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How to Sell Antiques and Collectibles on eBay ... and Make a Fortune!
By Dennis L. Prince, Lynn Dralle
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Dennis L. Prince and Lynn Dralle
All rights reserved.
Why Specialize in Antiques and Collectibles?
Did you know that certain collectible cereal boxes can sell for big bucks on eBay? A recent completed-auction search on eBay (which lists all items sold or listed for the past 2 weeks) found a Peter Max–designed Love cereal box from 1970 that sold for more than $450 (see Figure 1-1). It did not even come with the original cereal, and it was flattened for safe keeping. Amazing! Granted, Peter Max is a very famous artist who is well known for his colorful, psychedelic style, and he contributed to the Beatles Yellow Submarine album cover, but these prices are still amazing!
Antiques and collectibles cover almost every item imaginable. Anything that someone collects can be termed a collectible. The best part about this category is that antiques and collectibles can be found in anyone's home. You don't have to go out and invest a huge amount of money in inventory to get started. Just look around your house, your garage, your attic, and your storage unit and, while you are at it, spend some time at your parents' home doing the same thing. Voilà—you have taken that first step on the road to making your fortune! But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There is still a lot to learn to be successful with antiques and collectibles on eBay, and this book is going to show you how to get there.
IMPORTANT STATISTICS ABOUT THIS INDUSTRY
The antiques and collectibles industry can present a challenge when it comes to figuring out an annual sales volume. According to Sharon Korbeck, editor of the Antique Trader, there is not an accurate number for sales volume, and there are several reasons for this. For starters, it is a fragmented industry and hard to quantify. What this means is that the sales number would need to include sales figures not only from brick-and-mortar antiques stores but from antiques malls, antiques shows, flea markets, garage sales, auctions, thrift and pawn shops, and, finally, online markets, including eBay. Korbeck explains that antiques and collectibles is not a regulated industry like banking, so reporting of sales is not required. For example, she noted that the people who sell as a hobby or on eBay out of their homes would not be reporting under any industry code.
According to Kim Esser, a Research Analyst at the University of Southern California, the industry numbers for SIC code 5932, Used Merchandise Stores, in 2000 indicate that $17 billion was spent in secondhand stores. The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops reported that resale was one of the fastest-growing segments of the retail industry, with an estimated growth of about 5 percent per year. A growing segment within the antiques and collectibles industry was flea markets, which had grown to a $7.5 billion-a-year business by 2000.
eBay TIP eBay sold $8 billion in merchandise for the first quarter of 2004, up 51 percent over last year! Based on this figure eBay has predicted that the collectibles category will account for $1.6 billion of its business for the year 2004. Any way you look at it, these are huge numbers. The antiques and collectibles industry, both on and off eBay, is growing.
A reason for this growth can be attributed to the 1990s, when the ecologically minded turned to recycling. In the 2000s this trend is continuing. Vintage has become trendy. More and more people who could easily afford new items now purchase vintage because they prefer the styles from other eras. Also, in times of economic growth, more people donate, and in times of recession, more people purchase used merchandise. Anyway you look at it, resale is one of the few recession-proof segments of retail because it is successful in both good and bad times. And that is good news for you!
IMMEDIATE OPPORTUNITIES IN ANTIQUES AND COLLECTIBLES
There are many immediate opportunities in the antiques and collectibles industry. Let's backtrack and spend some time examining the term fragmented industry. A fragmented industry has low overall barriers to entry, apparent absence of economies of scale, high inventory costs, diverse market needs, and a highly diverse product line. The diverse product line requires a great deal of user/seller interface on small volumes of product. What this means in layman's terms is that antiques and collectibles favors the small business over the larger one. It also means that it is relatively easy and inexpensive to break into the antiques and collectibles business. And with the advent of eBay, this has never been truer.
Good news for us! With eBay, there are no big start-up costs except for inventory, and another benefit to eBay is that you can turn over your inventory in 3, 5, 7, or 10 days, so even the inventory expenditure does not have to be huge. We will talk more about start-up costs in Chapter 5.
Another great thing about antiques and collectibles is that they have a limited supply. Remember the old saying "The best investment is land, because they are not making it anymore." This is also true for antiques and collectibles but with the difference being that with each succeeding year, the supply of objects diminishes: fewer antiques and collectibles come onto the market because they have found permanent homes in collections, but also because there is the inevitable deterioration and breakage. While the supply is continually decreasing, hopefully the demand continues to increase. Lynn's grandmother used to say that antiques and collectibles are the only inventory that actually gains value as it collects dust in your store! (See Figure 1-2.)
However, all of this good news doesn't necessarily translate into success with antiques and collectibles. Korbeck says that knowledge is key in this business. You have to continually educate yourself, and that is why you bought this book, isn't it?
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SUBCATEGORIES
Antiques and collectibles is a huge field, encompassing every subcategory imaginable. Vintage clothing is considered collectible, books can be antiques and collectibles, old LPs (records) are desirable, and the list goes on. As we found out earlier, even cereal boxes are bringing in big bucks as collectors battle over them. For the scope of this book we had to narrow the playing field down into a manageable size.
To accomplish this, we did research on eBay, looking at the top categories with the most listings and taking into account that some of these categories would have higher-priced items. We also chose groups of items that would most likely be found in your home or you could easily find at estate and garage sales. From this research, we outlined broad categories and determined which are the most popular. This book will focus mostly on these categories.
Of the five areas we selected, Furniture had the least number of listings (78,000 items), but this category does have higher ticket prices. This is always good! Also, everyone owns furniture and can easily find furniture to buy and sell. Over the years, china and glassware break and metalware gets melted ("worth its weight in gold") and repurposed (pewter was made into bullets), but furniture has remained and endured.
We will take a look at furniture by room and by eras. It is a huge category with a lot to learn, so we will start with the basics and teach you just enough to be dangerous. Just kidding. You will learn things such as where to look for marks. Even though the majority of furniture was never marked, it doesn't hurt to check, because your piece may be the rare one that was signed! Also, what do you call a certain piece, is it a highboy or a dresser (see Figure 1-3)? What is the primary wood and what is the secondary wood? How was it made—with dove tailing, nails, or staples? Furniture is a great category to list and sell, and I have made some of my best profits in the furniture arena.
Ethnographic items run the gamut from classical, as in Greek and Roman, to the huge Asian category. Of the 115,000 recent listings in this area, more than 40 percent of them were Chinese and Japanese antiquities. Things such as cloisonné, Imari, and snuff bottles are among the treasures.
This section also includes collectibles from all cultures, such as Russian hand- painted boxes, Hawaiian grass skirts, South Pacific serving bowls, and African masks. It is a fun classification, and we will help you learn some of the rudimentary skills you will need to identify your items or at least get started on the right track. Since no one can become an expert in all of these fields, we will also point you in the right direction for learning more and where to go to get an expert's opinion.
Pottery and Glass
Based on a recent search on eBay, this section had 355,000 listings on one day! Wow! These types of antiques were once termed smalls by the old-time antiques dealers. Smalls are obviously tinier items that are easy to display in a cabinet and easy to package and ship. Smalls would not include furniture, linens, and larger items in general.
We have broken this huge classification into two chapters. Chapter 13 focuses on pottery and Chapter 14 on glass. We will examine items ranging from rustic Watts Pottery to fine Rookwood and from American brilliant cut glass to Tiffany glass. A lot of pottery and porcelain was signed with the maker's mark on the base or underside. This makes it a lot easier for us to do our research. However, most glass was never signed, and we will show you how to start your investigation by identifying shape, color, type of manufacture, and use. Once you have these basics, we will look at where to go for more information.
eBay TIP In this area, condition is very important, and we will talk about chips, cracks, crazing, and flaws done in the making. These are just some of the things you will need to know to become a successful seller on eBay.
Tabletop is one of Lynn's favorite categories. (Okay, to be honest, all antiques and collectibles are Lynn's favorites!) China sets, flatware, and stemware are easy to find at garage and estate sales, and you can make some of your highest returns on investment this way. For example, Lynn recently bought a box of dinnerware for $8 and sold the pieces individually on eBay for more than $450 (see Figure 1-4).
The Tabletop category includes china, dinnerware, glassware, stemware, and flatware. A recent check of this category on eBay revealed 309,000 items listed (almost as many as pottery and glass). For beginners, this is a great category if you want to test the eBay waters. You will find a lot of these items right in your own kitchen or dining room!
Decorative Collectibles is the biggest category we will be covering. This one is the granddaddy of them all—a recent look on eBay showed more than 452,000 listings in this category alone. Decorative collectibles are another big faction of the "smalls" world. These are things that you will find in your parents' or grandparents' hutch. Things like a collection of Lladro, Bing & Grondahl, or even Hummel figurines. Maybe your brother had an elephant collection. Now is the time to sell it! Animals is a subcategory in Collectibles on eBay, comprising approximately 25 percent of decorative collectibles. There is a huge following for all types of animal-related collectibles particularly dog items, such as bulldogs and spaniels. This is also the place where a lot of name brands come into play—Enesco, Precious Moments, Boyds Bears, Dept. 56, and the list goes on and on. Luckily, almost all of these items are signed with the maker's mark. It makes our job of describing the pieces so much easier. Since these items are usually commodities and not as unique and rare as others, we will focus more on strategy in this section to help you get top dollar.
In Chapter 2, which covers the history of selling antiques and collectibles, we get going on our road to fortune.
The History of Selling Antiques and Collectibles
Antiques and collectibles have been bought and sold since the beginning of time. Early antiques such as jugs, tables, and other utilitarian items were originally traded or bartered for food and other necessities of life. In the seventeenth century, Japan got into the game with beautiful porcelains like Imari, and the decorative antiques and collectibles market was on its way.
HISTORY OF ANTIQUES DEALERS: THE ORIGINAL MARKET
In the more recent past, say 50 years ago, this industry was dominated by small mom-and-pop shops. The old-time antiques dealers worked hard at their craft, spending hours hunting for bargains, cleaning, repairing, pricing, dusting, and displaying their wares in their stores. Research was next to impossible. There weren't a lot of reference books, and the dealers would have to check what other dealers were selling, read trade magazines, and sometimes PFA to price their goods. PFA was what Lynn's grandmother called one of her pricing techniques: pulled from air.
These dealers usually had to keep set store hours, and that meant spending many hours tied to your business location, which didn't leave much time for finding stock.
Many antiques dealers sold at shows each year to broaden their market base beyond their small towns. It was typical for a dealer to do 12–18 antiques shows a year. It was a ton of work. Lynn knows about this first-hand: her grandmother started dragging her along to antiques shows when she was only seven! The preparation for these shows was intense. They would spend two weeks prior to each show picking out which items to take, making sure they were clean, in good repair, priced, and that there was a nice mixture of goods. Then they would pack each item very carefully in divided boxes filled with tissue. They had "snowboys, fatsies, finish feeders, plates, and tinies" boxes. These were their funny terms for the different-sized and -shaped divided boxes. Packing was a science, and it would take 2–3 hours to pack the van with the shelves, risers, display cabinets, extra tables, tablecloths, utility box, lights, electric cords, and, at last, all the fragile antiques.
The shows typically ran three days, plus an extra day for setup, which was a full day's job. The tables were provided, but the dealers had to set up everything else, including the electrical cording, spotlights, shelving, and drapes (see Figure 2-1).
What does this mean for you? With eBay, you can make the same profit without all the extra work. You should by now have a feel for how much work this industry used to be, and for such small financial returns. Now let's take a look at how this industry has continued to evolve since the 1950s.
HOW HAS THIS INDUSTRY CHANGED AND EXPLODED IN THE PAST 50 YEARS?
Generally speaking, the 1950s and 1960s were dominated by small shops and antiques shows. In the 1970s, mail-order and the collectibles businesses really took off. The Antique Trader was a huge source of buying and selling opportunities. It was truly a shopper's periodical. Starting in about 1970, collector's plates became the rage, as popular then as Beanie Babies were in more recent times. Bing & Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen had owned this market since the 1890s, but suddenly everyone wanted a piece of that pie. Frankoma in 1968, Imperial Glass in 1970, Goebel Hummel entered in 1971, Metlox in 1973, and the list goes on. The Bradford Exchange took it to a higher level in the late 1970s. The plate business thrived throughout the 1970s and made a lot of money for the dealers who dealt in these items by mail, in person, and at shows. Lynn's antiques shop used to advertise collectible plates every other week in the Antique Trader and would sometimes sell $2,000 worth of them from one ad. It sure beat all the work that an antiques show required!
Some of the more traditional antiques dealers would not be caught dead with a newer collectible in their stores, and they missed out on a huge opportunity. However, some of these dealers did advertise their antiques in the popular magazines (Antique Trader, Hobbies, etc.) and did supplement their sales figures.
The plate business in the 1970s was the basis for many of today's popular decorative collectibles such as those from Enesco, Franklin Mint, and Boyds Bears. You will learn more about this category in Chapter 16.
The 1980s brought us the antiques mall, which became a great opportunity for a part-time hobbyist to make a little extra cash. The part-time antiques dealer did not have to keep an open shop and could pay a small percentage to the owner of the mall. Antiques malls typically charged a flat rate for booth rental—$50 to $500 a month depending on size—and then a small percentage of sales, 10 percent or so. Because the dealer didn't have to invest a huge amount of money, the number of new dealers entering the business increased. The antiques mall was a great concept for the buyer also. Instead of having to drive to 20 different shops looking for one item, the antiques collector could find many items under one roof. The downside was that the dealer wasn't there to explain the history or to share his or her knowledge. Antiques malls are still around today and seem to be surviving.
Excerpted from How to Sell Antiques and Collectibles on eBay ... and Make a Fortune! by Dennis L. Prince. Copyright © 2005 by Dennis L. Prince and Lynn Dralle. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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