How to Sell Your Antiques, Collectibles and Vintage Items

Got an overload of antiques? Inherited a houseful of vintage items? These tips can save you money, time and heartbreak.

Most antique dealers and collectors find that there comes a point when the need arises to sell a few items. There is also household downsizing or the necessity to liquidate an entire houseful of goods. It can be a confusing and, at times, an emotional situation.

Ten to 15 years ago, there were few options for moving things along: newspaper want ads, donations or garage sales. Then, eBay was in its infancy but was still a great tool to sell merchandise if you had the time.

Today, the options are pretty much endless, but it can be difficult to know which route to go and, in many instances, you need to use several venues.

Here I will share a few tips I have learned along the way and resources I have used with great success that will hopefully shed some light on what can often be a daunting task.

If you are dealing with an entire household liquidation you need to consider holding an estate sale. The nice thing about an estate sale is that you will receive a price on most items fairly close to retail. You do have to be very careful that you don’t overprice your goods because the point is to get rid of everything but make the most money possible in the process. You can hire a company to come in and run the entire sale or work with someone like me who does “estate-sale consultations.” I go into the home and assist with pricing and teach family and friends on how to run a successful estate sale.

For a large amount of items, try an estate sale. Just please remember to remove all non-sale items before you call in the consultant for appraisal.

If you have a company come in to conduct your estate sale please be sure that everything you do not want to sell is removed from the property. There is nothing more frustrating than going in to bid on conducting a sale only to return on set-up day to find all of the big-ticket items removed from the property. This is a contract breaker. 

If it is a small estate you are better off holding the sale yourself.

Multi-seller websites such as GoAntiques, Etsy and Ruby Lane are wonderful resources through which you can sell antiques, collectibles and vintage goods. You can ask retail price and you have a worldwide customer base through the Internet. The only downside to selling online is that it does take time to sell everything, all items have to be photographed and uploaded and you have to pack and ship orders in a timely manner.

I personally love selling at antique shows. This is a terrific avenue if you have mid-to-high-end items.

Flea markets are great ways of selling items quickly. Knowing how to best display your key pieces increases your sales.

Shop around a little, as space-rental prices vary a great deal. A city or large metropolitan area might ask $500 to $1,000 a day, whereas a small town close to a metropolitan area will cost you $50 to $100 a day. My sales are greater in the rural areas because my expenses are less and I don’t have to price items as high as I do when I set-up in the city shows.

We have a local drive-in theater that holds a swap-and-shop flea market every weekend. The cost is $10 a vehicle to set up a “booth.” The day starts early and the crowd thins out by about 2 p.m. The nice thing about selling in a flea-market environment is that you can bring an assortment of price-point items, whereas at most antique shows, inexpensive wares are a waste of time and space. Flea markets are a lot of fun and you can also find some great buys.  

Be warned, though; I have heard from a number of people that they really dislike going to garage or estate sales and finding printouts from eBay showing the same or similar item with a ridiculous value listed.

For large items such as furniture and appliances, I recommend Craigslist. You should post in the largest city near you.

Don’t be afraid to consider a reseller. Just expect to take a bit of a hit off the retail price.

You do want to use some common sense and caution when selling through Craigslist, though. I am sure that you have heard a horror story or two. Do not list your address in the ad and use the anonymous email feature provided by the website. If you have a cell phone you can list that number.  

And never respond to an email where the sender indicates that he will send you a money order for more than the asking price and requests you refund the balance.

Good old eBay has a free classified-ad page, and while I have never received an inquiry on anything I have listed on it, that does not mean that you will have the same end result. You can list items in your area for local pick-up.

When selling items online, no matter the venue you use, your photographs and description are what will make or break the sale. These are the two primary tools that you have to showcase your inventory. Make sure that your spelling is flawless and be up front about shipping costs. Overcharging for shipping will have a negative impact on sales.

Antique malls are great places to get good prices. Be savvy about the monthly business costs.

If you are having an estate sale or even a garage sale you want to make sure to merchandise your inventory, stack a few books and put a pretty piece of cloth over them to bring higher priced items up above the level of everything else. Put together small vignettes of similar colored wares, place flowers in vases and make sure that there are pops of color scattered about. Everything needs to be clean, priced and displayed in a pleasing manner. Over the years I have held some very successful garage sales by taking these small steps.

Other places to sell antiques, collectibles and vintage items:

• Consignment through a consignment or antique shop (make sure that you have a contract);
• Sell outright to a dealer or other reseller (expect to receive 40 to 50 percent of retail value);
• Rent booth space in an antique mall (read the contract carefully to see what business expenses will be deducted from your monthly check).

Most of all, remember to have fun.


Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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3 Comments

  1. Lynn Rosack says:

    Nice article, Michelle.

    For those of us who collect specialized antiques & collectibles I’ve found it’s important to offer & promote items to a worldwide audience of similar collectors. Listing on auction sites like eBay can be hit or miss proposition and fair value is rarely realized.

    To liquidate a respectable collection, the goal should be to have it advertised and presented in an online auction, resisting the temptation to sell off the choice pieces ahead of time. The second best option for better quality smaller antiques & collectibles is a quality specialty online antique market such as GoAntiques or Ruby Lane. The similarity between both these options is they attract the serious collector, the type buying for their collection and not for speculation or resale. That’s where you’ll obtain your best price.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing! As a shop that specializes in offering high-end art and antiques, we will certainly be sharing this as a resource with our customers!

    We’d like to invite your readers who have upscale antiques, art, jewelry, etc., to sell to put Nouveau Riche Marketplace on their radar. We offer unique “name your price” consignment for all sellers. Our e-store, NouveauRicheResale.com, and physical retail store in Chicago will launch in September.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  3. Great article. It gave me a couple new ideas. Thanks!