Here’s something sad that isn’t new – often, the parts are worth more than the whole. Case in point – I bought a couple of really cool old items recently – a 1940s National Cash Register and a 1920s RCA Victor 5 Band World Radio. I’ve tried to sell both at numerous prices – but … Continue reading “Destroying Cool Things for a Profit”
Here’s something sad that isn’t new – often, the parts are worth more than the whole. Case in point – I bought a couple of really cool old items recently – a 1940s National Cash Register and a 1920s RCA Victor 5 Band World Radio.
I’ve tried to sell both at numerous prices – but with no luck. I tried to sell them high at the price that the pieces are worth when parted out and then, because I hate tearing cool things apart – I tried to sell them at just about the price I bought them for – which is roughly 25% of what they part out at.
They wouldn’t sell. Too big, too heavy, and folks just don’t have the room they used to have. All those McMansions are being sold as boomers realize they don’t want to climb stairs every night or mow an acre of grass in the front yard. They’re selling their furniture, selling their collections, and selling the collections they inherited from their parents. The younger generation doesn’t have the money or the space.
So, I’m going to destroy these cool old machines. I’ll sell the RCA Victor tubes for $20 each and the keys of the old cash register for $2 each – I’ll pull out the cool old dial from the radio and the bakelite knobs and then convert the cabinet into a bookshelf. I’ll scrap the guts of the register for about $30 more and paint the whole thing red and slap a coke label on it and sell it to someone for $35 which is the last price I tried to sell it for.
I’ll quadruple my investment even when you figure in the time spent pulling these cool old machines apart – but it sure seems like a shame to do it.
A sleeper is an undervalued item at a sale, shop, or event.
I jinxed myself with my last post. I know it’s a bit superstitious to think that one actually can jinx one’s self – but I guess that bit of superstition provides a little bit of meaning and understanding to things we just don’t understand.
“I found my sleeper and ended up paying $1 for an item that I would flip for over $2000 within a few days…I’ll tell you about that in the next article which will be all about sleepers….”
Man, I wish I hadn’t of said that. You see, I hadn’t actually flipped my sleeper yet but I was so sure that I would be able to – that I allowed hubris to grab me and let my fingers do the bragging that jinxed me. Truth be told – I’ve been waiting for my sleeper to sell so I could write my triumphant “I told you and here is the proof” post – but, like I said, I jinxed myself.
I’ll tell you about my sleeper find later in the article, but first I want to fulfill my promise about explaining sleepers.
In the antiques and collectibles business, a sleeper is an item that the seller has overlooked – an item which is priced well below market value. You might think that sleepers are hard to come by, but they are everywhere -even in antique shops, flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales, or high end auctions by Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Bonham’s.. There is always a sleeper.
The reason is that unless the seller is only selling one thing that they are completely sure of and expert on -it is probable that there is something of value which they have overlooked. An example would be those very nice staplers I wrote about in a previous post, or maybe a vintage Barbie thrown in among the modern Barbie dolls, a broken dresser with valuable hardware on it, a pair of ruby earrings that has somehow found it’s way into a junk jewelry box, or a box of 75 clay poker chips from 1955 marked Commanche Club Poker Room that wound up in the dollar box of a hoarder sale.
Yup, that’s what I found. As soon as I saw that they were embossed, I knew they were special – even if they hadn’t of been embossed, they would have been a sleeper since a box of T.R. King small crown poker chips made of clay is worth $40-$60 by itself –
These were special though. Every chip was marked $1 – Commanche Club. A bit of research showed me it was a Los Angeles card room that had closed in 1955. Further research showed me that individual chips sold for anywhere from $35 – $95 each. I did the math and listed them on Ebay for a discounted price of $2250 with a “Make an offer” option. I was sure they would sell within a day or two and then I jinxed myself by writing that last post and including my bragging.
Still – it’s an awesome sleeper and is just waiting for the right butt to come along and fill the seat. I’ve left enough meat on the bone for a dealer to make a nice profit – the thing is – it’s a big investment – so it will take the right person coming along.
So, the sleeper is what you are looking for when you are picking. Whether it is the $100k piece of furniture which is for sale at only a few thousand dollars, the red line hot wheels inside the box with the modern ones, or the broken Turtle Timer watch from Zell Brothers of Seattle (which most people don’t know is actually a Rolex movement inside a watch with a silly name).
Here’s the thing though – don’t jinx yourself. One way to make sure you don’t make a sale is to brag about it before you do – I don’t know why the universe works that way – it just does.
The first time I heard it, I recognized it as a profound and universal truth.
“You don’t make money selling, you make money buying” The speaker was some anonymous homespun picker up in Washington State who was poling around through the same boxes as I was at a random garage sale back in the 1990’s. He may not have said it just the way I wrote it, but that’s how I’ve remembered it – and I can tell you without a doubt that I remember it and always will.
He was saying it to the proprietor of the garage sale who had just said something like “We’re selling some stuff because we need to make some money…” It flew right over the guys head and smacked me in the face. I should have grabbed that old picker and asked him to make me his apprentice because with that one piece of wisdom, he’s earned me a lot of money. I can’t imagine what else I might have learned from him.
It might sound ridiculous to you, as it did to the garage sale guy – obviously you make money by selling things and you spend money buying things, right? Yeah, of course that’s right, but only if you are looking at things with no perspective and no perception of the past or future as already existing.
You sell the stuff you have. Where do you get the stuff you have? You buy it. If you buy stuff that no one will buy from you then you aren’t making any money in the future from it, but if you buy things that will sell – well then you’re making money by spending money – easy as that. If you don’t buy anything, you are just using up your potential energy as you sell what you already have – and eventually, the well will run dry unless you are selling your wit, your wisdom, your body, or something else that you can produce from vapor.
Want some examples? I’ve got a lot of them.
I went to an antiques show recently and I waited in line with the other dealers to be as close to first in the door as I could. We all laughed and joked with each other outside but when the doors opened – it was every man or woman for himself. One guy went left, another went right, and I went straight in and to the back. I saw a table lined with tin lithograph toys and I asked the vendor what she would take for all of them – as she started adding them up I threw a lowball offer – she raised it by 50% – and I agreed. It was less than 1/4 of the added up price. Deal was done. $125 for everything on the table.
While I did that another guy bought 40 WWII maps on silk for $300, another bought up four Navajo blankets for $150 each, and a fourth dealer grabbed seventy large unframed photos of racehorses from the 1930s for $100.
Here’s what you need to know – all of these cool items were sold within a couple of minutes of opening and they were all sold for a fraction of their worth. My buddy sold the pilot maps on silk within a few days and made nearly $600 in profit. The tin toys paid for themselves the same day, I listed a few of them for sale in my Ebay shop. The Navajo blankets are worth several thousand dollars and as for the pictures of the racehorses – I don’t know but they are worth far more than the $100 she paid for them. So, $1125 was spent and an estimated $5000 was earned leaving a profit of $3850 – and that money, nearly four thousand dollars was made not by selling – but through buying.
I can hear some of you saying “But hey, you have to sell that stuff to make money” – Yes, you’re right, but the origin of the money is the buying, not the selling. None of us walked into that sale with no idea what we were looking for. We all know the market and as dealers, we are all learning all the time. I walked right past the Navajo blankets – and I’ve learned from my mistake – the next day I bought a book on Navajo rugs and blankets. I also got online and began educating myself about old photographs – and the next week I knew the right price to offer for a box of photographs. More money made through buying.
There’s a reason each of us bought everything on the tables – if you buy in bulk you get a better price and – even more importantly – people often miss the trees for the forest. In every case above – there was one item among the lot that was worth more than all of the rest put together. One blanket was more valuable than the combined worth of the rest. One tin litho toy was worth more than all the rest together. One silk map worth more than all the rest. One horse picture worth more than all the rest. This happens so often that you can almost consider it a universal law. By lumping all of the items together, the percieved value on the group as a whole becomes less. There are several lessons that can be taken from that last statement.
Here’s the main thing – and I hope this is clear: you can’t just walk in and buy everything or anything. You need to know what you are purchasing, approximately how much it is worth, and have an idea of how much you can get it for. Hoarders and G-Sale junkies tend to just buy anything and everything – and I have to admit, I love it when they finally have a yard sale. Here’s an example:
Yesterday, I went to a hoarder sale. There was so much stuff. Much of it was priced on the nose, a lot of it was overpriced, and some of it was priced for a very modest profit. I ignored almost all of that and looked for the sleepers – the items that the hoarder had overlooked as being truly valuable…I found my sleeper and ended up paying $1 for an item that I would flip for over $2000 within a few days…
I’ll tell you about that in the next article which will be all about sleepers….
In the world of antiques and art – there are a couple of golden rules that I’ve learned in the years I’ve been buying and selling – I’d love to take credit for these, but the truth is, they are almost universal knowledge among dealers – so it would be rash for me to claim anything of the sort. I can only claim the particular wording as my own – any picker worth their salt knows the truth of these.
1) You don’t make money selling – you make money buying.
2) A sale is validation that you know your business.
For this rather short post, I will focus on the second bit of wisdom. Here goes:
Anyone can roam the landscape and buy every potentially valuable thing they see, hoard it, and wait for someone to come and tell them they have a treasure. Mostly what happens in that situation is that someone comes along when the hoarder or their family finally decides enough is enough and they buy the valuables with the garbage, throw the garbage out, and no one is the wiser when the treasure comes to light.
At this point, it pays to divert myself from the topic at hand and go into a different direction….
There are hoarders – who buy stuff and never sell any of it.
There are collectors – who buy stuff and might sell it to improve their collection.
There are dealers who buy stuff in order to sell it.
I’m an antiques dealer – everything I have is bought to eventually be sold. I’m also a collector, but my collections are generally being put together so I can sell them, and to some extent – I’m a hoarder – because I have some items that are worth very little that I expect will be worth a lot in the future (like my stapler collection) but in my defense…I use the staplers frequently….
So, as a dealer – if I were to try to sell my staplers…I would be very disappointed. In fact, I don’t buy them to sell them, I’m hoarding :) – but most of the stuff I buy is to sell in the very short term – there is really not much worse than buying something with the intent of selling it and then not being able to find a buyer…in fact..it hurts because it tells the truth – you’ve either paid too much or bought something that no one wants…
This, I think, is the reason the hoarder does nothing with what they have bought. They are scared of being wrong. They already, in fact, know they were wrong…the things they bought were worthless and so they go for volume over quality which is always a mistake (even with staplers).
Satisfaction comes when you buy something knowing that it is a work of art and then you sell it for a profit. Monetary Validation. Ah-ha!
An example – my friend’s estate sale. This was actually my introduction to vintage staplers…
In the estate were a couple of very interesting staplers. They were Bates B Model Staplers. I capitalize the name because this is the crown jewel of staplers. They are staplers that you load with copper wire and which make smaller than usual staples from the wire – so in fact, they are bending, cutting, and shaping. The minute I saw them, I recognized a wonderful piece of machinery. These weren’t staplers…they were art. Despite my friend’s protest that they were JUST staplers, I refused to let him price them at $1 each…or at $5 each…or at $10 each…and instead I priced them at $50 each!
He thought I was nuts. And I began to agree with him, but eventually, a guy came and asked if I would take $20. Another came and asked if I would take $30. Finally, a guy offered $75 for the two and I took it. ( He got a great deal as a Bates model B in the box with two cartridges routinely will sell on Ebay for more than $100) but at the time, I didn’t know that and our mission was to clear stuff out, not hoard it. Those staplers brought more than much of the fancy glass, the figurines, the brass, the statuary, and the tools everyone thought would sell…that was the validation.
Since that sale, I’ve bought and sold nearly a dozen Bates Model B Staplers….
Now, I know about them….but before that first sale…it was just a matter of my taste vs. the world – and until they were sold – I actually started to doubt my taste…but it was validated…
And that, my friends is the satisfaction of a sale explained…it validates your taste and experience.
P.S. I don’t have a Bates Model B in my stapler collection (or a Model A) because when I get them, I sell them…however…I’m holding onto my Swingline Speed Stapler 4 and my Bostich and Bates 550 models until I can get what they are worth…
This is a huge area that I am learning more and more about as time goes on. My friends consigned a large number of brass and some copper items with me and of course, before putting them in Space 23, I wanted to make sure I learned about the items.
For definition purposes – Copper is copper and brass is an alloy of copper, zinc, and other metals. Bronze, on the other hand is made of copper and tin.
First of all – hallmarks. Silver almost always has hallmarks – the stamps which can tell you whether it is sterling, coin silver, when it was made, where it was made, and who made it – which is great because with better provenience you can get better prices.
Brass and copper – not so much. This is especially true when you are looking at brass or copper from Korea, China, or Japan – which if it dates from the late 1800s to the present day is usually just marked with the name of the country it came from – which is done to comply with import laws. While much of this is very finely made by artisan craftsmen who did all the work by hand – since we know little to nothing of the maker or where and when it was made – the value on these items is often far below what similar hallmarked items from France, Germany, or England would be. This is a great thing for the buyer but for the collector or seller – it is not so good. If you are looking for brass implements, decorative items, or art – eBay should be your first stopping point. I’ll tell you why – dealers charge a premium in their shops because they are paying rent and utilities. On eBay, it is the buyers who set the market and there is plenty to choose from.
Still there is a lot we can tell about metalware from the stamps –
For example – if it says Nippon – then it is probably dated from 1890-1915 and from Japan. The Japanese during this period used the proper anglicized name of their country but after 1915, it was reverted to Japan due to confusion among American consumers. From 1915 to 1930 it would be marked “Made in Japan” and from 1945 to 1950 “Made in Occupied Japan” and then just Japan. Of course, this only applies to items made for export to the United States – not to items that were made to export to other countries or for Japanese domestic use. So, when you find a mark it tells you something.
But, here’s the hitch – before 1890 items didn’t have to be marked. So if it isn’t marked it could be from anywhere if it is old or made for domestic use.
Things marked KOREA tend to be made in the 1970s to 1990s – but there is some margin for error there as well since not all brass makers in Korea switched to paper sticker labels in the 1990s and there were some brass Korean items marked Korea in the 1950s and 1960s – though not nearly as many due to the Korean conflict.
If items are marked British Hong Kong they are almost certainly 1950s. In the 1960s onwards they would simply be marked Hong Kong. ROC or Republic of China is 1949-1980 but in the mid 1970s there was a period where the mark was People’s Republic of China – if it’s only marked China – that dates it 1891 to 1949 or more possibly from 1978 onwards.
I should point out that items which are marked (signed) with Japanese, Chinese, or Korean characters can be incredibly valuable – or not. My recommendation is that you don’t sell anything before you know what it is.
Finally, brass and copper items from India are plentiful and very cheap. While many of these are finely made, the market is flooded with statues, figures, and plates from India. In general, these things are not very valuable, but there are always exceptions.
One of the first items we’ve featured in our brick and mortar art and antique shop is a wonderful collection of Hakata Urasaki figures. These figures vary in size but most of the one’s we have are 8-10 inches tall. The porcelain figures are known for their exquisite details – in particular when it comes to capturing facial details and the minutia of Japanese life.
I should point out right away that there is a distinct difference between a Hakata figure and a Hakata Urasaki. It is helpful to know the history of both. The original Hakata dolls date back to the late 1500s in Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyoshu. A lord was having a castle built and noticed a worker constructing figures from clay. The sculptor, Sohichi, was so skilled that he was immediately patronized by the lord and passed his skills and trade secrets on to the next six generations. The secrets died in the mid 1850’s with his final heir.
It wasn’t until 1885 that artisans in Hakata took up the art and displayed their work at a national exhibition. This is where the dolls came to be known as Hakata. The figures became internationally known at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Hakata are earthenware and each is hand painted. They are delicate and as a result, not many true Hakata have survived.
In post WWII Japan, there was a revival of Hakata dolls, mainly as souvenir’s for US troops. In the 1950s during the Korean conflict, a doll making firm was contracted by the US Exchanges to produce a special line of Hakata dolls, called Hakata Urasaki, after the name of the firm making them, the Urasaki doll store. Hakata Urasaki were painted with a waterproofing coat which allowed them to be washed. These were produced only during the 1950s and only for the exchanges and US Servicemen. The dolls were not as brightly colored as the original Hakata dolls and were not desirable to Japanese consumers and so they were discontinued when the bulk of US troops left.
A special note about these dolls – even thought the labels say they are washable, the washable surface has long worn away with age – these should never be washed with water, only dusted with a dry cloth.