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So You Wish to Sell Part or
All of Your Collection

by Bob Brooke


 

Every day I get messages from people looking for the value of an antique or collectible that either they own, found, or have inherited. In nearly all cases, these people are looking to sell an object or objects for which they think they’ll get big bucks. But, unfortunately, about the most they’ll see is a fraction of their value.

And then there’s the long-time collector who assumes that what he or she has must be worth a lot because they’ve held onto it for so long. In fact, a collector needs to hold onto an antique or collectible for at least 10 years to make any headway.

And all of these people are looking for the easiest way to sell the objects from their collections. Perhaps you’re one of them.

There’s no easy way to do this. Successfully selling any antique or collectible takes time and research. But before you begin to sell anything, you’ll need to learn the basics of selling in the antiques and collectibles markets.

Regardless of how you plan to sell your items, the state of the market for them is of prime importance. When a market for an object is flat, you’ll have a difficult time selling anything. When a market is flush, you should be able to get nearly what an object is worth or even more, especially if an item is “hot”—lots of collectors want it.

Another thing that affects the price you can get for a particular object is where you plan to sell it. Typical sales venues include garage sales, flea markets, dealers, auctions, and the Internet.

Garage and yard sales make up the entry level market. Flea market dealers scour them regularly looking for items they can sell for a small profit. And antique pickers do the same, trying to discover objects they can sell to antique dealers. Each of these buyers needs to make a profit. But too many garage sale sellers think they should get what an item is worth. That almost never happens, except for common household things.

Selling to a Dealer
If you have something that you consider somewhat valuable, selling to an antiques dealer seems quick and easy. And when you look at your antiques or collectibles, the prices at which you've seen them offered at shows and in antique shops spin through your mind—$500, $1,000, $5,000.



However, a dealer operates like any other retail store. He or she has to buy at as low a price as possible to cover costs and be able to offer the goods at an attractive price — while being compensated for their time, and making a profit. Costs include booth and/or store lease, table or showcase rental, operating costs of a van, packaging for transit, accounting and tax filings, display stands, interest on money borrowed to buy stock for resale, and many other lesser costs.

For a one-day antiques show, for example, dealers may have to get up early in the morning and drive 100 miles or more to get to the show. And with the price of gas these days, travel, even for 100 miles in a gas-guzzling van, doesn’t come cheap. Once set up, they need to scout out what other dealers are selling and their asking prices, so that they can adjust their prices if necessary. At the end of the day, having sold some of their stock but certainly not all of it, they repeat the process in reverse—packing goods, dismantling displays, and driving home. During the day, they need to buy breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus water, soda or coffee. For multi-day shows, they’ll have to pay for a hotel room.

If you're selling postcards from your collection to a dealer, for example, expect to get from 10 to 25 percent of the eventual selling price, unless you want to log a string of 12-hour days yourself, use a lot of fuel, and incur all the other related costs, in which case you might not net any more but will still have a lot of your stock unsold. Many other collectibles and antiques will fall within this range, and you certainly shouldn't expect to get even 50 percent of the final offering price for anything.



Sounds like a lot of work. It is. Plus, you want to get top dollar. So you consider auctioning your collection.

Selling at Auction
Selling at auction seems so quick and easy that you wonder why everyone doesn't do it. You've read about fine 18th-century furniture selling in spirited bidding for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Shouldn't your treasures attract the same attention?

The reality is that for every high-dollar, headline-grabbing sale of an antique by a noted maker, there are lots of sales at much lower prices. And don’t forget about goods which have been offered at auction and attracted no bids, or no bids approaching the reserve price. They don't make the headlines. So be realistic about the possible outcomes.

Like dealers, auctioneers have overhead costs. Premises costs can be a significant item, given that many major auction houses don't run sales every week. In between sales, there's the work of examining and cataloging sale items, while estimating sale prices and negotiating reserves, if any, with the consignor. Today, auctioneers also need to have someone update their Web sites, as well as prepare magazine and newspaper advertisements. And nobody works for free.

Many auction houses have specialties. When they have specialties, they generally have a regular mail or Email list of serious collectors who are regular bidders for their area of interest. Look at auction advertisements in antiques publications to see which auction houses feature which specialty areas. If there are no specialty auction houses for your collection's gems, there may be periodic specialty auctions. Make sure that you enter your objects at the right auction house, in the right auction, with the key players aware of the sale.

Auctioneers charge a commission on their sales. Accordingly, they want to have goods that are of good quality, and of significant collector value. Don't expect them to spend time selling a damaged or common poster, or a low-value piece of china. What about selling on the Internet?

Selling on the Internet
If your objective is to sell quickly, you may want to sell on the Internet. But realize that effective Internet selling takes the time and expertise of a dealer, the knowledge, preparation and documentation skills of an auction house, and an array of Internet savvy that you don't pick up overnight.

If you're going to let someone else—an antiques dealer or auctioneer—do the selling work for you, expect to have to pay for it. It's always easier to buy than to sell. Maybe you should continue to enjoy your collection.

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