As antiques auctioneers change their business, collectors must ask themselves tough questions

Two features in the March 16 edition of Antique Trader highlight the challenging, yet opportunity-filled, present in which the antiques business finds itself.

Starting with Wayne Jordan‘s column Behind the Gavel, a new Worthpoint survey of dealers shows their most effective promotional tools is the Internet (61 percent); trade shows (7 percent); word of mouth (21 percent); and classified ads (8 percent).

antiques_auctioneer.jpgThen an excellent article by Bryan Scribner of the National Auctioneers Association (a brief excerpt of which can be found at his blog) shows how auctioneers are struggling to understand how to reach a more diverse and fickle customer base. Some auctioneers say it’s difficult to predict whether oil paintings valued at $500 to $1,000 will bring $50 or $500. Other say they have stopped advertising sales that sell less than $50,000 worth of merchandise and have now turned to free listings in event calendars to advertise sales.

If you have a large collection and are getting ready to retire or downsize or insure a collection for an inheritance, these are two articles you should read. Please share them with your collector friends.

On the other side of these auctioneer’s concerns and changing business plans are collectors and consignors who must make tough decisions on where to sell their items. Here are a few questions to ask dealers or auctioneers to find the right fit:

  • Do you advertise online or hold online sales?
  • How many pieces do you advertise online, and how many sell?
  • Where do you advertise your sales, and how many people do you reach on a monthly, weekly and daily — yes, daily — basis?
  • Are you willing to buy objects outright? (If the answer to this question is no, would the auction house consider a consignment deal in which the items are offered for a certain time frame.)

You also need to ask yourself one tough question: Is my collection as valuable as they once were?

As hard as these questions are to ask, it is better to get the tough answers well before you find yourself in a situation in which you must sell.

Overseas buyers are once again turning to the United States to claim important historic works. In the case of Asian buyers, quality items that once brought $1,000 are now selling for four times that amount. Now is the time to sell.

For all others, now is the time to look at your collection, read how the market is changing and start asking tough questions so that it’s not your collection that’s being sold for the low bid at a sale that’s not open to bidders all over the world.


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