Moving “Unwanted” Collections Along

madame alexander collection

Madame Alexander collection. You have inherited this collection, so what is the next step?

A relative has passed away, and has left their lifelong collection of souvenir travel dolls or Build-A-Bears to you.  Or your parents are downsizing, and have “gifted” you their collection of Toby mugs or souvenir spoons. Or a friend asks you to help them to deaccession their collection of Swatch watches, baseball cards, or Hummel figurines.  

What are the next steps?  None of these items are of any personal interest to you.  But, you want to do the right thing and get them into good hands and sell them at the best price, if humanly possible.  This can seem overwhelming, especially if the collection is large or takes up a lot of space.  Here are some actionable ideas to make this task a bit more manageable.

beanie baby collection

Beanie Baby collection.  The most important step is to get some very general idea of the value and market interest in the items. The answer will ultimately determine how much effort you should put into this project moving forward.

The first thing to do in this situation is to get some very general idea of the value and market interest in the items.  This is the most important step, and should ultimately determine how much effort you should put into this project moving forward.  The results should help you “fish where the fish are.” If you learn that the collection has minimal collector or resale value, don’t spend a lot of effort in rehoming it.  If it, or elements of it, has moderate or great potential, then it is worth the time investment.

So how do you get this process started?  It’s easy. Take several group shots of representative items from the collection.  You will need these to share with anyone you contact about your goods.  Initially, don’t spend a lot of time on these photos.  For remote evaluations, most experts can quickly scan shots and know if there is anything of great interest or value in the groupings, and will ask for additional photos or information if necessary.

blue wedgewood collection

Blue Wedgwood collection.Take several group shots of representative items from the collection.  You will need these to share with anyone you contact about your goods.

Next, If the collection is very brand specific, for example Barbie or Royal Doulton, it is a bit easier as you can use these terms in your keyword searches.  Good places to find experts include Worthpoint, Ruby Lane, Facebook, Twitter, and specialty subject blogs.  Look for people who show up in numerous places online, as that usually indicates that their expertise is recognized throughout the industry. Once you have located an expert or two, send them an email, introduce yourself, and ask if you can send some photos for a quick evaluation.  

Lighter collection. Try and locate a business or person online that specialize in the nature of your items. Once you have located an expert or two, send them an email, introduce yourself, and ask if you can send some photos for a quick evaluation.

Many, but not all, experts are happy to do this and some even find it flattering to be asked.  Send the pictures once you have the green light to do so. See what they think, and always get a second opinion.  Do not take anything they say personally; they don’t know you and are just doing their best to objectively evaluate online photos. Whatever they conclude, don’t forget to THANK THEM for their time! As a Steiff expert, the vast majority of what I am asked to evaluate values less than $100 and about 95% of the items that my colleagues and review are very difficult to sell because of their age (too new), condition (poor or with playwear), rarity (not rare at all, many were made), and/or low value.  

Be careful if the expert you contacted makes an offer to buy your items outright and immediately.  This COULD represent a POSSIBLE conflict of interest and indicate that your items do have some value.  Always do thorough research before agreeing to any outright purchase at any stage.  

More often than not, especially with more modern collectibles, evaluations are disappointing, but informative. If the experts you contact all converge on the opinion that your collection has minimal resale value (say $10-50 per item), and you have confirmed this with your own research on Worthpoint or other credible sources, there are still several things you can do to move your items along.

Donation:

Although some or all of your items may have minimal resale value, they can be used to help others.  Consider donating them to a church, human services, emergency relief, or other fundraising effort that is meaningful to you.  As a non-cash charitable donation, you will be able apply their fair market value to your tax calculation.  The non-profit accepting your items should be able to provide a simple letter confirming your contribution.  

Netsuke collection.Be careful if the expert you contacted makes an offer to buy your items outright and immediately.

Antique Mall:

Contact a large, local antique mall, and ask the manager for the name/s of dealers that specialize in your collection’s category. Interview a few and see who would be able and interested to sell your items for you on consignment.  Try and ask for a split of 25% to the dealer and 75% to you upon sale.

eBay or Craigslist:

These two online channels are easy to use and have broad reach. Use Worthpoint or eBay’s “sold item” listings to help determine each listing price.  On eBay, use the “buy it now” feature instead of auction to attract more customers and to help expedite sales.  Also, when using eBay and Craigslist, group low value, like things together and sell in small lots of 3-5 items.  This is more efficient for both buyers and you as the seller.

turn of last century toys collection

Turn of last century toy collection. You may choose to market and sell the collection yourself.

Local, general auctioneer:

Contact a local auctioneer and see if they would be willing to sell the collection for you.  If possible, choose an auction house that has an online presence, and lists things on Liveauctioneers.com, Invaluable.com, and/or Proxibid.com so bids for these items can be taken online, not just from the limited live floor of the event. Unfortunately, this won’t make the most money for you, but it will be the fastest and the easiest. 

But what if the news is good, and your experts seem to feel that some or all of your items may have significant collectors and financial value?  There are three general ways to bring them to market.

Go it alone:

You may choose to market and sell the collection yourself. The first thing that may come to mind is to list and sell the better or best items individually online on a channel like eBay.  You can let the market determine the value of the items by putting them at auction, or you can set a buy it now price after researching comparative and recent sales.  It’s all about your relative comfort with risk. You can also put your items on Craigslist, have a garage sale, or rent a table or space at a local antique fair or show.  Going it alone may or may not deliver the best price, and can be a lot of work, especially with questions, packing and shipping, and customer relations.  eBay charges a 10% seller’s premium per item sold and there are fees and costs associated with live events.

Sell the items through a specialty dealer:  

How can you find one?  The expert or experts you originally contacted may qualify after careful vetting, or perhaps they can recommend colleagues who are better positioned to work with you on business terms.  Also, many categories have professional associations.  Start your research by going onto their websites and looking around.  These websites often provide the information of members or spokespeople willing to be contacted; they most likely can provide referrals. These websites also sometimes list regional or national live events; by attending one, you can meet a variety of different potential dealer partners in person.  

gi joe collection

GI Joe collection. Working with a specialty dealer directly aligns your items with the most qualified set of buyers.

Working with a dealer directly aligns your items with the most qualified set of buyers.  Each dealer has their own ways of doing business, but for the most part, they can deliver strong prices as they have marketplace insights as well as skin in the game.  Some dealers buy collections outright and sell them, others work on consignment.  Ask for references before closing the deal, and make sure to have a written contract including an inventory and terms and conditions concerning the sale or transfer of goods.

Specialty auction:

Auction houses vary greatly in their specialties and business expectations.  Many middle to upper tier auctioneers now require value minimums per each lot accepted for sale.  These can range from $250 and up.  If you feel that auction is your best solution to move a higher-end collection or group of items, it is important to locate an auction house that has a dedicated specialty division that can represent your items nationally and internationally.  For example, there are auctioneers that just specialize in decoys, or coins, or dolls; do your research to find the one with the best reputation and sales results.  Try and have your items lotted in a focused sale, not in a general or “discovery” auction in order to get the best price and to attract the most qualified group of potential bidders.  

tiffany desk collection

Tiffany desk set collection. If you feel that auction is your best solution to move a higher-end collection or group of items, it is important to locate an auction house that has a dedicated specialty division that can represent your items nationally and internationally.

Downsides to specialty auctions are their long lead times and sometimes high seller’s premium rates. Specialty auction sales are held less frequently than general sales, given the selective and often unique nature of their lots.  As such, in some cases, it may be many months until a sale is held and customers are paid for their consignments.   But on the upside, these sales for the most part include professional photography, cataloging, and marketing – all key factors which help to get your items premier visibility and presents them in the very best light possible.


Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.  You can follow her blog, which focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com.  Sign up for her Steiff newsletter by contacting her directly at steifflife@gmail.com.

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