Something Old/Something New

Pitfalls to Avoid

As interest in antiques and collectibles grows, reproductions proliferate. At first glance, many look like the real thing. But dealers who repeatedly make mistakes will quickly earn a bad name with knowledgeable collectors.

In addition, knowing what will sell can sometimes be guesswork. Mowrer put some Blue Ridge dinnerware--which is neither as old nor as well-known as other ceramics in which she specializes--on the bottom shelf of her showcase, just to make it look full. Surprisingly, the dinnerware has been selling faster than anything else. "What you think is going to go usually doesn't," she laughs.

Novice dealers should be wary of jumping on immediate trends. Cabbage Patch dolls, which were all the rage 10 years ago, now sit in antique shops priced at less than $30. If you want to make money on fads such as these, you have to move quickly before prices plummet.

Whatever you display in your booth or case, try to move your wares around about once a week. "Keep it looking different," Mowrer says, "even if it's the same stuff."

Any business has the best chance of success when the entrepreneur in charge enjoys it. Nowhere is that more true than in the antiques and collectibles field.

"You've got to love it. That's basically the whole thing in a nutshell," says Mowrer, who has a full-time job as a janitor and devotes evenings and weekends to her antiques business. If the work were drudgery, she would not be willing to spend the time necessary for success. "The hunt is the thrill. I'll be happy if I can just pay for my addiction to antiques," she laughs.

"A lot of people go into this business because they think it's easy," says Swaim. Many beginning dealers who inherited quality items from a family member, or who decide to sell things from their personal collections, are surprised to find the business can be quite challenging down the road. "They don't realize that once the good stuff is gone, they have to go out and replace it."

Selling antiques and collectibles may not make you rich. But you can reap financial rewards if you go into the business armed with knowledge, persistence and a true love of the business and the merchandise you sell.

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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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