I know a few collectors. Heck, I’m one of them – I like pottery and have a few pieces that I’ve gathered over time. When I was a kid, I shook my head at my Aunt. She collected lots of things, like stamps, Hummel figurines, coins and dolls. It seemed like such a waste of time and money to me – just more stuff to store and dust. At the time, she thought she would be making big bucks off of her collections. When she finally decided to try to sell her stamp collection, she was vastly disappointed at what she was offered. However, she enjoyed her hobby immensely and kept right on collecting things of interest to her.
The oft repeated advice, to collect only what you love, is so appropriate. If you collect to make a profit, you are most likely going to be disappointed.
That said, many people, inspired by shows such as Antiques Road Show or American Pickers, do search for treasure objects. Here are my tips on collecting for fun and profit – from the niece of a collector, the wife of another and a former antique booth businesswoman.
Like anything else, you make your money when you buy, not when you sell.
When you are the collector, you are most likely paying retail prices for an object. If you try to sell it, your buyer is most likely going to be a dealer, needing to make a profit. They will pay you only half or less of current market retail value or they will soon be out of business.
Unless you are collecting to keep the object yourself, never pay more than half the current retail price.
Buy pieces only in great condition.
If you do find a bargain, there is most likely something wrong with the object. A piece of Hull pottery is practically worthless if it even has a small chip or crack. If you expect your piece to appreciate, it must be in great condition.
Some things can be repaired, but usually true collectors want original condition.
Don’t clean or repair immediately.
As noted above, most collectors (and hence most dealers) want original condition. Silver dollars (the ones with actual silver) are more highly valued if they have the correct hue for their age. For awhile, there was a trend called ‘Shabby Chic’. Old wooden furniture, painted white – with crackled or chipped finishes – were highly regarded by collectors and decorators. If you had such a piece and restored it, the value would be gone.
Paintings, as we all know from watching the Road Show, sometimes gain value when properly cleaned and brightened. Silver serving pieces and flatware are another exception (for the most part) where folks seem to want the shiny polished versions.
Repair only when it will increase the value.
A few years back, we sold several older radios – one wooden cabinet tabletop model from the 1940s, a Bakelite tabletop from the 1950’s and a 1960’s tiny transistor in MIB (mint in box) condition. We could have gotten much more if they were still able to pick up a signal (the electrical wires were too worn and the transistor radio needed a new, hard to find, battery).
Of course, if you don’t plan to sell the item, you might want to repair it so you can actually use it or get full enjoyment from it.
Know current trends.
The antique and collectible marketplace changes over time. For example a 1950’s Goebel Hummel figurine of a postman, was valued at several hundred dollars in 1997 (when my Aunt died and I was blessed with part of her collection) but recently sold on eBay for around $25.
Before you jump on a seeming bargain, based on research you did in the past, check out the current market for the object. Check out auction sites, like eBay and Etsy or stroll local antique malls and flea markets so you get a feel for what is selling and what isn’t.
Know your stuff.
Fakes abound, ready to gouge the ignorant buyer. I once fell prey to a vase, supposedly one of the name brand Roseville vases – which were then selling for hundreds of dollars. Knowing nothing about the way a Roseville vase should look and the markings that would authenticate it, I rejoiced at finding one for $30 at an antique mall. I keep it around to remind me of the error of my ways.
Most folks who collect will dive deep into one area before surfacing and starting in another. Collectors know their stuff. They have books, they have talked to experts, they know the way an authentic object should look, feel, weigh and the marks it should have. My husband once collected helmets. I actually found a collectors book identifying various helmets, their markings and the companies that made them as well as the year made. He used that book to find original, instead of reproduction helmets.
Whatever you collect, know how to recognize possible originals. Antique wood furniture is often quite lightweight – as the wood dries out over time. Markings somewhere on the object can help you recognize an original – for instance, when it is marked with a country that is no longer in existence (such as West Germany).
Store collections properly.
Research your object to find the best way to store it so it stays in great condition. Usually this will mean keeping the object out of direct sunshine, away from corrosive materials and children and keeping it at an appropriate humidity and temperature. Also, keep the box! Boxes help you store the object and add value if you sell it.
My Aunt used to keep her house cooler than was comfortable for her – to protect the antique marble top Victorian furniture she had.
We recently changed the location of our safety deposit box. We brought the contents home to inventory and remember what we had before switching. In it were several examples of silver dollars from the 1800 and 1900’s. Some were wrapped in plastic wrap. Some were in those plastic flip coin holders. We were surprised to find that the ones in plastic wrap were deteriorating. We now have them restored and stored in appropriate material to keep their condition. I was surprised at the deterioration as I store my silverplate serving dishes in plastic wrap to keep them from tarnishing between uses and they do just fine. I didn’t do my research before wrapping those dollars in plastic.
Don’t expect to get rich collecting.
Remember, the people who make a living from buying and selling antiques and collectibles are often in multiple lines of the business. For example, a person who runs estate sales may buy up the remains after the sale at bargain basement prices and resell them in a shop – selling to home decorators businesses for their displays and other B 2 B endeavors, online at an auction sale, consigned to an specialty auction shop or at a flea market or ongoing ‘garage’ sale. That same person may troll neighborhood garage sales and offer to cart away anything left after the sale for free.
Others may be appraisers or TV show stars as well!
Enjoy your collections.
Don’t just buy stuff and hide it away. Display it proudly, haul it out and drool over it, catalog it on your inventory and insure it if need be.
If you are a collector – please share your tips for buying, selling, storing and enjoying your objects.