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Dealing with Dealers: What to Do with What You Have

by Tom Carrier (12/21/12).

As a Worthologist, I’ve been able to evaluate all manner of historic items from a suit made expressly for a future president, early American flags, rare suffragette items, lots of signatures and so much more. It’s always exciting to hold a piece of history in your hands and decipher its value. But then, what to do with the more utilitarian or decorative item that don’t make it to museums or auctions?

Most of us have that experience already; loads of items from a family that needs to move on. Visiting my Dad recently found me reviewing a lot of large glassware, from tall, ribboned glass vases, gold trimmed cake plates, thick glass bowls and Fenton iridescent bud vases to an etched glass basket and several pieces of Carnival glassware. Most were given as gifts to my Ma, who passed on about 10 years ago, but still remained in closets or shelves. They needed a new home, but where?

First, though, do some preparation. The way dealers would like to see items is where it doesn’t have to be sorted or organized in their presence. Put items back in original boxes as much as possible. Only sell items in good or near new condition; donate or discard toys with lots of wear. Separate items by kind; glass, toys, textiles, etc., into easily recognizable groups. Bag small like items together. Keep larger like items in boxes together as much as possible. This makes the inspection happen more quickly.

Second, try to do as much research on as many items as possible because a dealer will always ask you first what you are looking to sell it for. It is your research that will help you to know what it can sell for and to ask for at least half of that value right up front.

The more readily available venue is the traditional antique or dealer store front. The owner is also usually the buyer and has knowledge about a particular specialty, such as glassware, textiles, toys, machines, paper, aviation, etc. A call to the shop beforehand will provide more understanding as to their particular specialty with an appointment to follow. Then take only the items for that specialty. Do this for the high-value items.

For the other smaller or decorative items, consider the flea market dealer who will want a lot of items that are the most inexpensive and the more plentiful; small toys, books, ceramic figurines, that kind of thing. Sell by the lot, not by the piece. Sorting like items into plastic baggies helps to focus the buying and selling to a quick decision. Don’t expect to get very much. A full gallon baggie of superhero action figures would be about $5 while a baggie full of costume jewelry would be about $10 and so on. Here items in the original boxes do well.

Consider finding a friend who does online selling and wholesale large amounts of items in good condition to them to resell individually, not on consignment. Consignment sales, while helpful to the shop owner, may take a long period to realize a return, even at 80 percent of its value

Lastly, with what’s left, consider donating textiles, kitchenware, small glassware, toys, paperback and hardcover books to library, school and local fundraisers that raise money for local programs. Get a receipt at retail value as a tax deduction. You can also consider donating heavy furniture to local firehouses, schools and nonprofit groups such as Habitat for Humanity for their use or resale as well.

According to federal and state laws, you cannot sell or donate baby strollers, cribs, playpens or plastic toys older than five years. These must be given to friends or discarded because of safety concerns. Clothing, hats, scarves, gloves and bedding should always be washed or dry cleaned beforehand. Footwear, socks, underwear and similar personal items should always be discarded, never donated.

Lastly, always check out the painting, the drawing, the signed book, photo, jersey, ticket, poster or any item that appears to be limited in number. Many items have been picked up at garage sales at a fraction because the research was never done.

Always do the research and you, too, may find that rare item such as the box of pristine set of first-edition comic books found in the attic and sold by the family for near $1 million, the painting found in the close that sold for $10,000 and … well, you get the idea.

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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16 Responses to “Dealing with Dealers: What to Do with What You Have”

  1. Nanette says:

    Thanks for the excellent article on dealing with what is left behind. I feel though that you overlooked an important option; hire a professional estate sale company. They will do all the work you mentioned and more in a fraction of the time it would take most people, they also have more knowledge and more connections than most average people and will likely get you more money overall because they will sell more items than most people will attempt on their own.

    • Here! Here! Great info, and yes, Thanks, Nanette! It is in the best interest of an Estate Sale Company to get the best prices for your contents, as we get paid by commission. We understand the market, research valuables, know what each and every item in your home is “worth”, and work very hard to get it. The more we make for you, the more we make for ourselves. Hiring a company that is knowledgable about all facets of re-selling, and is able to provide all the skills and staff that make a Content sale go smoothly is a very logical approach to clearing out all of your unwanted items.

  2. Hi Tom. Timely article. I just had my 1st cold call for a downsizing estate. Didn’t turn out as good as I hoped due to the seller having a meddling ‘friend’ playing games against me. I wrote a detailed explaination but hitting send lost it. So will be briefer here.
    What would you do if presented with such a scenario?
    The seller had clean glassware displayed on every table and countertop in the house. Easily over 500 pcs. Some with receipts showing high prices paid for fakes: Unmarked Wedg(e)wood and molded glass sold as cut glass. Seller had no idea on prices but the friend acted like she was an expert since she works at a Thrift Store and had tried selling on ebay (no success because she couldn’t upload pics). Twice she “whispered” to her friend she’d buy an item if I didn’t make good offers. She also interjected that another dealer she knew was interested so ‘they’ were going to let me choose and offer but not take anything until the other dealer had a chance to counter-offer. After 2 hrs of online research – showing comparables to the seller and trying to not get miffed by the ‘friend’ I was ready to leave. Only eight items were purchased. Her friend hurt her sales as I would have bought more but was tired of the games. It was clear the seller was frustrated too. In the end she told her friend she wanted the stuff gone and took my check.
    Any advice? BTW: my prices were fair at 50% of online comparables. And I gave her dozens of evaluations on other items.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:


      You had a similar experience I did when selling the collection of cut glass, vases and other large items in the article. I document that experience in “Dealing with Dealers: Could This Be A New Reality Show” here on WorthPoint:

      I finally got a dealer to get interested in the entire collection, about a dozen or so, at a fair price when his partner came in and offered a very small amount that WorthPoint found to have a much higher value overall. The dealer was obviously not happy for the interference, but also couldn’t prevent it, much like your seller. Needless to say, I did not sell to them.

      The mistake your seller made, though, was not knowing what she wanted for her items beforehand. Just laying them out and negotiating among themselves is counterproductive – to the seller as she found out. If they are meant to sell, then they should be clearly marked as to what they want for it. They can then accept or reject any offers with at least a clear understanding of worth to begin with. That’s the fair way.

      So was this a house sale, an auction, an evaluation, or a tag team negotiation? I would have thought things were there to be sold, and may have said as much to clarify the situation right then and there. Personally, I may not have been as patient as you were, but glad that you remained professional all the way.

      I finally did find two knowledgeable dealers nearby who finally offered a fair value for the items as you offered for the items you bought. That is always the best way to go no matter how disagreeable the exchange, because now I trust the dealers who treated me with respect enough that they will know about other things I have to sell and your seller will probably come to you with other things knowing you remained professional, patient and fair.

      Nicely done.

  3. If your really lazy, just call an auction. They will come and pick it up, usually for a charge, and sell it to the dealers for half of what it is worth and charge you about half of what it sold for after commisions and buyer’s penalties are paid. But you will not have to look anything up or waste any time calling to find a dealer.

    The article clearly tells you how to increase your take over the alternatives of calling an estate sale broker or auction in a clear and concise manner.

    • rscougal says:

      I have actually had a very positive experience with an auction house that runs auctions online at the same time as in person. After my father died, ten years after Mom died, my sister and I sorted through everything and took what we each wanted. I sorted, packed and labeled the remaining items, and took them to the auction house. Some were auctioned as separate items, some were sold as lots.

      I was a bit disappointed by the price some items brought, and pleased by others. There were even a few “woo-hoo!” prices, due to two or more bidders taking a liking to certain items. Overall I felt that it was a good choice.

      The auction house gave me a written agreement about the consignment fee. I received 70% of the successful bid. Could I have made more selling things myself, online or with a garage sale? Maybe – but the idea of the time and hassle of either, while working two jobs and taking evening classes, was just too much. Call me lazy for that if you wish.

  4. Ann Chow says:

    I own a consignment shop and we pick up (pack if necessary), price and sell your items for a percentage of the sale price. That is another option if you don’t want to deal with it at all.

  5. Gwyn Irwin says:

    The article is quite informative. The only thing I have to add is that books should be checked carefully. I have been an antiques and book dealer for over forty years and have found many good and rare books at estate sales, etc. which were mixed in with novels and paperbacks.Many that were worth a very nice price when resold. There are excellent price guides on the market for books and they are well worth buying if you are cleaning out and hae a ton of books to get rid of.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:


      Yes, good point. I once found a book signed by President Jimmy Carter in a thrift shop collection I bought for $1 and sold to a collector for $200.

      Check for book plates, too. I found a nice book for a similar price with the bookplate showing it part of the personal collection of Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress.

      These small details can make a difference.

      Tom Carrier

  6. ESM says:

    I am dismayed by the dismissal of entire categories of collecting, eg. textiles as only being worthy of donation. Luckily the owner of the rare Navajo blanket that appeared on the Antiques Roadshow some years ago did not consult your article first. I believe that textile was the most valuable item the show ever appraised. As a textile dealer for many years the rarest and most unusual items I purchased were found in everyday average households: rare quilts, altar cloths, embroidery, 18th century damask tablecloths, etc. You simply cannot generalize to the degree done in this article. However I do wholeheartedly agree with your advice to research items first to have some idea of value. Over the years I encountered countless people that expected me, as a dealer, to have researched and know the value of everything, be willing to share this information for free and pay them 90% of retail value. This is really not possible if the dealer is to turn a profit. Sellers must never confuse a dealer/buyer with an appraiser. A true appraiser will never purchase, only place a value on items. Once someone has agreed to buy from you their valuations are not to be considered as appraisals.

    • Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:

      Indeed, your point is well taken.

      In fact, I may have meant clothing in general and not necessarily textiles as a category. After all, vintage flags are textiles as well (my specialty) and are definitely in the same historical category as Navajo blankets, quilts, vintage tablecloths and the like.

      Thanks for allowing me to clarify that.

      Tom Carrier

  7. Larry Quirk says:

    As in any negotiation on price, you have to know what you have, the best estimate of its value and, most importantly, what amount of money you would be “happy” if you received it. Without that information you cant negotiate well for yourself and you are at the mercy of the buyer, who is there to get the item for the least dollar amount possible. If that means researching items on ebay or in price guides then consider that your job and your payment is the fair dollars you will receive.

    But when you have the job of clearing out a house or closing an estate of a loved one there may be other considerations such as the emotional burden involved in going through every item to calculate value. In those cases you may want to distribute as many items as possible to the person’s friends or relatives and keeping some items yourself for sentiment. But then call in someone to run an estate sale or who will buy in bulk. Yes, you will probably get less value than if you did it yourself but the psychic burden will be so much less.

  8. Deb Dunbar says:

    This is good info. When I had to do my aunt’s estate and tried to find an auctioneer or estate liquidator, the first thing they asked was “Has the family removed any items from the estate?” When I reply in the affirmative, they give the impression they don’t want to bother if the estate has been “picked over”. Why should these people have first dibs over the family?

  9. Janet Borden says:

    When you have an estate of a family member to clean out, its a very difficult process. When my mother passed away, this process was left to me to do. There were other legal issues involved so I had to inventory every little thing and keep track of what happened to it. I was new to antiques, but this was my starting step in this wonderful journey. Through the course of a year I moved all the items to the garage and weekly yard sales. This was a slow and sometimes painful process. At that time, I had no idea there were things such as auctions, estate sales, antiques dealers,….etc. I’m lucky I had the time and energy to do this. Selling family personal items at an estate sale can be a very emotional stressful thing. But it was during the garage sales I had, that I learned that there were people looking for what I had to sell. This is how my journey into antique selling really began.

  10. Janet Borden says:

    Sorry for a second post, but I feel education about the possibilites that selling used items and family collectibles there are. I wish estate planning was part of my home economics course when I went to school. As a dealer, I run in to so many customers who have no idea where to find more antiques they collect outside of an antique shop.

  11. A complete inventory is necessary to fulfill the various requirements of state, federal, and family interests. The casual distribution of tangible property is no longer an option should items add up to more than 13K in any given year. Liquidate what is no longer wanted or needed while the person is still alive. Older people are always worried they will run out of money yet they do not really need that 40K persian rug either. Waiting until their death only makes it more complex and time sensitive. Letters acknowledging the inheritance are advisable because any reputable house will not deal with someone who cannot prove that they came by the Meissen collection legitimately. Unfortunately all too often people have physical possession of items they do not own. They will get a lower price without this documentation from the unsavory dealer and it is theft that families if they ever find out about it are reluctant to prosecute for obvious reasons. Failure or the inability to pay the inheritance taxes on these items requires a quick sale of some of it which is always a sure situation where a fair price will not be paid.

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