Avoid Panic Selling, Find Great Bargains

Editor’s Note: Harry Rinker, one of the country’s most respected and recognized antiques and collectibles experts, gives advice on whether now is the time to sell your collections.

During a recent appraisal, a client asked me to value her objects based on what I thought she would realize if she sold them. After providing a value for a stamped brass sheet-covered wood box, she exclaimed, “That is less than I paid for it.” If I heard this once, I have heard it a thousand times. What a person pays for an object is not a factor, except to that person, when selling it. The only value that matters is the price at which the object sells at a given moment in time.

Within the past few days, I received several phone calls from individuals asking my advice and/or help in respect to selling collections. You could hear the panic in their voices. I got a message from a Florida caller who wanted to sell a collection of near-mint Barbie dolls she had assembled over the past 20 years. She would be delighted to sell them for what she paid for them, she told me. Delighted is an understatement. If she accomplished this, she should be ecstatic. I did not return her call. I knew she would not like or believe what I told her. Any amount over 30 cents on the dollar made her a winner.

The price should be right

I tell individuals wishing to sell antiques or collectibles not to sell at a price that makes them unhappy. A good sale is a win-win, when the buyer is happy with the amount he pays and the seller is thrilled with the amount he receives. Selling below expectations leaves a bitterness in the mouth, heart and brain that never goes away.

As a result of the current economic crisis, more and more collectors, dealers and others are facing tough economic times, thus creating the possibility that large quantities of antiques and collectibles will flood into an already overcrowded marketplace. If this happens, price stability, a hallmark of the market over the past year, is going to be threatened. Now is not the time to sell, especially low- and middle-market goods.

What happens if you have to sell, and you feel you have no alternative? The answer is sell. You take what the market offers, accepting the “any money you get is more than you had before” logic.

Investigating selling options

The key is to maximize your selling opportunity. Explore your options—setting up at a flea market, conducting an estate or garage sale, renting space in an antiques mall, establishing an Internet storefront or auction account, selling at auction, etc. There are dozens of opportunities, not just one.

How do you select the best one? Study them all, and make a selection. The best one is the one that works best for you. If you are not certain, seek professional advice or buy a copy of my Sell, Keep, or Toss?: How to Downsize a Home, Settle an Estate or Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group, 2007).

Antiques and collectibles do not have instant liquidity. The selling process is measured in weeks and months rather than hours and days. If you need cash immediately, you are not going to obtain it by selling your antiques and collectibles unless you are willing to sell them at fire-sale prices. If for no other reason, this should encourage you to pause, take a deep breath and consider other options.

I am in my mid-60s, closer to 70 than I once was to 60. My generation never experienced the difficulties of the Depression or the horrors of the Second World War. In fact, we were the beneficiaries of the post-World War II economic boom and responsible for creating a sense of entitlement rather than reward for hard work in our children. While we experienced some hard times, i.e., several mild recessions, all in all, we have had a grand ride.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Before I am accused of being insensitive to the plight of the less fortunate, I admit that the rosy picture just painted did not apply to everyone. However, it did to the vast majority of Americans and even more so to those who were involved in one way or another with the antiques and collectibles trade over the past half-century.)

Stay calm

This is a time for patience, not panic. The economic system may be broke, but it will be fixed. It is hoped that the fix will be of sufficient quality to prevent a similar situation from reoccurring in the future.

Let’s examine where the antiques and collectibles marketplace was a few weeks ago. Prices declined rather than rose in 95% of the collecting categories, in some cases by as much as 50%, over the past 10 years. The great news is that the decline reached bottom in almost every collecting category. Prices were stabilized or beginning to stabilize in almost every collecting category. Objects were selling within narrow price ranges, ranges that were easily identified and consistent. A high level of confidence, higher than it had been in years, returned. Slowly but surely, trust was returning to the antiques and collectibles marketplace.

There is no reason for this trust to disappear. Change in our field takes months, often years; enough time to solve any economic crisis. Since discretionary income is a principal driving force in our market, a brief slowdown should be expected. Discretionary income has not disappeared. If you need proof, visit any Toys “R” Us store, and watch the customers pay for full shopping cart after full shopping cart of toys.

“Bargain” is today’s magic word. Shoppers are looking for bargains. In this case, a bargain is defined as something that is priced lower than they expected. It is as much mental and psychological as it is economic.

Bargain shop now

It is bargain time in the antiques and collectibles field. In early October, I did a guest appearance at Valley Rail Promotions antiques show at Merchant Square Mall in Allentown, Pa. Having not worked with show promoters Kevin and Charlotte before, I did not know what to expect. What I found was a pleasant and delightful surprise. Although a small show, less than 50 dealers, it was extremely well balanced. General dealers were augmented by specialty dealers in Asian art and paper. What pleased me most was that the objects were priced to sell. Even I found the prices attractive, and I am cheap. A dealer in early American textiles was the exception, but there is always at least one.

Hard though it is to believe, the current economic crisis may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the antiques and collectibles business. Two years ago, I began touting the age-old contention that our goods are “cheaper than new.” It is truer now than ever before. If you are planning to furnish a home or upgrade your existing household possessions, shop the antiques and collectibles marketplace. In addition to bargains, we offer individuality, a guarantee that your home will not resemble that of your neighbor.

This is a great time to buy if you have spare cash. I recently interviewed Jerry Cohen, a specialist in Arts and Crafts furniture for Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J., on ”WHATCHA GOT?,” my nationally syndicated antiques and collectibles call-in radio show. I asked Jerry about Arts and Crafts furniture selling in the $750 to $3,000 range. His response was simple. “Great buys. The same pieces were bringing twice this and more five to 10 years ago.” We agreed prices had stabilized, and price growth was on the immediate horizon.

Buy wisely

This column has come full circle. Instead of supporting a “now is the time to sell” philosophy, a “now is the time to buy” approach is warranted. I am not suggesting buying simply for the sake of buying. This is not the time to spend money foolishly. However, if you have been thinking of starting a collection, prices are more favorable today than in the past. If you have been following an object for several months, think about making an offer. There is less competition than in the past.

I just checked the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It is another roller-coaster day. The ride will most likely be a bumpy one for several weeks, if not months. The one inevitable fact is that it will eventually recover. It is hopeful that the ride back up will be as spirited as the one down.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT?” streams live and is archived on the Internet.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web Site.


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