Successful Antiques Collecting: Is now a good time to sell?

Spare cash is the a thing of the past for many, if not most, these days. With fewer jobs and higher prices most of us need to reserve the funds we have for things like food and heating bills. The economic situation has definitely affected the antique and collectibles market in recent months, and even in recent years. Just how has it been affected, however? Is now a good time to sell?

I set up at my last antique show well over a year ago. I’m not a professional dealer so I don’t depend on antiques for my livelihood. I have bought and sold antiques off and on during much of my life, but it’s never been more than a sideline. My most recent antique show was not a good experience. Attendance at the show was light and those who did come weren’t buying. My total sales didn’t even begin to match what I’d paid out for booth rental, gas, and all the other little miscellaneous expenses that go with setting up at an antique show. If my total sales were 100 percent profit I would have lost money and, of course, 100 percent profit is nothing but a dream. My profit was closer to 20 percent. The expenses turned that profit into a big loss. All in all, I would have come out far ahead if I’d just given away my antiques and had never set up at the show at all. Hours and hours of work went into getting ready for the show, setting up, and tearing down. It definitely wasn’t a good time to sell good antiques.

Now that I’ve painted a bleak picture let me say that even though my most recent antique show was a financial disaster it wasn’t a total loss. I did have some fun while I was there. I got to see a lot of nice antiques and talk to a lot of wonderful people. As a social event, it was quite a success. Will I ever set up at another antique show? Yes! Will I do so soon? Probably not. Right now all my best pieces are boxed away to sell on another day.

So is now a good time to sell? The answer depends on what one is selling and the price asked. I intend to set up at a good flea market in the near future. I expect good sales. Why? Because I’ll be taking the kind of merchandise that will sell well in these rough economic times. I’m not currently buying and selling for a profit. I’m merely selling off what I don’t need. I took this into account at the last flea market I set up at and sales were strong.

 So what kind of merchandise am I taking that I expect to sell so well? My inventory for the next flea market will consist of special, but inexpensive collectibles, bargain priced antiques, and miscellaneous not necessarily antique items I’ll be selling for a song. Let’s look at each of these categories.

Special, but inexpensive collectibles:

Flea markets are inexpensive entertainment. The flea market where I set up at the Otwell Community Center in Otwell, Ind., charges $1 to get in. Not a bad price for an hour or so of browsing and plenty of good company. There’s even good food at great prices. It’s a social event. There’s always a big crowd, which is surprising for an event in a community of only some 1,400 people. Times are tough in the area and there isn’t a lot of cash to spare for most. That makes finding some nice little piece for an inexpensive price especially attractive. I’ll be taking a lot of small, collectible, decorative items that don’t come with a big price tag. These are pieces that don’t have a great value to begin with and will be priced at well under value. I had good luck with such pieces at my last flea market.
Bargain priced antiques:

I have some good pieces that I just want to get out of the way. I don’t have room for them. I don’t need them. I want them gone. I’ll be pricing them low enough to tempt collectors into parting with some cash. Bargains are hard to resist!

Miscellaneous and not necessarily antique items I’ll be selling for a song:

Flea markets are a mix of old and new. My inventory is usually such a mix. I take a lot of good useable dishes, books, video tapes, records, and such as well as collectibles and antiques. For quite a while I sold Disney VHS tapes. I bought large lots of 20, 30, and even 60 on eBay, then sold them at flea markets for $4 each. I lowered the price as the tapes were picked over. Now, I only have 40 or 50 of them left. VHS tapes are old news. Most people use DVDs now. At the next flea market, my Disney tapes will be selling for $1 each. If someone comes along and offers a reasonable amount, he or she will walk away with the whole lot! I sell used books for 50 cents and most DVDs for $3-$4. I also take items that have been to the flea market a time or two and mark them down to half price. My prices tend to be very reasonable so half price is a real bargain!

It is a good time to sell pieces such as those above at the price levels I’ve mentioned. What pieces aren’t likely to sell now? Run-of-the-mill antiques and collectibles priced at or near their current value. Yes, some such pieces will sell, but most buyers are passing up such pieces now because they don’t have the spare cash and the items will likely be available later on for the same price. Such items aren’t a bad buy, but they don’t have what it takes to attract buyers in these difficult economic times. Overpriced antiques don’t sell now. They very rarely do. Some sellers are determined to get not only top dollar, but beyond, for their antiques and collectibles. Such sellers find few buyers, especially now. It takes a truly rare and desirable piece to fetch a price beyond its value and most sellers, myself included, just don’t have that kind of antique to sell.

“Expensive” antiques aren’t likely to sell well now. “Expensive” is in quotes because the price on such pieces isn’t actually high, considering what one is getting, but pieces that cost a lot have trouble finding buyers when times are tough. Most of us just can’t justify spending a few hundred dollars when we’re not sure we’ll have enough money for groceries. Of course, if the price is “expensive,” but also a bargain … well, that’s another story.

It is a good time to sell some antiques and collectibles and not a good time to sell others. Buyers are looking to make their money go as far as possible. Many are working with very small sums. Items that can meet their needs will sell, while those that don’t won’t. True collectors won’t stop collecting. In fact, finding a nice little treasure is especially enjoyable when times are tough. We all have to make our money go further these days, so if you’re planning to sell, keep that in mind.

Mark A. Roeder is the author of two nationally syndicated columns on antiques: “Successful Antiques Collecting” and “Spotlight on Antiques & Collectibles.” His expertise comes not only from researching antiques, but from collecting, buying and selling them for more than three decades.