Claudia Myers column: How much is it worth — and what is it, anyway?
(It's) important when buying things to sell that you recognize an item as being “something.” You don’t have to know what, as long as you know it is not “nothing.”
Pricing items for my antique booth and tagging them for sale is my very least-favorite thing to do. Finding out all about that item and what it’s worth is one of my very favorite things to do.
You know. You’ve all had garage sales where, unless you put similar items in a box and mark it “Take it all — $2.00,” you wind up putting those little sticky circles on baby socks and pickle forks and a garage full of stuff you’re hoping will disappear by the end of the day.
In the 1970s, I used to do a yearly garage sale with two friends, and we would take bets on what was going to sell and what wasn’t. The plastic flowers were always the first thing out the door. Plastic, not silk. The valuations and identifications for the sale stuff was sketchy at best. One person would hold something up and another would ask, “What is it? Oh, OK. How about a dollar?”
Selling antiques and collectibles is a whole other animal. You more or less have to know what you are talking about and be able to defend your opinion. Or, have enough information to instill confidence in your buyer that they are at least getting something close to what they think they are getting. And you have to get that description, the inventory number, dealer ID and price on a little bitty tag that won’t be bigger than the item itself. And don’t forget to mention if something is wrong with it, because it will come back to bite you if you don’t.
The customer likes to pick it up, check it for damage, try it on, try it out, measure it, see if it fits, and see if their companion/husband/wife/other approves of this purchase. Usually, that person provides the dissenting voice or the comic relief. And they always say: “But, where are you going to put it?” About 20 years ago, I learned to say: “If I want it badly enough, I’ll find a place when I get it home.” There’s also: “If you like it, take it home. It will settle in.”
As I said before, it’s important when buying things to sell that you recognize an item as being “something.” You don’t have to know what, as long as you know it is not “nothing.” Unless you are an “off-the-top-of-your-head” expert on everything, you take it home and start researching.
I have lots of books on many subjects of collectibles: old advertising tins, vintage celluloid jewelry, beaded purses, Scandinavian glassware, art pottery — you name it. But, the thing that has happened is, in one word: eBay.
Values have plummeted from the book prices because, if you want Weller Art Pottery, there are 386 pieces of it online at any given time. No longer hard to find (or HTF, in the antique vernacular). If you are looking for a value on one of the online auction or selling sites, you can’t look at the “asking” prices. Those are the owner’s “pie-in-the-sky this is how much I would like to get” price.
On eBay, in the right-hand corner, is a place to find similar items that have sold, and for how much. Just click on “advance” and reality comes up. You were so sure this glass rabbit was Scandinavian Iittala, hand-blown, or possibly Lalique, worth maybe $65-$100, so you look him up online. Nope!
Imports, made in China, $14.95 new. You just paid $15 at a thrift store, and there are eight of them selling for as low as $4 plus shipping on eBay. Whoops! So much for knowing it’s “something.” Never trust rabbits.
There are many theories about how to sell antiques. Some dealers go for the messy, “chuck it from the doorway and see where it lands” theory, hoping customers will think there must be a treasure the dealer has overlooked in all that mess. Others are neat, tidy, well-dusted and arranged by categories, thinking the busy customer will not take the time to rummage around, searching for that thing they always look for.
Other dealers sprinkle similar objects, maybe vintage flashlights, around their booth, hoping the customer will think they are one-of-a-kind. I have a large booth filled with Persian rugs, but at one time, I had a small booth filled with Persian rugs, and to relieve the crowdedness, I laid some of them on the floor. I noticed that people were avoiding my booth, walking right past, even though there were carved boxes, jewelry and other interesting things. I said to one, “C’mon in,” and he said, “Oh, no. I don’t want to step on that beautiful rug.” Huh.
One thing I have learned, however: If I go in and push stuff around and rearrange, I will have a surge in sales. As long as there’s not a Persian rug on the floor.
Some dealers mark their items high, so they can “come down” and give the buyer a deal. Others have a percentage they will give off, but only if the buyer asks. Some do a once- or twice-yearly sale and some go by “book” prices.
That whole thing gives me a headache. I just double how much I paid for it and mark it “FIRM,” period. That pays the booth rent and makes the “tagging time” go faster.
Next time: Life's little mysteries.
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.