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Featured Article/Paper Number 3

by Dr. J. Darragh M. Elliott, M.Sc., Ph.D.



In continuing with my first article "My Ten Rules For Collecting Collectables", there are some factors that are of a similar nature in the purchasing of collectables.

As I originally mentioned as, my first rule of collecting, it is better to have a few good items of whatever it is that you are collecting, rather than a lot of inexpensive items that will never appreciate in value which might otherwise be referred to as "junk".

My first rule for purchasing collectables is, to realize that what one person considers to be junk, is to what another person will consider to be a treasure.

Therefore, in following this, is my second rule for purchasing collectables is, to never run down or to criticize an item, especially in front of the seller as, he or she may be inordinately proud of the item(s) that are being sold, and you could end up not only in a argument, or in insulting the seller, and never acquire the item that you really wanted in the first place. Leave this to another time when, if you want to discuss it, discuss it privately.

My third rule for purchasing collectables was, originally mentioned as, my sixth rule in my first article on collecting collectables however, it cannot be repeated often enough. This is to have done your homework, and to know exactly what it is that you are purchasing. You can never do enough research into a item that you are purchasing. However, I will elaborate further now.

It pays big dividends to buy reference books, even if they are very expensive. A reference book can pay for itself a hundred or more times over, if you can authenticate an item which has been previously unknown, and as a result, if you want to ever sell it, you have the proof of the value.

Some good examples of this today are because, of the scarcity of good early Canadian or American furniture, or for that matter, other antiques, and paintings etc., that are upon close inspection, found to have a number of new pieces or parts that are now made out of old wood, or the whole item has been built with old wood to make the item(s) look as if the item(s) is original, when it is definitely not.

There are many tricks in this area you have to watch for. Looking, feeling, asking questions, obtaining other independent opinions are some of the best teachers.

As with paintings, many can have been relined, tears or cracks restored to make the painting look original. Therefore, depending on what the value, and the cost of the item is, determines the degree, and the depth as, to which the item should be inspected, and researched.

My fourth rule for purchasing collectables, then is also, further elaborated upon as, to my sixth rule for collecting collectables. This is that if your are not knowledgeable enough to be able to do all this by yourself, hire an expert, who has the knowledge to do this for you, and to give you an independent opinion about the condition, authenticity, and value. One can never be expected to know everything about antiques, art, porcelain, china, and so on. The various areas are just too great and too complex.

While the seller may be extremely knowledgeable, and helpful, and also, impeccably honest, (some are not) one must remember that the bottom line is, is that he or she does have a pecuniary interest in the eventual sale. And therefore, as I previously suggested, that the item, especially if it is an expensive one, be checked out independently, even if it be by a fellow knowledgeable collector, if only to satisfy yourself. A few dollars spent in addition to the cost here, may even amount to a few thousand dollars, in ratio to the purchase price but, can in the end, result in the savings of many thousands of dollars if the item turned out to me a fake, partially restored, or to have imperfections etc., that you may never have seen, or that the seller may never even have realized. The seller could have been taken in at the time of purchase, and never realized it.

I too have made mistakes and bought my share of faked, inferior, misrepresented, or imperfect items, and have had to suffer the consequences when it came time to sell them.

My fifth rule for purchasing collectables, then from my own experience is, if you have any suspicion that the item is not what it seems to be, or if it is imperfect in some way, pass it by, and forget about it. Nine times out of ten, your own intuition is best and correct.

My sixth rule for purchasing collectables is, that if the deal seems too good to be true, then usually it is. Also, that if things do not follow a normal business pattern, such as having inordinate delays, arriving at a realistic price, then more times than not, there is something wrong, and it is better to back away from the purchase rather than to try and force the sale of the item to you. The same rule applies for selling as well.

With my seventh rule for purchasing collectables is, that I have to give credit to my wife, "Juanita", for teaching me this one as, her favorite four letter word is "sale". This is, when you come upon a item that has a special or reduced price on it but, that the price is still more than what you want to pay for the item. Don't be an impulsive buyer. Wait. Go back the next day, or in the next few days, and see if the item has sold or not. If it hasn't, more than likely the price has been reduced more, and if it is still too high, wait, and go back again. Then if after waiting some more, and if the price has been reduced again, and the item still hasn't sold, then make an offer at an even lower price. By this time the seller knows that you are interested, and probably is more than happy to get rid of the item(s), and you have made a terrific purchase.

This does not hold true in all cases though. The converse is, as stated in my eighth rule of my Ten Rules For Collecting Collectables. If you can afford it, and you want it, buy it now, because, it may not be around tomorrow, or if it is, it can be much more expensive. Therefore, it really will come down to the specific item(s) that your are considering buying, the cost, and how much they mean to you, and where you are purchasing it or them. The definition of "where" in this instance, is not necessarily the location as, discussed below but, the "distance" that you have to travel to that location.

My eighth rule for purchasing collectables is, within certain areas, such as porcelain figurines, where catalogs are put out each year. Obtain this years catalog, and immediately when next years catalog comes out, obtain a copy of it as well. Compare the items that are in the new catalog to the ones that are in the old, and those that are not in the new one will give you a good idea that they have been dropped from production, and will never be made anymore. Now order what it is of these items that you would like to collect. It can often happen that either your dealer has the item(s) in stock, and hasn't sold the item(s) yet. Your dealer doesn't know that the item(s) has or have been dropped from further production. Your dealer can possibly obtain the item(s) from another dealer, or the distributor, and if so, make your purchase now, and you have made a purchase just immediately before the item(s) hit the secondary market and has risen in value. This again is doing part of your homework.

If you are told, or a sign or ticket, states that the figurine was made by such and such a company, and if it does not have a mark (logo) or the companies mark on it, (depending on age) the figurine, or china was not made by that company. No matter who says it was. If you are not sure, go to a reference library and look up the manufactures mark, and you should be able to find out which company made it, possibly the name of the artist, the approximate date of manufacture etc. Many copies, or near copies are made of popular figurines.

My ninth rule for purchasing collectables is, if you are purchasing glass or crystal, antique or otherwise, here is a little trick to remember. Never, never, just look at the item before purchasing it. Pick up the item or preferably, have the owner or sales person pick it up themselves, and hand it to you, then close your eyes. Run your fingers over the item. Let your fingers be your eyes, and any chip, or sanding, or imperfections, or repairs will become detectable to your fingers where your eyes may never see them. A rim of a glass with even the most minute chip on it is a good example of this.

Closely check any sharp or rough areas you find as, these can indicate that the item(s) is damaged, repairs have been made, or even that the item could be a reproduction. This same rule can be followed to a degree with bronzes and marble sculpture. If it is old, it should generally be smooth.

Further, if you find an item that you like, and it is not in the condition that you wish it to be in, then you have to take into consideration the difference between the cost of it, and what the additional cost to restore it is likely to be, and if it is worthwhile restoring. This can sometimes be more than the original cost of the item, or that the combined cost could exceed that of a item that does not require any restoration. Further, a restored item may not be worth as much or appreciate to the same degree in value as, a non restored, or an original item. Then if you are going to restore it yourself, you have to consider what your own time and materials are worth too!

A good example of this is a wooden chair with five coats of different colored paint on it. Is it worthwhile to strip it, sand it, stain it, revarnish it, sand it some more, and varnish it again etc., until you have the finish that you want? If the chair is a very rare Windsor, of course it is not. You should consider, that if it is that rare, and especially if it was expensive, is it not more prudent for a professional be doing this? As you, being without his or her expertise might ruin it. If it is a common pressed back, then it may not be. But, it depends on the purchase price as well.

My tenth rule for purchasing collectables is, to negotiate, the closing, the payment, and the acceptance of the item(s).

Naturally, if you have done your homework, you will have a good idea if a item is overpriced or underpriced. Now you have to decide what it is worth to you. If it is a hard piece to find, and you collect this item, then it is worth more to you. If you need this item to complete your collection of a certain number etc., then it is worth more to you. However, if you just happen to only like it, or it only has a decorative value to you, or you want to purchase it as a present, or for some other reason, then it does not have the same meaning or intrinsic value to you. It depends on what you are going to do with the item(s), how the item(s) will be displayed, and where they will be displayed etc. Therefore, decide in your own mind how much it is that you are willing to pay for the item beforehand.

The larger your collection becomes, the more room you have to find to house it. Also, the more knowledgeable you need to become, and the more particular you become as well.

Therefore, the time will eventually arrive when you have to consider upgrading your collection. This is done by selling off either publicly or privately your lesser quality items, or those that you know longer want to keep. This will be discussed further on in another article.

Never ask the seller what is the least that he or she will accept for the item. This can either again embarrass the seller or induce the seller to quote to you a higher price than the level at which you were thinking, or willing to begin your negotiations. Decide on a realistic amount in your mind, and also, to what you are prepared to offer. Then ask the seller if he or she is prepared to accept so much. He or she can always say no, or state a different price but, at least you have politely started the bargaining process. If the seller agrees, than you have purchased the item(s) at the price you wanted to pay.

Further, if you have arrived at a price but, are still not totally sure about the item, ask to take it home on approval. This will allow you check it out more thoroughly, obtain private opinions as, to its value, and authenticity, see if it actually fits in with your other collectables, and decor, and so on. Many dealers will permit this but, you may have to leave behind a cheque or sign a Visa slip or some other form of payment. Agree in writing as to how many days that you want to keep it on approval, and if you decide that you do not want it, return it before the agreed time is up. Or otherwise, after the time period has expired the dealer will probably cash your cheque or send in your Visa slip for payment etc.

At the close of the purchase, always obtain a complete detailed invoice which fully outlines the description of every item that you are purchasing. Eg. One fully guaranteed authentic antique Windsor chair in brown patina finish containing some minor worn areas. No restoration as been performed on this chair. Circa 1885. X dollars. Never accept a invoice stating one chair X dollars. Also, make sure that from whomever your are purchasing, that the invoice has their complete name and address and telephone number on the invoice. I have seen many without this last little bit of information, and as such, the invoice is a worthless piece of paper.

Lastly, if you cannot take the item(s) with you, and/or if the item(s) are or have to be shipped to you, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, just sign the waybill for the item(s) when delivered, and accept it. Normally, it will have been insured, and as soon as you sign that waybill, you release the carrier from any further liability as to damage etc.

If you can, open the box(es), and inspect the item(s), while the delivery person is there. If the delivery person will not wait, or perhaps the box is a large crate or carton, containing many items, and will require sometime to open it, ALWAYS write in bold letters across the waybill, "RECEIVED - SUBJECT TO INSPECTION", then sign it, and give it to the delivery person. Retain a copy of it. Open your box(es), crate(s), or carton(s), as soon as possible. Make sure that you do this within a reasonable period of time. If you find any damage, or anything out of the ordinary, parts missing etc., call the delivery company immediately. No carrier is about to tell you to write across the waybill "received subject to inspection" because, they want to be relieved of the responsibility of further liability as soon as possible, and that means, upon delivery.

I nearly lost a large amount of money in unknowingly accepting a box containing broken porcelain because, I did not know about this, and it became a very big hassle, and took a long time before I was compensated. Even though I had called and reported the broken items within fifteen minutes after the delivery person had left. These rules I follow for purchasing collectables at retail stores, antique shops, antique fairs, flea markets, garage sales etc., and they vary depending upon where I am, and also, the time that I am there. (At the end of a show, or the day sometimes a better deal can be made but, usually it is better to be there early in the morning before everything has been picked over.) This is because, you have to take into consideration that a seller's overhead differs from a garage sale, to a flea market, to a antique shop, to an antique show, and to the specific location etc. A seller has to pay his rent and other overhead, and/or a seller is attempting to obtain a price that the market will bare therefore, it pays to look around before you make your final decision to purchase the item(s). Arriving early can give you time to do this before the item(s) may be purchased by someone else.

Now that you have purchased your item, and have it at home, is the time to display it, and to sit back and appreciate it.

Not all of these rules apply when buying at auctions. This requires, in a number of areas, an entirely different strategy, which is discussed in the next article.


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