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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