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Some thoughts on the antiques and collectibles business:
What makes something Antique?
Fakes, reproductions, and hidden repairs:
Fakes, reproductions, and fantasy items are becoming a serious problem in the antiques and collectibles field. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with authorized reproductions, as long as they are permanently marked as such, and are sold as reproductions. It is when they are sold as old and original, that they become a problem. There are many categories of antiques and collectibles that have been faked, some items are so close to the originals, that short of an expert, there are few ways that a collector, and even many dealers, can pick them out. It is an unethical dealer who knowingly sells these items without informing his customers. The excuse of "I am not sure if it is a fake" is not good enough. Any doubts should be expressed to the customer. As customers and dealers continue to unknowingly buy these items, it breeds a sense of distrust in our industry. I have people bring things in several times a month that they have bought in other shops, to see if I think it is a reproduction. I am always honest about this, I always give them my opinion. I am sure I have made other dealers mad, but I refuse to perpetuate their fraud. Every time a customer is deceived then they are less, and less, likely to continue collecting, and become more distrusting of dealers as a whole. When dealers are approached in shops, and especially in malls, and are informed about reproductions in their stock, many get defensive. Myself, I would be happy for the information, as it would keep me from accidentally misinforming a customer.
Fantasy items are part of the problem, these are items bearing logos for companies that were never made by the company originally. Many are even licensed by the corporations. An example of this is the many Coke belt buckles that look old, but in reality have been made in the past few years, under license to Coca Cola. Many take them for old advertising giveaway items, when in fact they are new and were sold by the licensee.
Hidden repairs are another problem. Many repairs to old furniture, pottery, etc. are so well done, they are hard to spot for the beginner, or by the naked eye, even by old pros. You have to know exactly what to look for, and in some cases even have to resort to using black lights and etc. I know of one collector of old duck decoys who x-rays his birds, to help find old repairs, and also to help tell fakes from real decoys. Ethical dealers will disclose repairs and hidden damage to their items. They need to consider their customers when selling merchandise. The customer who takes an old piece of furniture home, and discovers it is repaired, or even assembled from old components, is much less likely to do business with that dealer again, and has built distrust in their mind of all antique dealers.
Trends in antiques and collectibles:
The major trend lately, attributable to the internet, is less regional focus on collecting. Folks from all over the world are collecting items from all over. Yes there are still some regional trends, but it is becoming less noticeable. Items from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, are becoming much more popular as generations grow up and begin building collections. Some traditional categories of antiques seem to be falling by the wayside as the collectors for these items age. Some categories seem to follow cycles, they will be unpopular for several years, then all of a sudden we will see an upsurge in popularity. One thing I have noticed, is that publicity in the popular media can lead to trends. Items featured in Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, and other magazines, as well as TV programs such as Personal FX or the Antiques Roadshow, can lead to collecting trends. As always, some collecting trends, are really fads, and people who invest in these areas, will stand to lose their investment. I look for some categories of antiques and collectibles to make a comeback in the future as supplies of present collectibles dwindle, and their prices climb. Older, traditional, categories may make a comeback, as collectors go back to their ancestral roots. I see a bright future for the antiques and collectibles business, but with success will come increasing pressure, and increasing competition, for what is a finite resource.
Before that bright future can become reality we must first ride out the current economic crisis, and the long term effects of debt, taxes, and etc. that result from it. In that time, tastes will change. Customer demographics will change. Antique dealers will have to have the resources to survive, will have to direct their buying and selling in new areas. You will see many antique dealers and antique malls go out of business. I have already seen that on a widespread basis over the last few years.
Prices for top end antiques and collectibles have stabilized, and in some cases dropped. The bottom has fallen out for more common items. Auction prices are down for more common items, many by more than 50%. Auctioneers are less inclined to risk quality merchandise in this current economy. Many new dealers are entering the market, on the internet and malls as they try to replace the income from lost jobs. . New collectors are becoming hard to find. . As internet usage becomes more common, values should tend to standardize, as more and more collectors and dealers use its resources. I can see this already on some of the larger auction sites. I do think there is a great deal of "fishing" going on with prices. Dealers mark items much higher than they can be found in local antique shops and malls, in the hope that because of convenience internet customers will pay more than they would if they had to go out and shop. Who knows, in some ways this may be correct. As always if you buy what you like, value is in your own eyes. If you feel its a fair deal, and its what you want, buy it. Please do always remember, that when you are selling something to a dealer, he can not pay you the full worth of an item, he must leave himself some room to make a profit. In many cases, an offer of 50-60% of "book value" or of the retail selling price, is a very fair offer, as dealers have overhead, and must make a profit to stay in business.
With the current economic troubles, job losses, and increased competition on the internet some prices for run of the mill items have fallen, or at best stabilized. Hopefully as the economy improves, prices will pick up.
Know who you are dealing with. Make sure a dealer will stand behind his merchandise. An ethical dealer will disclose age, condition, any repairs, and whether an item is real or a reproduction. I have always felt that a satisfied customer is your best advertising. If someone buys something from me, and is unhappy with their purchase, I would rather have them return it, and be happy, than to keep it, and not return to my shop, or tell friends about their bad experience. A good dealer, will provide information to his customers, help them with their collecting, go out of his way to make sure they are satisfied.
Buyers Premiums and Surcharges at Auctions:
A trend lately at physical auctions has been to add a buyers premium to the final bid price. Usually 10%, but in some cases 5%. I have seen buyers premiums as high as 191/2 %. The net result is you pay more than you actually bid. I call them buyers penalties. A smart bidder will take this into account. What I have seen is that most forget about the premium and bid the same thing they would have without the premium. The purpose behind the premium was to lower the commission that auctioneers charge sellers, and allow them to get better quality merchandise. The commission is passed on to buyers that way, rather than born solely by the seller. This has been abused by many auctioneers as they haven't lowered their commissions, or have continued to charge premiums even on items they themselves own. Some auctioneers either charge a surcharge for credit cards, or they build it in as part of their premium, offering a discount off the premium for cash or checks. This is a questionable practice, and the Credit Card Companies do not support it. Another charge auctioneers are adding to some auctions is charging for catalogs. I can see this a little, if the catalog is requested by non-buyers or is expensive to produce. What I can not see is charging more than actual cost, and profiting from the sale of the catalogs. In my eyes, you are paying to be advertised to.
(Text Copyright 2000-2010 Drexel Grapevine Antiques
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