected.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weekly Buy Pass $5.00


Each week I will feature a quick list of items in a fixed price range to buy or pass on. This is strictly a general guide that I use to make a prompt decision while I'm out buying. It's not set in stone... it is something that works for me. Some of you may buy selected items that I marked as "PASS". If you have a shop to stock and don't mind holding merchandise for a long time, you could buy the "PASS" items to keep shelves full or you may have a client list that is searching for a specific pattern or piece to add to their collection. This list is for a quick turn around. To buy profitable pieces for a short term sales or a "flip".

Five bucks? Get over here, let's go!

Waterford Cut Glass Stems (singles)

Impressive on any table when set with fine china. This elegant crystal is highly collectible and is still being made today. There are a lot of good names in cut glass and crystal but I found Waterford to be the easiest to resell. There are lots of collectors for it. They make high quality hand cut crystal in lots of patterns and forms including lighting. It's unlikely you'll find Waterford glassware for 5 bucks IF the owner knows what they have. The green and gold foil or paper label is usually missing. With that said, I still find it all the time in thrift stores because the mark is hard to read or even find sometimes. Bowls, and single stems can be bought between 2-5 bucks. The common ship's decanter can be found unidentified for 20 bucks. They bring 60 to 75 on EBay. Stems, depending on pattern, 10-60 each. I have found several lamps in thrift shops that were over looked as just an old lamp. Look for the acid etched mark on the bottom and sides. They are often hard to find. Damaged stems are worthless if cracked or deep chips. Tiny rim nicks can be polished out if bought cheaply enough. Like sterling flatware and china, Waterford is collected by pattern. Identify the pattern online or in books before you sell it. If the bottom vases are stained a milky color have lime or water stains in them, stay away. It is next to impossible to remove and devalues the piece by 80 percent.

Lenox Etched Stem

Here's a case of a known brand that produces quality porcelain and crystal, but the desirability is not the same as Waterford. Lenox makes a fine product and their vintage porcelain is very collectible, but for me, I found the crystal very hard to sell. It's just not held to the same attention to detail and high standards as Waterford. Pass on it

Murano Art Glass Birds

Hand made art glass from the island of Murano Italy. Another item you probably won't find too many times for 5 bucks. Even people who don't collect Murano glass can appreciate the beauty in these hand made colorful pieces. They are out there though. I still find them at sales and on the shelves at thrift stores for 5 to 8 dollars. The reason is the Chinese copies that have flooded the market for the past 10 years. Some people can't tell the difference and price Murano as Chinese import. The Murano glass had paper labels that often washed off or were removed. Look for quality. Murano glass has richer deeper more vibrant colors. True reds and deep blues, crystal clear glass with copper or gold fleck finished with a neatly hand polished base.
Chinese Import Art Glass

Some of it is pretty good and could fool you into believing it's Murano, but most of it is cheap tasteless rip offs that contain high lead content. Wash your hands after handling and never use a art glass birds to eat with.. (jus sayin). These are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. Muted lackluster and sometimes murky colors. Machine ground bottoms, tool marks on beaks and tails. In general out of proportion and clunky. Avoid this junk. It's sent over by the boat load daily and can be bought at any Ross, Wal-Mart, or flea market.

Pattern Glass

Antique pattern glass is somewhat collectible. It was made in thousands of patterns. Snail, Alaska, Arched Fleur-De-Lis Basket weave. Too many patterns to name. It has crisp molding and some are whimsical Stags and Butterflies. I started out learning Depression glass and Pattern glass names and patterns. What I found was no matter what the book said regarding value of pattern glass, I was lucky to get 30 percent of the book price. I don't know where they came up with the prices but it was consistently high. So I went through the guides and focused on the high value pieces. Even then there wasn't much of a market for it. But it did eventually sell. Why am I telling you this bad news in the "Buy" section you ask? Abundance. I still see it on shelves mislabeled. It's 100 years old and it's marked as decorative plate or pitcher. It's a worthy pursuit to take some time and learn the high value pieces. Look for tureens, compotes, pitchers and covered syrups. Those are still sought after. Condition is everything. Chips and cracks should be avoided. Same thing with common pieces like salad and dinner plates that have lots of wear.

Pressed Glass

Cut glass wannabe. Large punch bowls with all the cups are the only thing I consider in pressed. It was never easy to sell. It's boring utilitarian glassware trying to look like something it's not. Buy it only if you're going to use it. Hard to move.