Dealing with Dealers: Online Sale, Auctions and Pawn Shops

Online resellers can do it all for you for near 50-percent of the final bid.

In the last two articles of this series I mentioned how to quickly dispose of glassware, vases, figurines, and items of value when handled through local antique dealers, consignment shops, flea markets and, if all else fails, to consider donations as an option, too. My local experiences made for a very interesting tale of how dealers responded to the buying of general household items that weren’t necessarily antiques.

This time I had four small vintage flags of the United States featuring different star patterns from 45 to 49 in silk, muslin and cotton. Because they were smaller, they would display well for any collector or decorator. In searching for avenues other than the usual dealer, I investigated several I hadn’t considered before: online reselling; listing it online myself; having it auctioned; and, visiting several local pawn shops. Let’s look what happened at each one of these options one at a time.

Online Reseller

Probably one of the easiest approaches to selling unique household items or even collectibles is to take them to an online auction reseller. Frankly, I thought this was the best option, as these independent storefront locations provided all manner of services from listing your item, writing the description, taking the necessary images, collecting the payment, and sending the item to the winning bidder. Along the way, they are also responsible for answering questions and settling disputes, too. What’s the worst that could happen?

The fees happened. Resellers operating under eBay, for example, will charge up to 40 or 50 percent of the final selling price. While smaller auction sites, such as only charged 3 percent, I was still responsible for providing all images, answering inquiries, shipping, settling disputes and receiving payments. More cost and hassle than I thought.

Selling Direct Online

Now, let’s try the more traditional approach of the old standby, craigslist. If you have enough time, you can list your own item on sites such as craigslist and it will not cost you any fee, but you do have to register your phone number in order to place the item on their site. That would open myself up to receiving all manner of unwanted sales calls and emails and didn’t like that at all. Of course, the listing is still only good for seven days, had to be renewed every time, and is limited to your local area. It’s better to put an ad on your local grocery store bulletin instead, I would think.

Then there were other issues that I was warned about, such as attempts to defraud using bogus money orders, checks and payment issues in general (you can avoid that by accepting cash or PayPal). Many craigslist ads are also getting emails from overseas “customers” professing interest in your more valuable collectibles just in order to suck you into a money order scam. The advice I received? Keep all transactions local whenever possible.

Another possible direct to consumer approach is through WorthPoint’s sister site, the GoAntiques Marketplace. This is particularly useful especially if I had quite an inventory of higher value items to be sold over a period of time. There are no fees, but do expect a monthly membership fee of $24.99 to list up to 100 items (there are larger subscriptions for those with larger inventories.

With this option, you are responsible for the entire transaction from images, the description, uploading on the site, answering inquiries, shipping, payment and all applicable taxes. Even still, these are options where you have more time and can wait for an interested buyer who can pay close to its expected value which makes for a higher return to you.

Auctions are an option for higher value items, but the fees are higher, too.

The Auction

One of the new reality shows that feature antiques and collectibles is called Auction Kings on the Discovery Channel. Like all auction galleries, they acquire unique and unusual auction items that would be featured in the next auction. The process is interesting from acquisition to final sale, but what is the reality of sending an item to auction?

Listen to Worthologist Martin Willis’ interview with Auction Kings star Paul Brown on the Antiques Auction Forum Podcast

The reality is that auctions, no matter the size, are businesses and have various limitations. An auction house in Florida, for example, required that every item be evaluated at no less than $100 before it is set for auction. My set of four small, vintage U.S. flags that I wanted to auction were evaluated at about $125 for the set, but I had to present them in a frame, where they had to be visible from both sides. In checking around, I found large enough frames, but at a cost of nearly $25. The auction house would take 25-percent of the winning bid (the buyer would pay an equal premium as well), leaving me with a balance of less than the original wholesale value. I declined to participate because of the costs, but for other high value items in an estate, this is a viable option.

Be sure to check each auction house for similar limitations, particularly if the items have to be presented in a certain way, whether they charge for photographs, what the seller’s premiums are, and any tax issues once the sale is completed.

Pawn shops can be a secondary source to sell items since some may also act as an online reseller, too.

Pawn Shop

The success of the Pawn Stars and similar reality shows was a complete surprise to me. Selling an antique or collectible to a pawn shop, frankly, just never occurred to me. And yet, according to these shows, it is done all the time. One thing I found out, you will not normally receive a free evaluation on your item just by bringing it in.

Still, I visited several local pawn shops and found that by selling to a pawn shop I would be paid immediately. That meant there was nothing to inventory, no questions to answer, no shipping to arrange and certainly no problems with payment. Of course, what I was offered was even less than the auction return, about 30 percent of what they might be expected to resell for (the shows seem to have a higher return). However, negotiating was generally accepted in a good-natured way.

But my flags weren’t intended to be sold in the pawn shop, I learned. Instead, while most of the items in a pawn shop are electronics, tools, musical instruments, jewelry and precious metals, many pawn shops are also an offsite online reseller. That means, they would buy my flags or glassware, figurines, vintage books, ephemera or other collectibles and resell them outside of the pawn shop itself. Most pawn shops, though, don’t want to deal with collectibles, and only in precious metals if they can afford to, so it is best to ask if they do so right up front.

In the end, I decided to keep the flags until I have more time to determine the best approach in terms of time and return on investment.

Dealing with these reasonable, professional specialty dealers was much easier than I thought it might be, and all were quite upfront about fees and expectations. Selling individually to dealers or pawn shops takes time, knowledge, patience and sometimes disappointment. But getting fair prices that satisfy everyone can still be done. Just be sure you keep your common sense with you at all times.

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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  • I very much enjoyed your article, as it speaks to the challenges we all face as collectors in today’s market.
    Herein lies the challenge- “getting fair prices that satisfy everyone”.

    There are only two ways to do this:
    #1 Trust someone to sell it for you, and be ready to invest in their time and energy, or
    #2 Trust in yourself to sell it, and be ready to invest your time and energy.
    It comes down to trust, doesn’t it?

    Both options have the same goal in common: finding the right buyer at the right time in the right place for the right price!

    Using online resellers, having it auctioned, visiting several local pawn-shops, or choosing to use a company like mine 😉 and you encounter the ‘middle-man’. We are paid (by fee or commission) to provide you with a professional service. You benefit from our expertise, and save time.
    Researching the market on your own, determining a fair market assessment, and finding a buyer who will pay what you want is doable, but you must invest the effort, especially when you are not as fully immersed as specialty dealers are.
    In the end, the bottom line may or may not be the same, or better, or worse, depending on so many varying factors, but that’s half the fun! We have to ask ourselves what our time is worth, and trust-trust that getting fair prices that satisfy everyone is what we all strive for.

  • Chrystal Hays

    1. I’m surprised that when it came to selling by himself, there was no mention at all of eBay. Maybe because it is seen as competition to Worthpoint? Sure, some resellers use it, but anyone can sell on there without a fancy store. Fees are less than all of the other venues mentioned in the article, although much higher than back in 2007. One continues to hope another less pricey site will come into power, but the public so far has not gravitated anywhere else.

    2. Smaller auction houses are not as fussy as the one the author tried. There are many live auction houses which also list online, and while they mainly do bank and estate liquidations, some will also take items from individuals. The risk lies in that there is often no reserve, and everything must go, so sometimes you don’t get what you expect, but sometimes it is far exceeded.

    3. Local flea market or outdoor markets and festivals will sometimes bring dealers into one area, where a specific item can change hands fairly. Of course, you have to wait for those. =)

    • Tom Carrier

      There was no sinister attempt to leave out online resellers like Ebay, Etsy or even WorthPoint at all. They were venues I just haven’t tried myself yet.

      The articles are about my personal experiences selling individual items that weren’t necessarily antiques and the venues where I personally tried to sell them.

      Finally, the auction venue I was to consign the flags to was a well known smaller auction house in Florida recommended by local dealers. They did in fact have online and phone bidding as well which was a plus for me, too, and were rather particular about what they auctioned, another plus. It was simply the expected return that prevented me from going forward.

      By the way, my first article talked about my experiences dealing with dealers in flea markets and local antique stores.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Tom Carrier

  • Larry Quirk

    I too noticed the omission of Ebay and also of Etsy which will allow the listing of vintage items at costs even less than Ebay. Ebay also provides a database of recently sold items that someone could use to gain an idea of prices actually paid even if you did not use the site to sell the item. I also noticed that the author went out of his way to note real problems with sites other than the Worthpoint site which got a clean review. I do hope that Worthpoint’s marketing is not slipping into its content.

  • Larry Quirk

    Thank you Tom for your reply. If you haven’t tried Worthpoint’s selling platform personally then why mention it at all just as you did not mention Ebay and Etsy since that was your criteria – your own personal use. I am not trying to beat you up but I have been noticing Worthpoint’s PR creeping into an otherwise great site.

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