Letters to the Editor: Good antiques dirt cheap?

We’ve all heard stories about the million dollar finds on the turf at Brimfield in the 1970s and 1980s – perhaps some of our readers even made a few of those finds themselves – and we’ve all heard stories, perhaps apocryphal, about that copy of the Constitution, or that Picasso painting, that came out of a garage sale in the middle of nowhere.

I can tell you, for certain, that in my time in the antiques business, and in my roaming through various antiques festivals, shows, auctions, flea markets and garage sales, I have never come across that something that would allow me to retire.

In the year 2008 there are still plenty of places to find decent antiques at a “fair” price, but what we really wanted to know from readers last week was if you think there is – or if you know about – anywhere you can go to find really good antiques for dirt cheap. The operative words here are “really good,” and “dirt cheap.” Does such a thing exist anymore?

The answers, for the most part, were an intelligent mix of opinions and stories, as I would expect from Trader readers, and as you’ll see below. Many of the answers, knowingly or not, tied into the question from two weeks ago about whether Antiques Roadshow is good or bad for business.
If you want to get in on the online conversation, go to www.antiquetrader.com and sign up for our weekly e-newsletter, or drop me a line at noah.fleisher@fwpubs.com.


In regard to your article, I too think that those days are over. Too many people watch the Antique Roadshow and think their “things” are worth tons of money. So I must share this story with you:

My friend and I use to go into homes and buy the contents. Most of the time they were relatives from a death. We would have them take what they wanted, and then offer them an amount to clean out the house. It was fun and exciting. Some times we just bought a few things.

One call we were asked to go on we went into the attic and gathered up what we wanted, then offered her $100 for what we had chosen – not much. I got a call late that night asking me if I thought we had given her enough money. I replied yes; I lived in this town my entire life and had a good reputation of being honest and would not want to ruin it by cheating her.

Well she had been watching the Antique Roadshowand they just appraised a table for $250,000, so she was worried. I reminded her that we had not purchased a table from her, and if we had, I would not have known it was worth that much and doubted that any existed in our very tiny town. I then told her we would bring the items back the next day. She cried when we brought the items back, but it was the right thing to do. It is one of my favorite stories and I wanted to share it. I must admit, though, that I take the back off all the old pics I find just in case another copy of the Declaration exists!

Linda Owens
Bangor, PA

Hi Noah:

I have been sharing with my readers for more than six months now about this very thing. I have written about a young man I know in Florida that bought a painting for $25 and sold it for more than $600,000, and you might remember where I bought a painting here in Chicago for $16,000 and sold it at Christies for $115,000. I don’t see where you are coming from.

A man named Jimmy, here in Chicago, bought a painting for $40, then sold it for $22,000. Another man named Cecil paid $12 for a Derby Glass, held it for two weeks, and sold it for more than $12,500. I don’t know how many of these stories that you want to hear, because I haven’t even started.

I don’t know to whom you are listening to, because new records are being set everyday in this business. In fact if the economy does go into a recession it will even be better for us because there will be more things sold. Regardless of anything, if you have the right item it is going to bring more money today than ever before.

Why are you discouraging people that may miss their opportunity to better themselve because of your negativeity.

Daryle Lambert
“Author of 31 Steps to Your Millions in Antiques and Collectibles”

Hi Noah:

I’ve been in business for some 28 years selling the wonderful art of French glass (Galle, Daum, etc.) to rare French dolls, to primitives.

My opinion on the market: back in the late 1960s and 1970s, anybody with the gift-of-gab (dealers) could usually convince customers with a “story,” sometimes made-up, and sometimes real, to buy – then, on the opposite side, they would be a ‘know-it-all’ when visiting old people, and would take advantage of them in denigrating what they had to sell.

Ebay has come along and made rarities, common! The Roadshow place prices so high, that that fact alone makes people think – out here in the ‘boondocks’ – their stuff just has to be equal in value to what they saw on the Roadshow, etc.

The public fought back in some surprising ways. One of these I have seen often, when I did shows, was little old ladies, or their offspring, coming through the show and copying down prices so they could appraise their own things. Of course they are naive about getting the prices, not realizing the work, cost of showing, etc.

Fortunately, my mentor was a very dear lady with integrity who worked out of her home, did shows, and, if she didn’t know, did not make up stories.
It will be interesting to read about your findings. Because I often worked on ‘signature loans,’ I gave information that included my loan officer at the credit union, and the fact that my husband was a management engineer at John Deere. I could not compromise his position…

Lorraine Long
Ankeny, IA


I still find some good buys while looking at tag sales, yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets, Also, I find some bargains in antique shops because the owners do not have a good enough knowledge of their goods.

However, I think The Antiques Roadshow gives a false impression of what antiques are and their values. I find that most people think something old is an antique because it looks similar to something they saw on the show. The result is that, when they sell they price objects too high and wonder why they cannot sell such items.

Should a knowledgeable person tell them what they actually have, the attitude becomes one of, “you’re trying to steal my goods.”

In the past if I found an item at a low price, I usually told the owner they were too low, and, if I was interested for myself, a fairer price was offered. This no longer happens.

M.G. Urich


I am a longtime dealer and I do about 48 antique shows a year and shop at all of them, not to mention the many shops I go to. I have never found any big haul, ever. There are plenty of times I find bargains, and can double or triple my money on what I buy, but that’s about it.

I scour Brimfield three times a year and also sell there. I shop almost every day for those bargains and have never been lucky enough, and, quite honestly, most of those stories are a big crock!

Thank you,

Bob Voss
Dba yesterday’s luxuries
Hamden, Conn.

Hi Noah:

I’ve been going to house sales, flea markets, etc., for about 40 years now. I’d say that “cheap” is always a matter of the time and income levels that you live in.

I remember seeing box lots of china that were offered for .25 cents and went unsold. Today that price might be $10. The goods didn’t gain more value, it’s just that a quarter yesterday is about $10 today.

As to finding a significant piece, it has to do with how close to the original owner the item is when it comes up for sale. If a person has neither the knowledge of an item, or time to research it, then it is likely to start at a low price.

The most likely place to find these pieces is at garage sales or a local flea market. As it passes through a few dealers hands to the final collector it picks up in cost at each step until it is taken off the market by the collector. Eventually it will come back as the collector passes away and their kids, who may live far away, wonder what to do with their parents “junk” and have their own garage sale.

There are still a lot of items out there that sell for a few dollars and are worth $100 or more (not a bad living if you do it often enough). The question that could be asked is: If you pay a high price today, $1 million in your example, and it sells for $2 million 20 years from now, isn’t that a pretty good deal too?

Mark Eisner

Hi Noah:

I still find those rare goodies early at yard sales or flea markets that are not recurring. Auction lots sometimes are still a good bet. I live in a depressed area and the goodies are slowly being sold as is necessary to make ends meet.

J. Sutton

Editor’s Note: The responses from our question about the value of The Roadshow still keep coming in. Just for good measure, we thought we’d include one more this week from a designer in Texas who had a different take than many of our other readers.


Just to answer your question about the possible benefits of Antique Roadshow…

I’m a designer who uses antiques in my work, as well as the antiques belonging to my clients. The show is always very interesting and fast paced. It helps me as a learning tool often, and I have even seen pieces owned by my family and by my clients on the show. Makes for great conversation.

In my town, one of our most profitable charity functions is an appraisal show with one of the experts from the actual Roadshow coming to Texarkana to do the honors at our country club. This benefits our Texarkana Museum Systems and is well attended by local people.

As a result of the community interest in appraisals, I have been “doing appraisals” for garden clubs and other ladies’ groups. I always tell the ladies that my appraisals are guesswork only, and that this is mostly a forum for “show and tell” activities. We have a great time. I have been antiquing since childhood and grew up with antiques in my family’s homes. What a vital part of our American heritage!

Your column is always interesting with food for thought. Thanks,

Peggy Benson
Peggy’s Interiors
Texarkana, TX