Something Old/Something New

Where to Learn What You Need to Know

In order to make it as an independent antiques dealer, you must spend time and money building up your knowledge and reference library. Every dealer should have one or more general price guides, like Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide (Schroeder Publishing, $12.95, 800-626-5420), Kovel's Antiques & Collectibles Price List, 29th Edition (Crown, $14.95, 800-726-0600) or Warman's Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide (Krause Publications, $16.95, 800-258-0929). Other, more specialized price guides, like The Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass by Gene Florence or The Collector's Guide to Antique Radios by Marty and Sue Bunis (both from Collector Books, $19.95 and $18.95 respectively, 502-898-6211), will nicely supplement the main guides, offering more detailed and complete information on specific categories of merchandise.

Although price guides are useful, dealers should realize they are not gospel. Prices vary, according to the condition of the piece and the location in which you are selling. The price for a piece of collectible glassware in California or Washington, where quality glass is relatively scarce, might be double what the same piece goes for in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, where glass is more plentiful.

Finding out the value of a piece is but one step toward successful sales. Collectors like to know a little about the origin and history of their treasures, and will shop repeatedly where dealers accurately label their merchandise with information about the manufacturer, age and pattern name, if any.

You can get more detailed information on specific pieces through reference books. These books can sometimes be even more valuable than simple price guides because they frequently contain valuable information, such as how to spot fakes and reproductions.

"I'm surprised at how much I've learned just by looking through books," says Mowrer. "The Carnival glass people really know their patterns." By knowing the pattern names of the pieces she sells, she earns the respect of collectors. Talking to other dealers and attending auctions can also be educational. "Even if I spend a whole night at a sale without buying, but I learn something, it's worth it."

Of course, the process of pricing your merchandise begins before you actually buy items for resale. Mowrer brings her price guides to auctions; before bidding, she'll look up the pieces' values and decide how much she can spend and still expect to make a decent profit. "I decide my price and then I stick to it," she says. "But there are some people who go right up to book price."

"There are different kinds of dealers," says Annetta Vitez, who manages Merchant's Square Mall Antique & Specialty Shops in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she is also a seller. "Some feel they have to double or even triple their money. Others are satisfied with a $5 profit margin. But the second kind don't last too long."

Mowrer strives to at least double her money on everything she sells, a policy which has earned her, at times, between $100 and $200 a week.

Swaim also tries to double her money, but adds that selling antiques is merely a hobby for her. Experts agree that professional dealers should try to triple their money to compensate themselves for their time and expenses.

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This article was originally published in the April 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Something Old/Something New.

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