Do You Want To Sell That Antique, or What?

As well as appraising antiques and collectibles I used to operate an antique store in downtown historic Union Bay. I think I had the privilege of operating the smallest antique store on the Island.

In general, antique dealers acquire their stock on a piece by piece basis. We don’t have the luxury of catalogues from which to place orders and there is no warehouse for us to buy in bulk quantities. Virtually all of our stock is acquired on a one-off, person-to-person basis.

The basic principal of stock acquisition for antique dealers is that people bring things to sell to us and if we are interested we make an offer to buy. Theoretically a simple procedure, however, as a seller you must be aware that just like any other business big or small we have the usual overheads such as rent, storage, wages, taxes, utilities and so on.

People often have a fear that the antique dealer will try to “rip them off” when it comes to selling or buying. Well, quite simply, ripping someone off is just not in our best-interests.

Most dealers enter the business because of a deep passion and love of antiques. We love to see and hold lovely things from times gone by. We want to know that the people who sell to us and buy from us are happy and satisfied.

If we wanted to simply make a quick buck or two there are better career choices.

Yes, whether we are antique dealers or just conventional business people we want and need to make a profit, to do otherwise would be foolish, but let’s take a moment to consider the other side of the coin as it were.

Taking the Antiques Roadshow as an example, we have all seen where the gleeful look of the owner of an item that was bought from a garage sale for just a dollar is told how smart they are because their purchase is actually worth several thousand.

But how many times have any of us heard of that person going back to the garage sale owner to give them a share in the windfall? I’ll also wager that you have never heard of a vendor going back to a dealer and saying, “You paid me far too much for that item, here, have some of the money back.”

Unlike the more conventional retail businesses and the big box stores, we cannot simply return items to the supplier if they don’t sell. Also, unlike the bigger businesses who are given anything from 30-90 days credit, you are expecting an immediate payment.

As dealers we are taking all of the risk by paying up-front in the hope that we can sell the item within a reasonable time frame. Sometimes we are fortunate and are able to resell within a few days, but there has been many a time that I have had a piece in the store for several years before a buyer came along. Such are the times where we have taken all of the risk with no reward.

Many of you may have sold things to a dealer in the past, some of you may be considering doing so in the future, so I thought I would give you a few tips and also let you in on what we see and hear from our side of the bargaining table. Here then are some perennial phrases that I and many other dealers hear from potential clients.

A client comes in with a bag or a box of stuff wrapped in several layers of the MidWeek newspaper and after unwrapping their treasures the internal alarm bells of fear and caution go off when they say, “Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what it is worth! Make me an offer.”

This phrase is just so frustrating for me, I know from experience that whatever my response is, it will invariably be wrong.

If I offer say $50 I will be told, “Oh no it’s worth far more than that!” Alternatively, if I offer $500 for the same thing the reply will be, “If it’s worth that to you then it must be worth far more!”

For goodness sake, if you are a seller, please do some basic research, delve deep into your soul and have at least some kind of idea about how much you want for your goods.

Look at it this way, when any of us go into a store to buy a loaf of bread the store owners don’t say make me an offer, they let us know precisely how much the loaf will cost. If we can afford it, we buy, if not we pass. Simple really.

Another often-heard phrase is, “I saw one on the Antique Roadshow and it was worth 10 times more than your offer!” Well, chances are, that you either have a poor memory or that the item you saw was vastly different.

Many times people have pointed to an item in the store and said something like, “I have one exactly the same at home except it is slightly smaller, a different colour and it doesn’t work properly.” In translation this means that what you have is not exactly the same, in fact it is completely different and bears absolutely no resemblance to what you are looking at.

Similarly, when clients are considering a purchase there is the ever-popular, “I saw one on eBay for less than that,” which leaves us wondering why you didn’t buy the one on eBay in the first place?

A variation is, “They are cheaper in Victoria.” To which I wonder why you don’t go to Victoria.

If you consider the time, trouble, gas and other factors involved, would the item in Victoria really turn out to be cheaper than the one that is right in front of you and immediately available? I doubt it.

Saving the best phrase until last is the ever frequent and frustrating, “I don’t want to sell it if it’s not worth much.” Now this always befuddles me, why on earth would anyone want to keep something that is not worth anything?