25 YEARS OF CHANGES IN THE ANTIQUE BUSINESS
inDecember 26, 2012 - 10:51am
I along with my sister inherited our Aunts estate 25 years ago. The estate was chocked full of antiques and collectibles. As novices in the antiques business we started having yard sales on a weekly basis. During the week Jim my husband was fully employed and on occasion traveled for his business. On one such trip he purchased an Schroeder’s Antique Book. Thumbing through the book he spied a picture of a glass Christmas bird, that same bird we had sold at our yard sale for .25 was listed for $18.00. No wonder the woman had asked, “Do you have anymore? I’ll take them all”. That did it we packed up the rest of the estate and brought it back to our hometown in New Jersey 150 miles away. We decided to educate ourselves before we sold another thing.
Weekends were spent devouring antique shops, flea markets, yard sales and auctions. Pretty soon we were not only learning all about antiques but also falling in love with them. We began buying much more than we had sold. We soon realized we needed an outlet for our new hobby. In 1989 we discovered co op Antique Shops were quite popular. You rented space and only had to work a few days a month. We found one located in Mullica Hill New, Jersey an Antique Village with approximately 28 other Antique Shops and rented space. We still had much to learn and as we were setting up shop a fellow dealer purchased a blue and white pitcher from us for $20.00. When asked she responded correctly that it was a sponge ware pitcher. Again Schroeder’s came to the rescue showing us the pitcher was listed for $250.00. Oh well another learning experience. On the other hand a more ethical dealer scouring our booth spied a pair of sulfide marbles for $6.00 each. She knew they were worth much more but instead of purchasing them she educated us by saying, “Are you going to mark them up or should I buy them”. Another learning experience but the one that was beneficial to us was when we started realizing we could sell a hundred items at a few dollars making a small profit or sell one quality item and double our money. That’s when we decided to concentrate on quality rather than quantity and started purchasing Colonial Revival Furniture and Accessories dating from late 19th century to the early 20th century.
The year was 1990 and it seemed everyone was in the antiques business. You just had to rent an area and they would come. We now had a full library of antique books and still loved scouring Museums, Historic Houses, Antique Markets, Yard Sale, and Antique Shops etc. It was now time to move on and find our own Antique Shop. We purchased a seven-room farmhouse staying in the same Antique Village location. At first we rented space to other dealers and set it up as an upscale co-op antique shop. Our inventory grew and as dealers left instead of renting the space we coveted it with our own merchandise. For the next several years we could hardly keep up with it. We purchased wonderful antiques, priced them fairly and had a steady steam of customers. Many who felt more like friends than customers.
In 1994 Jim retired from his engineering position and we became a full time Antiques Dealer Shoppe. We purchased many fine pieces but sometimes to get really good buys we would have to find something that needed restoration. Although I’m of the belief if it’s a really old piece and you would devalue it by thousands of dollars then leave it with the original finish and patina. However if it doesn’t date to the 18th century and has a terrible finish you would only enhance the piece by restoring it. With this in mind Jim took a class on refinishing and learned many different techniques for restoring.
Furniture. It’s amazing how quickly his duties included purchasing, research, hauling, restoring, electrical work, making keys, fixing locks and selling.
At first the computer age didn’t have much of an impact on us. It was great for research and it was easy to sell mediocre merchandise at a good price. Then it became obvious that many items previously considered rare were in abumdance on Ebay. Our specialty being furniture, which didn’t sell that well on the Internet with the cost of shipping, was still going strong for us. In fact 2001 was one of our best years and sales remained brisk until 2005. After that there seemed to be a slow decline in sales and then in 2008 the recession struck. Several shops in our Antique Village closed their doors as the owners decided to retire. In fact all over the country many of our interesting haunts were no longer in business. In some ways it was a cleansing of dealers who felt they could make an easy dollar but didn’t have the knowledge or know how to become successful.
With the computer age upon us we decided to build our own web site and joined Ruby Lane an online selling web site. One of our first sales went to Beijing China. This person would have never come into our shop and the sales have continued to come from areas outside of New Jersey and the Country. We’re reaching a customer base that would never have had the opportunity to visit our shoppe. At first we dealt mostly with accessories rather than furniture but we found a reasonable shipper that specializes in shipping antique furniture. So now we feel comfortable selling the product we specialize in. Ruby Lane has also brought customers to our shop after having visited our items on line. Selling on the Internet has become lucrative but it’s brought new challenges. One was to learn how to take excellent and interesting photos. It’s best to take several photos showing every angle. If the piece is signed make sure that’s visible. Descriptions of your item are extremely important, as a person isn’t able to feel and touch so you almost have to write a visual story. Add to my job description photographer, shipper and storywriter.
Last year we were asked by a lawyer to help her client determine the value of her antiques. Her client was going through a divorce and wanted to be aware of what she had in the way of antiques. We explained that we were not certified to be appraisers but the lawyer said that didn’t matter she just wanted a ballpark figures. There was a little trepidation on our part but my confidence grew as I felt we could identify almost everything she had and what we didn’t know could be researched in our books or on the Internet. Needless to say we were smitten and Jim decided he’d like to become certified as an appraiser. After a little research he found a correspondence school where he applied, completed the course and received his certification.
Although our sales are becoming more brisk on Ruby Lane than in the shop my first love is the shop and we still have a steady flow of customers. More browsers than buyers but some customers enjoy handling and seeing their antiques in person. I have a special flair for decorating and setting up attractive vignettes, which the customers appreciate, and are quite complimentary. We love to travel and purchase antiques so this is the perfect business for us. Once the economy turns around and it’s already started we’ll be ready with selling on Ruby Lane and in the Antique Shop.
The Front Porch Antiques on Ruby Lane