September 1, 2019
Where To Sell Antiques
Somethings are easier than others in life and based on over 20+ years of experience in the art business, I can say in my opinion selling antiques is not easy. Not because what you have is no longer popular and no longer of interest, but because in general, the nature of antiques is that they are difficult to sell. You may hear a great deal about a famous painting selling for world record sums, however before that occurred, the sellers of that painting probably spent a fortune, restoring, authenticating, and shipping that painting around the world trying to convince everyone that the painting was authentic, no one knows until everyone knows. The point is, it doesn't really matter what you have that you are trying to sell; it is all where and how you go about trying to sell it. Like anything you are trying to sell, it helps if the person you are selling something to actually wants, needs, or tends to buy the item you are trying to sell them, so the issue of where to sell antiques is really about the way you go about it, and has a lot less to do with what you have.
Depending on your experience selling antiques, collectibles, or vintage items, you may know that there is no one-way when it comes to knowing where and how to sell antiques. Along the way, if anyone tells you that there is an easy way to sell antiques, I hate to tell you, however, as I mentioned before, there is no easy way to sell antiques. The only easy way is to make it someone else's problem, and that usually means some monetary slippage, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. If anything you may be able to call antique sales and the selling of antiques very unpredictable. Making this statement is not designed to dissuade readers from buying antiques. Compared to buying new decor and buying intelligently, buying antiques can be a brilliant decision if done correctly. However, selling antiques is tricky, and it not by any means simple.
One person's dilemma is another person's luck. People sell their antiques, art, collectibles, and jewlery for many reasons. Perhaps they need the money to cover an immediate financial emergency, or they have this large old trunk in their basement, and they want to get rid of it. Maybe they inherited a warehouse full of things from their uncle, who was a long-time dealer, they are busy, tired, and would prefer just to make the problem go away. If it would solve their problem faster, they would probably just have a yard sale, hence the reason people buy imperial treasures for two dollars at a yard sale and sell them through a specialized venue of sale for two million dollars. It usually pays to take your time, but only if you're lucky.
While there is this group of folks that we will refer to as the "in a hurry/don't care faction," of antique sellers, those who don't care what prices they get for the items they sell, they just "want the stuff to be gone", there is also the group of folks who know beyond a doubt that the Disney collectibles they have are treasures possibly worth millions, and it is now time for them to take a position in the market and leverage their collection against the frenzied buyers lining up with bank references to place their overzealous bid on their selection of Walt Disney reproduction animation cells. Yes, I am joking, and generally, those sort of items are not worth that sort of money, and if they are waiting for top dollar, they will be waiting for quite some time. This type of antique seller can also be lumped into the group of sellers that try to ensure that above all they get top dollar and that no one else in the world will ever make a nickel off the items they buy from them. They are generally afraid of making a mistake in an antique sale and should the person they sold their antiques or property to dare to do anything but lose money on the sale, they will not be able to rest. Realistically, while no one wants to be on the short end of a deal, you can't expect people to take all the risk and assume none of the benefits. As a seller, it is not realistic to expect that you get to define what makes business and financial sense to a buyer. Once the item is their's they can do whatever they want, ask whatever they want, and wait as long as it may or may not take to get the price they are asking should they ever even decide to sell your uncle's favorite piece of antique furniture.
Not everyone that needs to or wants to sell their antiques falls into the above categories. There is also the type of folks that sell their antiques in such a way that would make a ninja look clumsy and honestly those types of antique sellers probably don't need my advice. They are mostly professional dealers, but sometimes collectors have that ability as well, and for these purposes, we don't need to discuss them. They know what their options are.
I always love to see advice on the subject of how to sell antiques from people that have clearly never sold anything besides maybe a boat or a house in their life. They talk of doing things the proper way when someone is interested in selling their antique items. Some suggestions include things like first getting an unbiased and subjective market value appraisal on the property. In my experience, no buyer cares what your "unbiased" appraisal says an item is worth unless they want a document that they can later use to claim that you over resented the value of the piece they bought from you. Providing market value appraisals can be very very very misleading when you get them from a professional appraiser, and generally, when I see a market value appraisal, I roll my eyes, as I know the only person that makes money from that "deal" was normally the appraiser. The only time when having an appraisal beforehand when selling your antiques matters is with some collectible grading companies, for items like coins, or for gems and jewelry, as in how companies like GIA offers gem grading reports. Those sort of appraisals for market value purposes are essential; otherwise, you now own an expensive piece of paper, and no buyer really cares.
Now that said if you need an insurance appraisal or you need an appraisal for legal matters, and not to "just get an idea of what you can sell your antiques for," then you really need an appraisal. Just don't expect to cut your grass with a fishing boat. It probably doesn't work that well, and most of the time, the appraisal will probably cost you more money than the items are worth.
The only other reason for an appraisal when you are trying to sell something is to prove authenticity, and almost every appraiser I know these days wouldn't authenticate a stick of gum due to the potential liability involved. Again, appraisals are tools with very specific purposes and can be vital under the right conditions, generally, when you are trying to sell your antiques, however, in my opinion, the wrong tool, however, if you don't sleep at night without one, get one done, but don't expect it to mean much.
So what is the right tool?
When most people think of selling their antiques, they probably all think about auctions, pawnshops, or calling the local antique guy that has a shop next to the shoe repair place on the corner. If this hypothetical seller is really savvy and daring, they may even consider putting their antiques online with a third-party sales platform, all they have to do of course is take some pictures, and send out the item, not so hard right?
Maybe I only hear about the problems, and no one bothers me about their highly profitable successes, however every time I hear from a client that tried to sell their antiques online through some type of online auction or fixed price method it usually ended up in them losing the item and the money they got for it. The property they sold got lost, broken, the buyer ripped them off, etc. and I hear it over and over.
Generally by the time they get to us, they have had enough monkey business, and of course, that is our job, we sell things, and we work very hard to sell them for our clients so that both sides, the buyer and seller are happy. However, we don't take everything that someone may want to sell, and so generally we try to explain things as best as able about some choices they may have as a seller elsewhere.
Pawnshops are generally the worst place to sell antiques, art, jewlery, and collectibles unless you're a con artist, and you know the Rolex watch you're trying to sell is actually a fake and you hope this pawn shop will give you a few thousand for it, even though you bought it for 20 bucks in Chinatown. Chances are the guys at the local pawn shop probably know Rolex watches way better than you, and they can spot a fake Rolex 5 miles away. Otherwise, unless you need a million dollars by midnight to pay for a new kidney, they will pay the least. They may pay more for gold and silver than a local jeweler depending on your location, and what you have to sell, it depends, some pawn shops pay decent prices for everything they come across, and some don't, their goal is to make money of course and so keep that in mind, the less they pay you, the more they pay themselves. Would you do it differently if you were them? I have never seen a sophisticated dealer ever sell anything to a pawn shop, not even scrap silver, but if you really need the cash immediately they are are always there, even on Christmas eve, when everyone else is waiting for Santa to climb down the chimney.
Auction. Oh, how do I envy the mighty auction houses of the world? Playing with estimates, making great use of phony "chandelier bidders," poor catalog descriptions and the lot, having been a seller myself using them once upon a time, I have seen it all. Lost lots-as in they lost your stuff and they aren't going to find it, stuff gets broken, the estimates they promised you at sale change, things sell for nothing, and you get a bill from them and not a check-yes I said that correctly. That said if you have the "right property," it may be a great way to sell your property and it may be a horrible way to sell your property. It depends on how quickly you need to sell your antiques and what you have. Keep in mind who do you think is sitting in an auction at 10 am on a Wednesday morning? Antique dealers that's who and their goal is to make money.
Auction houses can certainly better than a pawn shop, but it can also be not much of an improvement. I have seen "good" auction houses sell silver below scrap prices, and of course, we all love the stories about the auction houses that sold a painting for five thousand dollars only to show up at another auction house and sell for five million dollars. I have certainly been burned myself selling at auction, and I love when an auction house tells a client that their item is no good, and so they sell it to a dealer privately, who then brings the item back to the same auction house, where it is promptly accepted for sale and then sells for many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the dealer paid for it. This even happened to me early in my career. Lesson learned, and some lessons are expensive.
Selling antiques to an antique dealer is always a mystery for a seller. Did they pay a fair price? Did they rip you off? You begin to sweat with anxiety; you don't know. No one ever wants to see anyone ever make any money from their things, and the thought of someone pulling one over on you gives you a stomach ache. On the flip side, the antique dealer near you pays their bills and feeds their family buying antiques. It is probably not something they do for fun alone, hoping to make sure they give you as much as humanly possible for your items, to then turn around and find a loving home for your once owned goods that will be cared for and cherished forever. No, this scenario is not likely. In fact, I have never heard of it before. Alongside this is the idea that you can "tell" and antique dealer what his profit should be. 10%? 25%? 50%?
I love articles that state what an appropriate profit should be for an antique dealer. These articles, of course, are normally written by non-antique dealers or retired folks that sell antiques for fun and maybe use the money from their sales to pay for a small vacation trip. Neither of whom I would imagine a professional antique dealer is interested in hearing from. In truth, an antique dealer will try to sell the items they just bought from you for as much as humanly possible and then some, and they have to. Selling antiques is very risky, illiquid, and not certain, antique dealers have massive investment and mostly little returns. Very few antique dealers I know are rich and very very few got rich buying imperial treasures for peanuts from unwitting sellers. The ones I know that have gotten rich, either paid a lot and they got lucky and sold the item for a lot more, or bought the item years ago in the mountains of a foreign country, like Indian Jones type places, with snakes and angry villagers chasing them down a river with spears, in order to one day find a pot of gold from their adventure.
Of course, I will mention that the reason we started Artzze was to offer the best of both worlds for sellers and buyers. We do not buy property, but should you have something you would care to consign, we are happy to review images. We try to ensure both sides do well, and most of our clientele are collectors and retail buyers.
Again there is no one way to sell your antiques, you take into consideration your situation, your needs, and based on the above, try your best.