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RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES—Column #1120

by Harry Rinker (11/25/08).

Buying from the Heart

As you turn the corner at an antiques and collectibles show, your eyes immediately spot an item on a shelf in a booth at the end of the aisle. It is the piece you have sought for decades. You had relinquished hope of finding it years earlier. Your eyes begin to tear. Reality becomes a dream. You float down the aisle, pushed by a current you have no will to resist. You enter the booth, lovingly, gently, caressingly grasp the object, and place it next to your heart. If you expect to negotiate a discount, forget it!

Dealers read customer’s emotions. They can spot a sucker, i.e., someone who is going to pay the full retail price without argument or discussion, before he enters the booth. The clues are obvious—the look in the customer’s eyes, drool on his lips, the body posture, a soft restful sigh, and/or a lack of awareness to his surroundings. The dealer looks at the object and customer with only one thought—SOLD!

[EDITOR’S ALERT: Expect one or more letters from dealers objecting to the “sucker” reference in the second sentence of the above paragraph. Dealers perpetuate the myth that sticker prices are real prices. In rare (one of the few times I have used this work in my column) cases, they are. In reality, all prices are negotiable. The only question is by how much.]

When buying antiques and collectibles, the best buys are obtained when the head rules the heart. The head is a much tougher buyer. It is far more critical of condition and price than is the heart. While far from objective, the head introduces a sense of perspective, albeit often monetary, in the buying process.

Love and passion, even obsession, play a role in collecting, and well they should. I love the antiques and collectibles I own. I am passionate about learning more about them and sharing that knowledge. I am obsessed with collecting.

Yet, I buy ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of the objects I acquire using my head rather than my heart. Okay, I slip occasionally. Every collector does.

My approach is a simple one. I view the buying process as a courting process. I want to romance the object before I marry it, i.e., add it to my harem of other treasures. In many cases, the courtship takes place in minutes rather than hours or days. I believe in whirlwind romance.
Since I only sell information about antiques and collectibles and not the objects themselves, I marry the objects I buy for life. Divorce (sale) is not an option. I have a far better track record with my objects than I do with my wives.

Are there times when the heart should prevail? My heart says answer yes, but my head cautions to do so reluctantly.

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Jennifer Goldberg-Murga, my wife’s daughter, asking my help evaluating a desk listed on eBay. As a youngster, Jennifer owned a Hitchcock Empire-style writing desk. The desk disappeared. The reason is best not discussed. Moving on, Jennifer had fond memories of the desk and wanted a duplicate example. It had to be the identical desk, nothing else would suffice.

Shortly after I met and married Linda, Jennifer’s mother, Jennifer asked my help in locating the missing desk. I asked her to describe it. Although she knew it was manufactured by the Hitchcock Chair Company (1818-2006) in Connecticut, she was not able to provide an exact description, thus making it impossible to hunt it for her.

It is rapidly becoming a truism that if you are patient and search long enough, any object you want will eventually be offered for sale on eBay. Jennifer spent years tracking “Hitchcock” listings on eBay. She was rewarded for her diligence when she found a listing for an exact duplicate of her desk.

I buy antiques and collectibles using the three-part “God means me to own it” theory—the object is in the condition I want to find it, at a price I am willing to pay, and with money in my pocket to pay it. Let’s apply these criteria to Jennifer’s situation.

Using the eBay link Jennifer provided in her e-mail, I opened the listing. I was surprised by the form. Based on Jennifer’s earlier descriptions, this was not the desk I imagined. The desk was a generic Empire-style writing desk with a rectangular writing surface with a multiple tier letter, paper, and supplies, open-faced storage unit across the back, a horizontal drawer in the front apron, and turned (ball and column) legs. The overall color scheme was black with gold accents and highlights. The writing surface and apron sported a dark brown finish. The drawer featured stenciled, floral vignettes.

The desk was in fine or better condition. Although not brand new, it was clear that the previous owner or owners of the desk properly cared for it. Finding a desk in a similar or better condition would take years if not decades. The desk was in buy-me-now condition. The traditional dealer’s “you will not find another one like it” sales ploy applied.

The opening bid was $325, extremely high by my standards. The price failed part two of my buying theory. The “Buy It Now” Price was even more, $375. The eBay listing was several days old and had three days to run when Jennifer discovered it. She was ready to pay the “Buy It Now” price the moment she saw the desk. Her willingness to pay price was far higher than mine.

When I spoke with Jennifer, it was clear this was a heart, not a head purchase. Given this, I encouraged her to buy it. Waiting and bidding at the last moment would have been excruciating. Jennifer wanted the desk, and she wanted it now. She paid $375
.
What should Jennifer have done? The answer is homework in respect to the secondary market for Hitchcock Chair pieces. Had she done so, she would have found that $325 was a very high price and that $375, obviously was a much higher one. The chance of someone paying $325 was marginal to nonexistent.
The eBay seller was located in Shoemakersville, Pa., a 25-minute drive from her grandmother’s and brother’s residence in Wyomissing. Linda and I drive back and forth almost every weekend from our Connecticut home to our Pennsylvania home to visit her mother. We could easily pick up the desk and avoid shipping costs, a plus for Jennifer. Our weekly visits also created another possibility.

My head said do not bid. Let the auction fail. Once this happened, I would visit the seller’s shop in Shoemakersville with $250 or $275 cash in hand and offer to buy the desk. There was no doubt in my mind, the dealer would have sold.

Jennifer should have followed the desk through the listing’s final half-hour. If there were no bids, she had had two choices—opt for the above approach or place a bid of $325 backed up with a sniping bid of $375 or higher just in case another last second bidder appeared. The chances of this happening were far greater in Jennifer’s than anyone else’s mind.

“Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” as my friend Norman Martinus used to say. Maybe things would have worked as I predicted, maybe not. We will never know.

The good news is that Jennifer has the desk. Linda and I picked it up and met Jennifer just north of Hartford, Conn., for the exchange. The extra $100 Jennifer paid pales in comparison to the additional time and effort she would have devoted to continuing the search. One of the wonderful things about antiques and collectibles is that you can rationalize any scenario.

The $375 was a price Jennifer was willing to pay. In fact, she may have been the only person on the face of the earth who was willing to pay that price at that moment in time. If the dealer is religious, he should go to church, light a candle and thank God for delivering Jennifer to his fold. Jennifer paid with a credit card, today’s version of money in one’s pocket. “Money in my pocket” means cash to me.

Heart, Mind—what difference does it really make? I WANT IT is the only reason I need to buy an antique or collectible. How about you?


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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