The Art of Buying
by Ed Welch
No dealer has ever
made one cent selling anything. The selling process is expensive,
it is negative cash flow, and it wastes your time and energy. The
simple fact is that selling takes money out of your pocket.
make all their profit in the buying process. If you, as a dealer,
want to make more money, hone your buying techniques. This is where
the profits are.
dealer pays too much to buy an antique, that dealer cannot make a
profit. The dealer may be able to resell the overpriced item for
more money than he or she paid. But if the money gained does not
equal at least 60 percent of the purchase price, that dealer will
suffer a financial loss on that item.
break-even figure of 60 percent is arrived at by calculating selling
expenses, which average 20 percent in the trade, income taxes which
average 18 to 22 percent, and buying expenses which average between
8 and 12 percent. The bottom-line is: If you want to make money, buy
exception to the “Buy Cheap Rule” is when a dealer has a chance to
buy the very best example of an antique or collectible. Generally,
the best examples sell between three and five times the price of a
common example. A few best examples sell for as much as a hundred
times the value of a common example. It is nearly impossible to
lose money overpaying for the best. The demand for such items is so
great that the item will resell quickly at the new higher price.
This is part of my
assembled lot of signed country furniture. All chairs are signed by
the makers. Signatures include
Corey, Danforth, Gaines, Dunkin, Wiggins, Dodge and several others.
Age is from 1760 to 1930. All chairs are useable, several need
re-caning and three need to be re-glued.
Unfortunately, there are too few “best examples” for sale in today’s
antique marketplace. Dealers must ‘make do’ buying and selling
common examples. Common examples are hard to sell. The only time
that common examples sell quickly is when the price is lower than
the average selling price. If you want your common merchandise to
sell quickly, you must buy cheap and price cheap.
are many ways to buy cheap. One method, understood by most dealers,
is to buy in lots. It is nearly impossible to lose money buying
entire collections. A dealer willing to purchase the contents of a
home or business, or hundreds (preferably thousands) of like items,
has the best opportunity to make real profits. The advantage of
buying in large lots is that each item has a lower cost compared to
a similar item sold individually.
The horses are part
of my Junk Art collection. The horse in Ballerina Pose was bought in
a flea market in Maine. The Venice Horse was purchased at auction. The bronze head
reminds me of a painting (“The Scream”) by Edvard Munch. I bought it
in Los Angles at a flea market.
years ago, a dealer at Brimfield offered to sell 1,000 pairs of
never-used mid-1800s eyeglasses for $10 each. At the time, such
frames sold for $22 each. I declined because the $12,000 markup was
not enough to allow a profit on a $10,000 purchase once tax, selling
overhead, advertising, and years of storage were considered.
a counter offer of $3,000 under the following conditions: The
original offer was made on Tuesday, the first day of Brimfield. I
knew that the dealer changed fields four times during the week. My
offer was that I would buy the frames on Friday if he were unable to
get a better price. I did buy the lot on Friday.
less than one hundred of these eyeglasses still in stock. The
history of my selling prices is $22, $28, $35, $42, and $47.
Although I have spent more than the purchase price ($3,000) in
advertising these frames, I will make a substantial profit on this
purchase. This is possible because the selling price has gone up
over the years and because I considered marketing expenses before I
made the purchase.
buying in quantity is profitable, many antiques dealers use creative
buying methods to assemble lots. Some dealers treat all items
purchased on a buying trip (Brimfield, for example), or auction, as
being a “lot.”
fall I attended an auction that advertised many medical and related
antiques. The first medical item to come up for sale was a rare
medical container. I knew with certainty that I could resell this
item for $1,200. My “stop-bid price,” noted in my catalog, was $600.
The auctioneer tried to open the bidding at $200, lowered the asking
price to $100, $50, and finally to $25. I bid the $25 and no one bid
This collage does
not represent a true cross-section of my lot of junk paintings. It
contains too many modern works. Most of my primitives and landscapes
are stored in a warehouse away from my home. Two of the prints are
signed by the artist. The upper-right image is part of the original
backdrop for the Broadway show “Cats.” The painting at the lower
right is signed by the artist. It is of a street scene in Quebec in
which church-sponsored maidens from France are introduced to
prospective husbands by Catholic nuns. Unlike the English, who
settled the Colonies as families, Quebec was settled by men who
intended to make their fortunes and return to France. The Catholic
Church, in an attempt to discourage French men from taking Indian
wives, imported middle- and upper-class women for arranged
am lucky enough to buy a sleeper early in an auction, I consider
myself to be ahead of the house. Therefore, I am willing to give
back to the house a portion of the money I saved. I do this by
adding plus signs (+) after my stop-bid prices. One (+) is my signal
to bid one bid over my stop bid price. Two (+ +) is my signal to
bid two bids more than my stop bid price. Theoretically, this
bidding scheme will allow me to buy more antiques without spending
more money than I originally planned. I was successful in buying 36
items. Twenty-nine of these items were purchased below my stop-bid
figures. The seven items that exceeded my stop-bid figures did so in
the amount of $1,620. However, I was ahead of the house more than
this amount. The total amount of money I paid to this auction house
was less than the total of my “stop-bid prices.”
willing to overpay for some items because they were of high quality.
By treating all items purchased at this auction as a lot, I was able
to buy more merchandise while keeping my overall purchase price low
enough to make the profit I require to operate a viable business.
method of assembling lots is to buy and store single items until you
create a lot. I learned this buying trick from a New Hope, Penn.,
dealer who set up in the booth next to me at Brimfield. At every
show, this dealer had a different lot of furniture. At one show he
had nearly 100 tables, at the next show his display consisted of
more than 60 chests of drawers, and at the next show he had chairs
and sets of chairs.
buying method was simple. He bought every table he could find with a
purchase price less than $100. He disregarded age and style. He
looked for sturdy useable tables that required a minimal amount of
work on his part. He would clean and polish but avoided tables that
required stripping and refinishing.
had purchased enough tables for a show, he sorted the tables into
three groups: good, better, and best. He sorted based only on eye
appeal, disregarding age and style; he priced the “good” tables
between $200 and $350 each. The “better” tables were priced between
$400 and $500 each. The “best” tables were priced between $500 and
display at Brimfield was impressive. He stacked the tables one upon
another in groupings of good, better, and best. At the front of his
booth, he had three pedestals, one slightly higher than the next. On
these he placed three tables: good, better, best. It was easy for
anyone to see the difference between his $200 table and his $1,000
watched with amazement as his more expensive pieces sold first.
After several shows, I decided to give his system a try. My first
attempt was with country cupboards in original paint followed by dry
sinks, oak commodes, thumb back chairs, and State of Maine Chests.
Twenty years later, I am still using a modified version of the New
Hope System. My current projects are signed pieces of American
country furniture and Junk Art.
in my warehouse one country chest of drawers, a set of four stacking
blanket boxes, two other storage boxes, a nesting set of six pantry
boxes, and 27 signed chairs, two of which are Windsors. My
requirement for this assembled lot is that all the pieces be signed
by the makers.
Art lot now numbers nearly 300 items. My goal is 600 pieces, enough
for my own specialty auction. This has been a fun lot to assemble. I
disregard age, artistic style, medium, and signatures. I will buy
sculpture, carvings, folk art, paintings, drawings, prints and
photographs. My requirements for this assembled lot are a cost of
$25 or less and that I personally like the work.
my second attempt at Junk Art. My first attempt, in 1984, was not
as profitable as I would have liked. I consigned the entire lot to
auction. My selling expense was 20 percent of the selling price.
Overhead is figured as a percentage of the purchase price. No dealer
can stay in business with a selling overhead equal to 20 percent of
the selling price. I will not make that mistake again.
This is an online directory
of Maine Antique Dealers
This is a Search Engine database for New England and Northeast Art
and Antiques Trades
This is a do it yourself message board that users can use free of
charge to ask questions about the value and identification of antiques