Will it sell?
inJune 30, 2008 - 10:05am
Call me eclectic, or, as my son elegantly puts it, nuts. Eclectic doesn’t come close to describing the variety of things that I find beautiful and intriguing. From an ancient Chinese Tang dynasty horse, to a totally kitsch chrome plated candelabra, to a classic Madame Alexander doll from the 1950s … I love them all. I guess I just love old stuff. For me, the items I sell are not money makers. Each item I sell is a tactile piece of history.
Dolls are a great example. If you look at a doll from any period, you instantly know a lot about that time and the way life was. Dolls of certain periods are almost entirely little babies. At other points, they were always depictions of children, pudgy little children with round faces and rosebud mouths. Move to a later period and the dolls are all grown up ladies with fashionable figures, dressed in exquisite clothing, coiffed, rouged and high-heeled. The dolls we give our little girls to play with speak volumes about how we, as a society, view little girls … and even more about the values we want to pass to our girls. Today’s dolls are entirely different than the dolls I grew up with and what we are telling our little girls about themselves is to me rather creepy.
Now consider old Chinese porcelain. There are Tang horses breathtaking. Some of them are actually encrusted with precious gems. These horses are aristocratic steeds fit for a great lord, for the Emperor himself. Yet, at the same time that these were made, there were other Tang horses produced … and these horses are entirely different. They are small and plump. If the horse has a rider, it is likely to be a servant or merchant. These Tang horses were owned by ordinary folks because in that ancient world, ordinary folks decorated their homes. Not so lavishly as did the great ones, but within the limits of what they could scrape together, they made their homes as lovely as they were able.
The Chinese were way ahead of Europeans in understanding that people need beauty in their lives. The necessities – food, a dwelling, clothing – keep the body alive, but art keeps the soul alive. A thousand years ago in China, even the poor owned small pieces of art, a few items intended to make their dwelling place something more than a way to keep the rain out.
Whenever I post something, I try to put it into a context, to make it as real to someone browsing my site as it is to me. Someone made it, someone else bought it, displayed, used it. Who were they? What kind of lives did they lead? Was this their most treasured possession? Was it a utility item, destined for eventual replacement and disposal?
My home is full of old things. Some things are truly ancient, others own merely a couple of decades of time. Each and every item is unique. Each has a story. And each is special to me, a part of the history of humankind, a marker for a time, a place, a society that is gone but which I can touch and feel. Will it sell? Will anyone but me like it?
I have made peace with a reality we all have to confront, that the market is fickle and unpredictable. Fenton was hot, now it’s not … but it may heat up again just as quickly as it chilled down. The best thing we can do is to sell what we love. I have to believe that if I love it, someone else will love it too, hopefully love it enough to buy it.
I don’t get it right every time. Who does? Things I find extraordinary sometimes sit for months with nary a nibble, yet something else so obscure or odd that I can’t imagine anyone but me appreciating it flies out of the shop before the virtual ink is dry on the listing. Not every buy is a good buy, not every item is going to turn a profit.Mostly, I do pretty well. I try to write listings that are not just descriptions, but which tell the story. Not surprisingly, I tend to have a lot of historically-oriented items in my shop. Some sell quickly, others slower, a few not at all. Armed with the foreknowledge that what doesn’t sell is going to be mine, I choose things that I will be happy to keep should they not sell.
Whether or not I believe an item will sell is never my only criteria for acquiring it. There are many items that, in theory, will sell, but which I don’t like. There are many antiques and collectibles that I could never live with, so I won’t buy them. When you get right down to it, we have only our own taste and judgment to guide us, so I buy what I love. While I wait for the right buyer to come along, I have the pleasure of owning many beautiful and rare things that enrich my world. So far, so good. My shop is a virtual time tunnel for me. I cannot physically travel the continuum, but by living amidst the things that have survived through many years, I can travel to long ago places. And, wonder of wonders, I can make money doing it! Imagine that!