Hi there! Today’s post is primarily addressing issues that concern those of us who sell vintage and antiques (or who are considering it!). I think it will nonetheless be interesting to those who collect for themselves, but the principles related to whether or not you should buy a particular item will be slightly different. Ready to hear the 6 questions you should ask before buying vintage & antiques?
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Is it really vintage or antique?
When buying to sell in your own antique shop, an antique booth, or on Etsy, the first question you must ask yourself is, “Is the item vintage or antique?” If your business is selling antiques, then you want to be sure that your merchandise falls into the category of vintage or antique, right?
If you’re just starting out in the business, then you may want to read my post: How to Get Started Buying Vintage & Antiques for Business or Pleasure. In it I teach a variety of way that you can go about learning what is an antique and what is not. I suggest a number of different resources that can help you grow in your knowledge base.
When seeking to identify an item and establish its value, I hope you’ll make use of my price guides, and of course, you can cruise eBay and Etsy in search of items like yours.
Another valuable resource I’ve begun to use recently is WorthPoint; they have over 350 million listings, ready to help you figure out what you’ve got and what it’s worth. Look for more information about this company, coming soon.
The bottom line is that this first threshold question must be answered: is it old or not, because you don’t want to attempt to sell merchandise that looks old, but is actually new. That certainly won’t build your reputation as an antique dealer.
Another resource I put together is a long list of different types of antiques, with corresponding articles and websites that contain good information to help you identify whether or not you have a true antique. Real or Repro, another great resource, is filled with some terrific information that will help you make good choices.
In the long run, it takes time and practice to discern whether that light fixture you found at a garage sale for $10.00 is 1953 MCM or 2015 big-box store. Truthfully, sometimes it can be difficult to tell, but with time and some effort to educate yourself, you’ll begin to acquire the knowledge you need to be successful.
Is it desirable?
The next big question, “Is the item desirable?” presents a real dilemma because many types of antiques that had value in, say 1990, have not retained that value. In some cases, like East Lake furniture and silver plated tea sets, they’ve plummeted. The antique market has taken a nosedive since 9/11 and does not appear to be improving.
Baby boomers selling off collections and the increased popularity of minimalism are not helping us out, either. Many other factors like the economy, changing styles, and internet sales have affected the market as well.
When I first got into the antique business back in 1995, pressed and elegant glass of any color, even clear, sold extremely well. Today, I find almost no market at all for clear glass, even for particularly beautiful pieces, and even when priced very low.
Another category that has been hit, perhaps not quite so badly as glassware, is china. Back in the day, older transferware (newer, too!) and flow blue china fairly flew out of an antique booth. While they still have a place on the market, the prices achieved are much lower.
So how can one know what’s desirable and what’s not? Hard question. Will you hate me if I tell you that it’s somewhat hit or miss, and that you need to test your own particular market to really get an answer to this question? Just from writing my blog, I’ve learned that some of what sells well for me in Upstate New York, would just sit on a shelf in, say, Texas. And vice versa.
I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “Thanks a lot, Diana!!” right? Let me throw you a bone. Here are a few things that I think might be universally desireable: small occasional tables, baskets (this one sold for $65.00), primitive cupboards, folding rulers (ha, ha), flags, ladders, step ladders, galvanized items…
…yellow ware bowls (this one sold for $65.00), 1940-40’s era fans, wooden skis, skates, natural history items (large shells/bee’s nests/birds’s nests/rock & fossil specimens), garden hand tools, flower frogs, leather books, and farm tables.
Is it in good condition?
Next, you must consider the condition of the items you plan to purchase. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to look for and buy items of the highest quality; they will almost always sell more quickly, and certainly for higher prices, than items that are missing pieces or have condition issues, like chips, breaks, or other damage.
I never buy pottery or glassware with chips, cracks, water marks, or other damage. Even if you price them low, they will tend to sit on the shelf. Look at items in good lighting and examine them carefully and run your fingers around rims and footed stems.
[NOTE: This means something different when selling shabby chic or farmhouse, where some items may sell faster with a certain amount of chipping, rust, or other “damage.”]
I recently picked up this ironstone pitcher at an estate sale, only to discover when I got home that it had a nice chunk out of the bottom, reducing it’s value to almost nothing. Fortunately I paid very little for it, but the lesson remains–check out your potential buys carefully.
And by all means, steel yourself against the lure of the low-priced piece that is imperfect. Trust me, you do not need to buy it. Leave it on the shelf and walk away.
Don’t buy baskets missing chunks of reed, beaded purses with missing beads, books with torn pages or loose bindings, furniture with peeling veneer (unless you plan a quick paint job), quilts with excessive rips or stains, paintings with torn canvases, or vanity jars missing lids, as in the case above.
All that said, do buy imperfect items which can be cleaned or restored relatively easily or which will be exponentially more valuable after you put in some time/effort to restore it. Like this wooden pedestal that I conditioned with my “private recipe” wood salve that I’ll have available for sale SOON!!
Consider buying wooden items that can be easily waxed or painted, frames that can be tightened and reused, rusty items that can be wire brushed and oiled, or dirty furniture that can be cleaned. However, you must use good judgment when making these sorts of decisions.
Is it unique?
If an item is neither vintage nor antique, if it is nonetheless a unique piece, then you might want to consider buying it. When you’re out and about buying, you will sometimes come across items that are not necessarily old, but are so unique and interesting, you know there’s a market for it. Just be sure to indicate on your tag that the item is “newer” or “not antique.”
I bought this ridiculous fiber glass pig a couple of years ago because it fell into the “unique” category. I had no idea whether it dated to 2010 or 1970, but I knew it would sell and it did, for $45.00.
The trouble for me is that I focus primarily on farmhouse goods in my booth and so something as garish as this pig would have been difficult for me to put in my booth. It just wouldn’t have looked right. Fortunately, our shop has a large covered porch where dealers can place items like this for sale.
Modern road signs like this One Way sign definitely falls into the unique-but-not-old category and should not be left behind. I manage to buy about one a year and always sell them very quickly for good money.
This blue enamelware punch bowl and ladle, however represents the absolute best of both worlds–a unique antique(!). Something you should absolutely buy, presuming you can answer our final question (coming soon) in the positive.
Would it make a good accent piece?
I often buy newer items that nicely accent the merchandise in my booth. Things like berry garlands, white lights, small wreaths of all kinds, and faux fruit can add some pizzazz and cohesiveness to a booth and really pull your look altogether.
These faux pears look so real, don’t they? They really enhance the look of the dough bowl and add a sense of life to the display.
Same with the beautiful lemons.
I snatch up every berry wreath that I find for a good price because they are so attractive and sell extremely well.
Items like these branches of maple leaves and the plaid napkins celebrate the changing seasons and make a booth inviting.
Is the price right?
Depending on who you talk with, you will hear a number of different answers to the question, “Is the price right?” The common recommendation I’ve heard throughout the years is that a dealer should double his/her money. To which I heartily respond, “Fubar!” Personally, I try to six to ten times my money on each item that I buy. You heard me correctly–6-10x.
Merely doubling your money is fubar.
Most sellers, like myself, have to take into account overhead and taxes. To keep matters simple, I plan on overhead (rent, business cards, commissions, PayPal fees, supplies, etc.) costing approximately 1/3 of my profits and taxes (federal and state) costing another 1/3.
This means that if I buy an item for $10.00 and charge $20.00 for it, in the end, I will make just $3.33 profit ($3.33 went to overhead and $3.33 went to taxes). Not really worth the effort of buying, cleaning, preparing, inventorying, pricing, driving, displaying, and the like, is it?
Set a goal to at least 5 or 6 times your money.
However, if I bought the item for $10.00 and charged $60.00, then my profit would be $16.66, better, but still not fantastic. If I could sell it for $100, however, I’d net $30.00, and that’s not bad. Keep it simple while you’re out there shopping and keep in mind that you want to more than double your money, you want to minimally, 5 or 6 times your money.
Before I let you go, let’s just briefly review the questions you want to ask yourself before you commit to buying something to sell in your antique booth or Etsy shop:
- Is it really vintage or antique?
- Is it desirable?
- Is it in good condition?
- Is it unique?
- Would it make a good accent piece?
- Is the price right?
Now, I’d love to hear from your point of view whether I’ve asked all the right questions or not. Let the comments begin!
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