What Makes ‘Auction Wally’ Tick, Pick?
Walt Kolenda, better known as Auction Wally, appraises an antique print at the Readsboro, Vt. Historical Society's Antiques Appraisal event.
Walt Kolenda is a busy man, indeed.
Probably better known as “Auction Wally,” Kolenda has turned his love for and knowledge of auctions, antiques and appraisals into a highly successful—and enjoyable—business.
Born and reared in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Kolenda now makes his home in Barre, Mass., where he hosts a radio show, publishes a newsletter, writes a national auctions-and-antiques column for The Examiner newspaper, manages a free online appraisal archive, and—in his spare time—works as an auctioneer.
In an interview with WorthPoint, Kolenda said that antiques and auctions have always been a business for him—not just a hobby.
Kolenda always has an eye out for something that will be of use in this radio show, newsletter, national newspaper column, appraisal archive and auctioneer business.
“I began by selling some personal items, like records and books, to shops on the East Side of Providence. A couple of book dealers taught me what to look for and told me what they’d buy and for how much, so I started picking up more of it, and branched off into glass, jewelry furniture and then anything thought I could re-sell at a profit. I really became a picker right away in the business, and still consider myself to be one.”
We asked Kolenda how important the Internet had been in developing his business.
“It wasn’t that critical in developing the different lines so much, but was a huge boost to my overall bottom line. Now, instead of every item going to a wholesaler, I get my inventory directly into the hands of collectors, or, if not collectors, then at least to dealers who will pay more than what I was used to getting.”
Kolenda says that the many charity auctions he does are both fun and important: “Like a lot of auctioneers and antiques dealers, I do events for local charities, libraries, community centers and other non-profit groups.
“The most unusual events I’ve done were two ‘Llamas for Ludlow’ auctions in Ludlow, Vermont. The first was for about 35 full-sized hand-painted or sculpted llama statues. There were llamas on a wide range of themes. I even sold Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees llamas. The Yankees llama beat out the Red Sox llama by about $500.
“The highlight was a llama made with thousands of tiny pieces of stained glass. It went for $10,000,” Kolenda said. “It was a fun sale, and we grossed more than $80,000 for ‘Streetscapes of Ludlow,’ a non-profit art organization.”
Kolenda says his business rode out the recent Great Recession fairly well. “Much better than most businesses,” he said. “Prices are down a bit, but because so many people are liquidating, there is more activity than ever before.”
As for the major trends in the auctions and collectibles business in 2010, Kolenda says that “the public waking up to the fact that antiques and collectibles are much cheaper than their current counterparts.
“It’s a myth that the average antique is priced exorbitantly. Sure, an authentic Chippendale highboy can cost many thousands of dollars, but there is an enormous amount of nice, solid late-19th-century oak furniture passing the auction block for less than $100 a piece! If you go later into some of the very well made 1920s to ’40s mahogany pieces, you can get many of them for $50-$75 each.
“I think people are finally catching on that the particle-board furniture at the big box stores, accessorized with cheap sheet metal and plastic lamps set on wafer-thin rugs that curl up at the edges is not a bargain at any price.
“Most of these shoddy goods break or wear out long before the credit-card payments are complete. You can still get new furniture that is of equal quality to antique furniture, but it’s not at the big box discount stores, it’s at fine furniture outlets.
“I was in one such place recently that had beautiful, high-quality spindle-back benches for $1,000, solid oak and mahogany dining room sets starting at $3,500, and bedroom sets at about the same price. So you can furnish your house with quality furniture that will match the workmanship of many antiques, but for an average home, you’re probably looking at a cost of $35,000 to $50,000 for a full-house of furniture and accessories.
“Or, you can be patient, pick your battles and have fun at auctions, antique shops and flea markets. A savvy buyer can get a house-full of furniture and accessories for less than $3,000. You won’t be able to order it from a catalog and pick out exactly what you’re looking for, but for people who love this stuff, the thrill is in the hunt. Not only that, but if and when it comes time to sell it, there’s a good chance you’ll make a profit or at least re-coup a good part of your investment.”
“And here’s an added plus: Antiques and used items are the ultimate green products. After all, there’s no manufacturing impact on the planet for an item that’s already made.”
Kolenda’s endeavors include his weekly auction in Barre that is a general merchandise sale, which usually features a good selection of antiques and collectibles. He’s excited about an upcoming antique sale on May 20, which will feature an excellent Henry XVI bronze & marble clock, fine porcelain figurines glass and china.
Ongoing projects keeping him busy are his online appraisal archive, where he also answers questions about auctions and antiques in his column, “Ask an Auctioneer.”
He loves sharing his knowledge of antiques, auctions & negotiating. He is most proud of his business roots as a picker and is currently finishing up a new e-book, “How to Buy Antiques Like a Pro,” in which he’ll be sharing his best information, tips and secrets on buying antiques that he’s gathered in his 30 years as a picker.
For more information on Auction Wally, please visit his:
Free Online Appraisal Archive
National Examiner column
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