How to Sell: Antiques and Collectibles

Tips for sourcing, listing and shipping unique and hard-to-find items

by staff writer
- Feb 15, 2010

This is the first article in an occasional EDU series exploring the nuances of selling in specific categories.

There's a certain sense of nostalgia that turns browsers into buyers when they happen upon a cherished item from their past—remember that Brady Bunch lunchbox you were so proud of? But these days, vintage goods are also drawing young buyers who are looking to lessen their carbon footprint, while also scoring one-of-a-kind items. So it's no surprise that antiques and collectibles continue to be among the most popular categories on eBay.

While many of these items on the auction site are priced at just a few bucks, some garner several hundred dollars. Just ask Auctiva Product Analyst Rebecca Miller. She tells us about a piece of Weller pottery her mother obtained a few years back that ended up selling on eBay for $800. The two women didn't know anything about the oblong dish when they initially thought to sell it. But being a veteran seller, Miller knew how to find out the item's value—even if she knew nothing about antiques.

And lucky for us, Miller was one of the sellers who recently shared her insights so we could pass them along, should you decide to give antiques and collectibles a try. You may even have inventory lying around your house. We bet there's a vintage vase in your dining room right now. Chances are it's only worth a couple dollars—but what if you have a real gem on your hands? In case you decide to find out, we'll walk you through a few things you should know about selling antiques and collectibles so you can give the pros a run for their money.

Stocking your inventory

If you're just starting out in antiques and collectibles, a good place to look for inventory, as we mentioned, is your own house. Because you already own these items, the impact on your pocketbook will be minimal. However, if you can't bear to part with an item, thrift stores and yard or estate sales are good sourcing venues that won't break the bank. Just don't drop $100 on an antique lamp unless you know it's worth more.

Be on the lookout for toys from the '70s and '80s, character memorabilia, vintage office supplies, vintage magazines, old Christmas decorations, coffee mugs and paper ephemera, says Mitzi Swisher, owner of Vintage Goodness Flea Market. They're among the hot items, notes the self-proclaimed "certified vintage geek."

Vintage jewelry is also a favorite, reports Pamela Wiggins, author of "Buying & Selling Antiques and Collectibles on eBay." However, always take note of an item's condition. Like with any other antique or collectible, missing stones, broken clasps or other imperfections will decrease the item's value.

Decorative art, such as figurines and glassware, as well as silver, are also popular items—an easy search on eBay will show you that. Or read blogs to see what else is selling, Swisher adds.

Never, ever sell your antiques to the person who's appraising them

Begin the hunt

Once you have your inventory, it's time to learn everything you can about your item. Thoroughly inspect the piece, looking inside and under it. Keep an eye out for dates, the name of a manufacturer, the location where the item was made, etc. These details will not only come in handy in your description (collectors want as many specifics about a piece as you can give them), they will also give you important facts so you can continue your research.

Get the details

If there's a local antique dealer in your area, swing by to see what information they can provide, Miller says. "They've been in the business for 20 or 30 years so they know a lot," she explains. "They're passionate about antiques, and they like to talk about them."

A small conversation can help you learn a lot. In fact, a local antique seller was the one who informed Miller her mother's piece of Weller glass was worth at least a couple hundred dollars.

Next, head online to fill in the rest of the details. Visit sites like Antique Antiques and to find reputable sources of information about the type of item you're researching, from toys to dolls to iceboxes to telephones. These sites also provide pricing guides.

Here's a tip from Antique Antiques that we think is worth noting: "Never, ever sell your antiques to the person who's appraising them. Only let them do the pricing and determine the value." They may not be out to take you, necessarily, but you probably will get more for your item elsewhere.

And don't forget to do a search on eBay for a similar or identical item to get more details about your piece, and to see what pieces like it are going for.

Let the listing begin

Antiques, collectibles and other one-of-a-kind items typically do best in auction-style listings. This format is especially helpful if you're still unsure of your item's true value; potential buyers will decide this for you. It's also important to note that eBay expects antiques and collectibles to be listed as auctions, and will lower these items in search results if they are offered in a fixed-priced format.

Next, focus on your description and fill it with as many specific details as you can. Specify the manufactured date or era, the name of the manufacturer, and add details about the maker's history as well as that of your item, if you know. Remember, you're competing with thousands of other sellers. But don't let that fact prevent you from telling buyers about any damage your item has.

"You have to be diligent in describing any flaws or wear on a vintage item," Swisher says. "Buyers can't touch the items to see for themselves, so it is up to you to set the proper expectations so there are no surprises when the item arrives in your buyer's hands."

But also be sure to tell buyers how well preserved the item is. For instance, is your product in its original packaging? Is its ornate pattern intact? Close-up photos work well here.

If you can hear something moving around in there, the item needs more cushioning

Ship with care

Once your item has sold, it's time to send it on its way to its new owner, so grab that bubble wrap and get ready to double-box items to ensure their safe arrival at your buyer's doorstep.

"Put yourself in your buyer's shoes," Miller says. "Would you like to get a hard-to-find baseball card in a cheap envelope with nothing that prevents it from bending?"

Odds are you wouldn't. That's where the shake test—described in a recent article by Auctiva EDU contributor Dennis L. Prince—comes in handy. Go ahead; give the box a shake. If you can hear something moving around in there, the item needs more cushioning. Once it's silent, you can send it on its way. Still, be sure to e-mail your buyer to make sure the item arrived in good condition. A happy customer will more likely be a repeat customer.

There, you'll all set for your second listing in antiques!

We'll leave you with one last tip from Swisher: "Trial and error played a big part in my first year or so of selling," she says. "This business is dictated by what you can find—yard and estate sales, flea markets, auctions, etc.—so you learn as you find things. And once you've been selling a while you learn what's worth buying and what to leave behind."

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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