As I say in the book, dealers try to blind you. They use arcane terms like a code. Well, if you can break the code, you have a good leg up on talking to dealers. If they don’t think you know what you’re talking about they will try and fool you.
That's a quote from Rudy Franchi in The Collectors Weekly article I recently pointed you too. Now, the book he's referring to is about movie posters and the question he's answering is asking why poster collecting is so confusing, so while Mr. Franchi is quite likely zeroing in his answer on movie poster dealers, with whom I'm quite honestly uninitiated with, I'm going to tackle his statement in a more general way, an answer for all collectors of antiques and collectibles.
Why? Well, not only have I seen this opinion expressed elsewhere over the years, even if nobody inside the business is saying it, I'm well aware that people outside of the business who find something neat that they are looking to sell can often be intimidated about contacting dealers, largely because they're convinced the dealer is going to rip them off. An alternative is to "Do it Yourself" and just post the item to eBay. Well, sometimes that works, but often it's not the best solution.
Why would a dealer rip you off? Well, the perception is created because often you don't know what you're doing and the dealer does. The resulting opinion is that the dealer is a crook. Maybe, but let me ask you this: with so many of us online buying and selling from people every day,creating our own spaces inside the world of the internet, wouldn't that be a risky move reputation wise? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are still some dishonest players in the field, but they're the exception, not the rule.
If a dealer uses an arcane term or mentions anything that you don't understand, it might simply be that you don't speak the dealers language--and I mean the language of their niche. By all means, if a dealer confuses you, ask them what they mean. That part is on you. Now, if you get the impression that they're trying to intentionally confuse you I don't understand why you wouldn't simply walk away. The dealer should not be trying to hide anything from you, but at the same time it's up to you to cut off contact if you suspect that they are.
Furthermore I will tell you this, my job is to get your stuff from you at the lowest possible price that I can. But my standing requires that I do this in an honest way. I'm not stupid--I know you're going to ask two or three other dealers either if they're interested or what it's worth (and you should!). Now if the other dealers offer you $200, $180, and $160, how's it make me look if I offered you $30 for your find? If I pull that often enough word is going to get around, don't deal with that guy.
Truth be told, if you offer me something that I think I can possibly use but that I have no genuine interest in I might very well make you a low ball offer-but I'll tell you so. I'll suggest you could very likely do better and I might even suggest eBay--to which I'll also mention I might find your item and pick it up for cheaper than I'd offered, but we'll get to more on eBay in a moment.
But rather than "blind you," if you come to me I feel a duty to educate you, or you happen to know more about the item than I do, I will at least qualify my offer with an explanation.
Here's an excerpt of a recent email I sent regarding some items I really want, but fear I won't be able to sell:
I'm not going to lie to you, I expect to price most of the lesser known stars in the $8-$12 range, maybe even $15 depending upon condition, with Best Offer on them on eBay--I might get close to that for a handful, but I anticipate accepting offers of $5-$8 on the bulk after awhile.
What you see isn't always what you get. If I price something at $20, you shouldn't expect me to offer you $20 for yours, in fact, you shouldn't expect $10. The odds that I actually ring up $20 at the register are slim. Since I personally deal in niche markets I also feel that the odds you get $20 through the "Do it Yourself" method are nil.
One of my niches is movie cards and collectibles from the Silent Period through the Golden Age. I don't do non-sports cards, I don't do movie posters, I don't do anything after Marilyn Monroe, etc. It's narrow. But I have regular customers. Now, if you have something that falls inside this narrow niche that I deal with on a regular basis, wouldn't you figure it likely that your best offer is going to come from me? Well, you're probably right. If it falls outside this or any of my other areas of expertise I might very well be your lowest offer on the table. But if I can use it, or better said, if my customers can use it, then not only is nobody topping me, but I'll likely pay you more than you would get for the item "Doing it Yourself" on eBay.
A word on eBay. Here's the thing, if you're thinking about selling the item yourself on eBay, well, you've probably already more than half convinced yourself that it's the thing to do, so do it. In fact, if I offered you $100 for your vintage widget and you insist it's worth $200, then my suggestion to you (both here and in any private communication) would be to list it on eBay as a Fixed Price item at $200 with Best Offer. Then you can track watchers and see what kind of offers come in. If any of your offers top $100, God bless you, you've cracked the code and found yourself the best kind of buyer...the collector. My wager is I'll hear back from you though after that listing expires.
We're not living in the world of eBay 2000 or even eBay 2006. eBay 2009 and beyond is a place where the once rare has very often been commoditized to the point where I know not only what I'm going to price the item for, but what it will actually sell for in advance of my purchasing it from you. Now there's the off-chance that you actually have something rare which will be bid up and give you a real old-fashioned eBay moment. Well, if that's the case you haven't written me, because I haven't seen such an item offered to me.
A quick word on Price Guides: They're absolutely meaningless. If you take them as gospel you're still going to have your find at the end of the day. What they are good for is pointing out exceptional items amongst the more common--they show you the good stuff. Dollar value? Not worth the ink used to print it. If you want to research that yourself try a site like Worthpoint, but really the only true value of any collectible item is the amount a buyer is willing to pay--not a past buyer, but a future buyer. And who knows that number better than the specialty dealer who deals with similar items and interested buyers of them each and every day?
Now don't get me wrong, if you have an item of extreme value I absolutely agree that you should contact one of the major auction houses and allow them to handle the sale for you. They'll be able to properly authenticate it, present it, market it, and vet buyers for you. They are the way to go for high-end items.
But the purpose of this post is to point out you shouldn't forget to try a dealer if your item is worth up to $1,000-$2,000, or even a bit more. Without dealers to facilitate transactions collectors would be stuck dumpster diving or waiting out older friends' and relatives' life spans. Seriously, where else do these items come from?
So following are my suggestions for approaching dealers with your treasures. Well, as I'm pretty much exclusively online these days, I'll describe to you what I expect from you and what I feel I should deliver on the way to the perfect deal:
- Initial contact with as much detail as you can provide. I prefer email because I want to be able to read about it and preferably see it.
- Contact at least 3 dealers. This isn't being sneaky, this is your duty if you're trying to get as much out of your item as possible.
- See not only who's offering the most, but get a feel for who you're dealing with too. Do you trust them? Because if you're doing business over the internet you're going to have to mail off the goods before you see any payment. Get on the phone, talk to them.
- Don't be too shy to counter-offer. Especially if you've decided to deal with the dealer who didn't make top offer because you felt more comfortable with them. While I hate being told that so and so offered $X more than I did, I'll listen. If I don't bump my offer up the ball is in your court--is that extra trust worth a little less money?
- After sealing the deal, always insure and use delivery confirmation on the package you ship out to the dealer. Don't expect them to pay for this, this is for your own peace of mind and protection.
- With the delivery confirmation you can see when the items delivered. If you don't hear from your dealer hold off writing them for 2 business days as this business can get pretty hectic sometimes. I try to confirm arrival of the package as soon as it's delivered, but honestly it might sit for a day or two unopened before I have a chance to examine what you've sent, at which point I'll confirm a done deal.
- Don't be upset, but the deal can still die at this point. This is why you want to do your best with point 1. Describe it as well as you can because if you send out junk, I don't want it. And this costs you in the end because you're the one who's going to pay to have the item shipped back. In the dealer's mind there has been no transaction.
- The good dealer will have your payment out within 48-72 hours of receipt unless previous arrangements have been made.
Now please don't post anything you're looking to get rid of below, as I won't publish it to the site--instead, email me, and if I like it I'll make an offer.
What I would like to hear about below are any experiences, good or bad, that you've had in dealing with dealers (direct, not transactions through a venue such as eBay), or even major auction houses.