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Dealing with Dealers: Could this be a New Antiques Reality Show?

by Tom Carrier (12/28/12).

Among the items I was looking to sell was a cut glass hand-basket similar to this one I found listed in the WorthPoint Worthopedia.

In my little corner of the collectible world, I must be quite spoiled. Surrounded as I am by engaging dealers, helpful staff and pleasant customers, my booth at the Strasburg Emporium in Strasburg, Va., seems quaint by comparison to what I’ve been experiencing with other dealers recently in Florida.

Driving by a small shopping center, I spotted a well-stocked but randomly displayed consignment shop. I stopped and just inside the door I saw a collection of signed political biographies, some ostensibly signed by presidents—my specialty. The trouble was they were stacked haphazardly on a high glass case with glass and other items stacked on the floor all around. Being careful, I moved one book, but others slipped onto the floor almost breaking something. The owner got very angry and cursed the absent dealer in my presence. When I found that none of the items in the case were identified or priced, I joked to the owner whether the dealer meant this as a museum. This time he got angry at me saying that this was “my shop and I don’t need to be insulted” and angrily threw me out of the door. A curious business practice.

We all have bad days, but then it might have been a bad week for everyone. At the same time I was trying to wholesale a number of large ribboned glass vases, gold-trimmed cake plates, thick glass bowls, some Fenton iridescent bud vases, an etched glass hand basket and other decorative and substantial glass pieces that my Dad had around the house after my Ma died almost 10 years ago, about a dozen in all [to read more about culling this estate, read: Dealing with Dealers: What to Do with What You Have]. Wanting to save time and sell as a complete lot, I was only asking around $50 for it (according to WorthPoint, it was worth about $200 in retail value), giving the dealer ample profit over time.

Altogether, I visited several small antique shops, a couple of flea market booths specializing in this type of glassware and one larger emporium-style store over a few days to sell it all as a lot. My usual response from dealers and owners was a kind of dismissive indifference. All claimed that glassware, even large pieces, weren’t selling at all and so buying any of it wasn‘t worth the effort. There was little interest in even looking at the pieces.

Another item in the lot was a blue Fenton iridescent vase like this one.

When I finally got one dealer, the manager of the emporium, to look at the items laid out in the trunk of the car, she only said that she will send another dealer to look and walked away. Nothing more was said. The other dealer took a look, at least offered $30, but did so in a bored “see it, don’t really want it” tone and again, just walked away saying if you want it, I‘ll be here. I went inside saw the two dealers conversing at the empty counter, said I’d consider it and thanked them for their time. They didn’t even respond.

After visiting other smaller shops with a generally similar response, I arranged to meet two possible dealers at a large indoor flea market that is only open weekends. The day before I had made an appointment with a dealer who was most enthusiastic, saying that she could use the larger pieces even though she had a lot of stuff already. Bring them by, she said. So I visited her first thing, but when we met, without preamble, she immediately said she didn’t want to buy after all. She wasn’t even curious to see what I had. She moved away without saying anything more.

The next guy was more engaging, liked the items a lot and was ready to buy, but his partner was called over and immediately placed artificially low prices on what I knew from researching WorthPoint were definitely of higher value, offering $20 for the lot in a “take it or leave it” attitude. When I didn’t immediately respond, he just walked away, sarcastically suggesting I go sell them in a yard sale. Not helpful.

While it’s true that some sellers may have been wanting more retail prices for their collectibles these days, this “take it or leave it,” disinterested, walk-away, even angry defensiveness I generally encountered from dealers may be entertaining in a reality show kind of way, but I hope that’s not how the antique and collectible business is being conducted elsewhere. That’s certainly not my experience at the Strasburg Emporium, anyway.

Luckily, I did find two other dealers I wasn’t able to visit until several days later who both proved to be knowledgeable, courteous, helpful and willing to pay a fair price for the entire collection. That did renew my faith in the antiques and collectibles business after all. For the other dealers, if these generic collectibles really are marginally unprofitable to buy at a fair price (and many times most household items or collectibles are), then I suggest that the family donate the items to a nonprofit group or civic fundraiser for the tax deduction at least. That shows sensitivity to the family, sets a fair price for the items the family can use and helps your community at the same time.

After all, who knows what other, more valuable items will come your way in the future that you really can profit from. I still had a collectible barefoot boy cookie jar and a complete 1940s Redwing dinner set to sell that the first set of dealers didn’t learn about … and they never will. But the other dealers will know soon enough.

Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.


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7 Responses to “Dealing with Dealers: Could this be a New Antiques Reality Show?”

  1. accentrique says:

    Wow, Tom, did all this negative experience happen in Florida? On behalf of my state, I apologize, but depending on where you were, I’m not totally surprised. Without being specific as to the town, can you say in which region of the state did this occur? Northwest, Northeast, Central, West Central, Southeast or Southwest? (having lived in different parts of the state, interest and courtesy is more prevalent in some areas than others) There are many in Florida who call themselves “dealers”, but some are true dealers and then there are the two bit hustlers who call themselves dealers. I’ve had my own experiences with both. I’m glad it ended well for you.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      It wasn’t my intention to highlight the actual area of Florida or the dealers themselves in this particular story.

      My intention was to simply illustrate that those in our profession, or any profession, never know who they are really dealing with and to keep it professional and respectful at all times. After all, the lesson is that more business is done through referrals than from one transaction at a time and so we need to get it right every time.

      While courtesy is lacking in a lot of professions these days, as dealers we should be specializing in it.

      Tom Carrier

  2. Wayne Jordan says:

    Tom, I’m not surprised that you had such a response in Florida. The rising death rate in a retirement haven such as Florida means that there is a glut of estate merchandise available. I suspect that many dealers have over-bought and are choking on their inventory.
    I’ll bet you were glad to get back to Strasburg; a much more antiques-friendly area.

  3. Tom,
    You have done what most of the public has also done, percieved that a person who has items for sale similar to your own is actually interested in being a serious purchaser of like items. Nothing could be further from the truth. The items on the shelf represent the inventory they have yet to sell. They could have acquired that inventory on consignment in order to satisfy a client who had better things as well. They might have bought it in a box lot at auction, sold the best and are left with what you see. The business is very slow for low price glassware and profit margins must reflect the increased shelf life of similar items. Expectations of 1/10th of appraised retail price is actually a realistic concept in this economy for many sellers. You seemed to require a buyer with a greater need and a more active market than a single shop location. Eventually you found such a dealer, and both you and they were satisfied with the outcome.
    I must however say that a lack of civility to people who are trying to sell things seems to be common across the country. The idea of saying a heart felt “thank you”, even when the seller shows something you might not be willing to buy is something that appears hard to accomplish for many folks. Honey still attracts more attention than sour milk where I come from. That applies to both sellers and buyers.

  4. Mojave Rose says:

    I had to chuckle a little at this report. I’m not the least bit surprised after experiences I had thinning out my parents’ estate. I carefully selected specific dealers to my home and covered every table I had with items in their area of specialty. My favorite dealer started out with a long dissertation on how hard her life had been, her health issues, the death of a child, etc…. Sympathy taken care of she started down a different track. Once softened up, she gathered up about $500(wholesale) worth of ephemera, offered me 1/3 and I took it as it was pretty much what I’d expected. The really good part is, she emailed me the next day to say she’d missed picking up a few things she thought were included in the sale, and could I please drop them off at her shop!!!
    The book dealer I invited was just plain surly and rude. I know it’s a tough world for antique and collectables dealers now, but really, a little professionalism would be nice. I made it through two rounds of that and gave up. Everything else is still in storage until I work up the nerve to try again.

  5. Rosemarie Jae says:

    Dear Tom,As I was reading your article I could see me, about twelve years ago, trying to sell an estate for a friend whose parents died. Because I have an interest in antiques, buy when I can afford to, many of my friends think well, we’ll give our stuff to her to sell! I’ve been kind to oblige but the lessons I’ve learned along the way would make even Grinch look like the good guy! For instance, after doing enormous research on the estate’s collectibles, I sold some things outright and put the rest in the estate sale. I still had very collectible pottery and charged sixty to eighty dollars per item, but I found values for them at three and four hundred. I wasn’t making anything extra on that, as I agreed to a set amount for the estate sale. But when the dealers came in, they were verbally abusive in front of me suggesting I was ‘out of my mind,’among other things. I thought well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy. Funny though, they all sold at those prices, and the family was fine with it. Some dealers came the night before begging to get in because ‘they would be away the next day’ and family members let them in. They bought other collectible pottery (Hampshire, Van Briggle etc.) for a ten spot. No kidding. Since the family member didn’t know, and went against my wishes in letting them in unless I was there, they made the bad deals and had to live with it. The parents of the estate spent all their weekends in the 60s buying collectible pottery, dishes, bookends, silver etc. when no one wanted it. It was a wonderful collection, to say the least. But along the way I’d get the chance to sell for other friends, bring items to antiques dealers, low-ball it as much as possible, and I would get disagreeable comments and an even lower price. I’ve sold rare books outright and book dealers have never been nasty to me–in Manhattan! But antique dealers! I loathe to tell you what I think of their manner. When one is pleasant, fair and willing to give me three-minutes of his/her time, I’m not only grateful, I remember that dealer and bring him more. Now that is how business should be transacted! The economy has hurt a lot of people and some industries, however, it has not stolen the priviledge of civility and conversation. When we lose that, then yes, call us barbarian and send us home to our idiot boxes. Here’s hoping we never lose sight of one another!

  6. Dana Parandes says:

    I think it’s fair to say [that] most of the good folks dealing in antiques & collectibles are old enough to remember a saying: “The customer…is always right~!”

    Times have changed, but not for the better, necessarily.

    As a sign of the times, doing “business” has changed [when] it’s rare to even be thanked by a business owner or their employee(s). In other words, things have reversed themselves. Whether it’s antiques, collectibles, your cable company, or a grocery clerk….the “atmosphere” is now ABOUT THE BUSINESS…NOT THE CUSTOMER.

    Hence: “The customer, isn’t right………the business is~!”

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