Furniture Detective: Write the ad right: Sell the piece

By Fred Taylor

Do you have some antique furniture you would like to or need to sell? How do you go about it? One way is to take good photos, write a good description of whatever you want to sell and visit some local dealers of like objects to see if they are interested. They may or may not be, and they may buy it outright or simply take it on consignment for a given period and charge you a consignment fee. You could also take the photos and descriptions to a local auctioneer. If he thinks it will sell at his auction, he may be able to give you a reasonable estimate of the selling price. The chances of a quick sale are pretty good with an auction placement. Whether or not you will receive what you want for the piece is open to question, and you will have to pay the auctioneer a commission.

But suppose you are not in a hurry to sell, you are not familiar with online auction

The ad for this desk should read: “Lady’s fall front desk, ca 1900. Qtr cut oak. Fitted interior. French legs. Original finish. Good condition. Slight veneer damage. 51in H, 24in W. $300.” (Photo courtesy Fred Taylor)

The ad for this desk should read: “Lady’s fall front desk, ca 1900. Qtr cut oak. Fitted interior. French legs. Original finish. Good condition. Slight veneer damage. 51in H, 24in W. $300.” (Photo courtesy Fred Taylor)

procedures and you want to maximize your return from the sale. That pretty much leaves print advertising as your next choice. Almost every daily paper of any size will have a separate category in the classified section for “Antiques and Collectibles.” In addition, many of the regional and national trade papers have a classified section for just that purpose.

So all you have to do is contact the paper of your choice and place your ad, right? Well – you have to actually write the ad first, and that’s where a lot of would be sellers lose a lot of time and money. A poorly written or non-informative ad will generate few responses, and the fewer the responses, the lower the chance of selling the piece. One important point to keep in mind is the reader cannot see the piece you want to sell. You have looked at it countless times and know exactly what it is and what it looks like but how do you convey that?

Take a look at some actual ads taken from print advertising and try to determine how they could have been more informative and better written to entice a potential buyer to respond. With the exception of contact information, these are the complete ads.


“TWO SETS of four lawyers bookcases. Early 1900s, oak, original finish, Marcey label.”


There are several unanswered questions in this ad. Do the bookcases have the bases and crowns? Is the glass original? Are the mechanisms intact? What is the overall condition? What is the price? The reference to the label is puzzling. One of the major makers of stacking lawyer bookcases was the Macey Co., not Marcey. If the seller doesn’t know that, what else doesn’t he know about the bookcases?


“ANTIQUE FAINTING couch with simple cherry frame in excellent condition. $250.”


How old is an antique fainting couch? The form has been around since before Roman

This exceptional book from the man who brings you the Furniture Detective column in Antique Trader each issue. Get your copy of this top-seller today at www.furnituredetective.com. ($18.95+S&H).

This exceptional book from the man who brings you the Furniture Detective column in Antique Trader each issue. Get your copy of this top-seller today at www.furnituredetective.com. ($18.95+S&H).

times. It was very popular in Napoleonic France where it was known as a recamier. It was also known as a meridienne. At the turn of the 20th century it was called a Roman divan couch. Does it have a recognizable style? Is the frame really cherry or could it be mahogany or even aniline dyed birch? Is it just the frame or is the entire couch in excellent condition? Does that include the upholstery?


“ANTIQUE DESK with scrolled edges. $300.”


Is it possible to give less information? What wood is the desk? Is it a pedestal desk, a drop front desk, a roll top desk? What exactly are scrolled edges? How big is the desk? Does it have an identifiable style or period? How old is it? What is the condition?


“ANTIQUE ENGLISH server. Dark wood w/beautiful carving & mirrors. 85” tall 60” wide. $1,200.”


What is dark wood? Could it be walnut, dark oak, even painted? What style of carving? Rococo Revival, Art Nouveau? How many mirrors in what configuration? Does it have doors, drawers, shelves?

Here’s a good classified ad for contrast with the bad ones:


“WOOTEN DESK. Standard grade walnut cylinder top, with patent plate. Original finish and hardware. Excellent condition. $9,800.”


If you know what a Wooten desk is, that pretty well sums up the piece. You know it was made in the 19th century between 1874 and 1893. There were four grades: Ordinary, Standard, Extra and Superior. This one is a Standard. You know the style will be a combination of Renaissance Revival and Eastlake. You know the price and the condition. This is a well done ad.

While it’s always easier to give better descriptions and more information in longer ads, it is prudent to avoid excess in ads of this type because they can get expensive.

But there is a trade off. By saving a few bucks on the ad, you may wind up losing a good buyer because of the shortage of information.

In general, most classified ads for antique furniture should include the form (table, chair, bed, etc.), the age, the style, the wood, the maker if known, the condition and the price, as well as contact information. If you do not know the age, style or wood, ask someone who probably does know – like the people mentioned in the first paragraph of this article.

Furniture Detective by Fred TaylorAbout our columnist: Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com. Visit Fred’s Web site: www.furnituredetective.com. His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916 or info@furnituredetective.com.

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