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Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Few More Live Auction Buying Tips

Isn't this a great little lot? Just bought it at a local auction.

Here are some timely auction buying tips I'd like to share with you: If you buy small objects that may have tiny hallmarks, always attend the auction viewing with a loupe (and a pocket diamond tester if you're buying jewelry). For paintings, and ceramics, it's a good idea to take an ultra-violet light flashlight, so you can check for over-painting or cracks. If you can take photos of the objects, use your camera, so you can research the items at home after the viewing. And, above all, don't be shy. Ask the auctioneer if there is any hidden damage, restoration, or anything else he may know about the piece.

Don't leave prior bids unless you are sure that you are working with an honest establishment, or your bids will almost surely reach their maximum level. It's always better to attend the auction, so you control your bidding, or, if possible, have the auction house phone you during the auction and bid live over the phone.

If, after the auction, you discover that you've bought something that wasn't described correctly - you can demand your money back. Or just don't take the item when you pick up your other winnings.

Tune in tomorrow for a few live auction SELLING tips (or "things I've learned the hard way")

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to Avoid Making Enemies at Auction

The other night, I attended a local auction. I took along a friend who had never been to one before. When I told her I wanted to get there really early in order to get a front row seat, she asked "What's so important about sitting up front?"

Well, it's like this: we all know that all's fair in love and war ... but an auction isn't a battlefield, and it's always unpleasant when your friends and colleagues become your adversaries while you're bidding against them (not to mention the latent bitterness after the auction).

My way of avoiding this unpleasant confrontation is by sitting in the front row. This way, I can't see who I'm bidding against, or who's bidding against me "behind my back," and I don't feel so bad. Let the people behind me feel guilty for bidding against ME. My conscience is clear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Saga of an Antiques Addict - Chapter 5

Well, I promised you a horror story, so here goes:

Although I've met lots of really nice people in this business, I've met my share of shady characters along the way. The worst of the bunch being a seemingly nice old lady whose shop I wandered into one day ... at the very onset of my antiques "career." While I as looking around, she asked if I had thing to sell as well. Well, of course I did! So, being the gracious colleague, I invited her up to my place. She came over that very evening, and picked out the best pieces I had, and told me she could pay me in two installments: one check on the spot and one post-dated one. Well, of course. Why not?

You know that "gut feeling" you should always listen to? Well, I didn't. As soon as the items were packed up, and she gave me her checks, she seemed to be in a real hurry to get out of my house. At that moment, I had the urge to say "forget it ... I want cash." But, that wouldn't be too professional, now, would it? And, so, off she went with several bags filled with my best antiques.

Do I have to continue, or can you guess how this turned out? Well, of course, the first check bounced, and I had no doubt that the second one would too. I went to her shop, but she said she had already sold the items and was waiting for payment from her customers and would make good on her purchases as soon as she got paid. I didn't believe her at this point, but I had no choice but to wait. When these excuses continued for over 2 weeks, I threatened to go to the police. Only then did she pay up.

I learned two valuable lessons from this experience: 1. Not everyone is honest, and 2. ALWAYS listen to your gut feelings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Never Buy Feathers from the Goose

I digress from my "Saga" to offer this timely advice:

As an advertising copywriter, I've always gravitated to clever slogans and timely adages, where so much wisdom is often packed into so few words. When I started out on my mid-life crisis career in antiques, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of an elderly lady who had been in the business since the flood - an antique in her own right, so to speak, who taught me some very valuable lessons. The one that stuck most in my mind was the pithy directive: "Never buy feathers from the goose."

I can't tell you how often this quirky little rule of thumb has brought me good fortune. Simply stated, it means that you should always look for the "odd" item from sellers. If they are selling mostly porcelain, check to see if they might be offering something other than their area of expertise - a piece of jewelry, for instance. Something totally incongruous to their mainstay. They clearly know their porcelain (and their prices), but may not know the value of an ivory netsuke. Of course, they might be asking too much for something they know nothing about, but in most cases, they will be happy to be rid of it because it doesn't fit in with the rest of their items.

Another very valuable lesson she taught me was: "go with your gut feeling." Whenever I have ignored that lesson, and shunned my initial instincts, I've invariably regretted it. And what if my instincts had been wrong? So what? We all make mistakes. But the ones that haunt us most are the ones in which we failed to heed that tiny inner voice that nudged us to "take a chance."

Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Saga of an Antiques Addict"

Chapter 4

I know I should have started worrying when I found myself removing advertising books from my shelves, and replacing them with antiques reference books. But when you're an addict, you rationalize these things. However, when you start turning away paying jobs because they'll limit your ebay surfing time, you finally face the fact that you've got a disease.

Luckily, there is readily available treatment for this affliction. It's called "selling." And, it's really quite painless. As a matter of fact, I found selling to be almost as much fun as buying.

Eventually, in addition to ebay and local flea markets, I started attending live auctions. Up until that point, I had thought that auctions were what you saw on TV: high-priced art and artifacts being sold in high-class establishments like Sotheby's or Christie's. You'd never see anything being sold for less than several million dollars. This was definitely not for me. But I soon discovered that while local auctions lacked the glamour of high-end houses, the items were affordable ... and the action was electrifying.

Now, mind you, I was still a novice. I knew nothing and nobody. I thought everyone was honest and helpful. How naive can you get? I didn't yet know the true value of my "treasures," and the predators (and there were many) were lying in wait to pounce on "fresh meat" like me. You'd think that with all the reference books I was amassing, I'd do a little more research before giving away stuff for a song. But I was having too much fun acting like I knew what I was doing without any help.

I eventually learned which dealers to rely on and which ones to avoid like the plague, which auctioneers to trust and which ones were about as trustworthy as a hungry fox in a chicken coop. I've got stories that will make you cringe in horror (a little overstated, but not by too much). And I've got stories that will convince you that there is nothing you can do with your clothes on that is more fun than antiques.

Wanna hear a few? Drop in on Wednesday for Chapter 5 of the "Saga of an Antiques Addict"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"The Saga of an Antiques Addict"
Chapter 3

There comes a time in a person's life when they must decide "what now?" Here I was, a (fairly successful) advertising copywriter, making what is known in the jargon as "nice money" (did you ever know money that wasn't "nice?"), and I was giving it all up for what friends and family alike considered "worthless junk." But I knew better ... or at least I pretended to ... just to keep them off my back.

Little did they (or even I) know that I was actually on my way to a whole new career. I jokingly told my advertising clients that I had started dabbling in antiques because I had read in some journal (ironically, I don't remember which one) that changing one's career in mid-life was a good way of averting Alzheimer's.

Slowly, but surely, my library of advertising and marketing books were replaced by antiques reference books and price guides ... books on everything from Lalique to Lladro, Ming to Minton, Faience to Faberge. I had no special preferences, no specific direction, no clue, actually. In the throes of my buying frenzy, I bought everything: Asian, Oriental, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, art whatever. I bought anything that didn't move (and a few things that did if you wound them up). I bought big things, little things, expensive things, cheap things ... as long as they fit into my apartment.

Then, one day, a day that started out like any other, I received yet another large Asian vase in the mail. Oh joy! But I was soon to sink into the depths of despair, when, after walking around the apartment for about an hour with this monstrosity in my hands, I realized that I had absolutely no place to put it! That was the moment the alarm went off in my antiques-anesthetized brain. The moment in which I came face to face with the fact that I was (if this were a script, this is where the scary music would come in) an antiques addict!

Is this a cliffhanger, or what?

Stay tuned for Chapter 4 in the continuing Saga of an "Antiques Addict"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter 2: The continuing saga of "An Antiques Addict"

I grew up in a lower middle-income household. My father was a U.S. Veteran of WWII, and my mother was a holocaust survivor who immigrated to the States with nothing. If she had the choice of buying a vase or vegetables ... hey, don't laugh ... you try eating a vase when you're hungry.

Subsequently, our house (tenement apartment, actually), save a few "made in Japan" porcelain tchatchkes, was devoid of decoration (the food, however, was plentiful ... and good). So, later in life, even though I could already afford nice things, my own home continued to be pretty austere as far as decoration goes. Come to think of it, it was pretty austere as far as food goes as well, because I've always hated cooking. Anyway, "antiques" was something that rich people had.

But it didn't take me long to plunge headlong into the realm of antiques. Using almost everything I earned as a copywriter, and armed with a computer and an ebay ID, I started buying anything that looked "old" and interesting. I bought so much stuff online, that I can, to this day, proudly say that my house is decorated in "early ebay." My daughter, who was, by then, getting used to seeing only the back of me, said that my name, translated into Latin, would undoubtedly translate to "ebayus addictus."

I stopped this drunken spree when a seasoned dealer advised me that "old" doesn't necessary mean good. "Buy it for the quality, not the age," she said. "They made junk 100 years ago too." In time, and with the help of friends and my quickly-growing library of reference books, I was able to recognize quality.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 in the continuing saga of "An Antiques Addict"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Saga of An Antiques Addict

Chapter 1

So, why did I start this blog, you ask? I guess it's because I love jewelry and have a lot to say on the subject. I'm not talented enough to design, or skilled enough to create, but at least I can talk about it with people who share the same passion. Jewelry is not just a business for me. I never buy a piece I don't really like. And I'm never sad if something doesn't "sell." One more piece for me to keep for myself.

Jewelry is a continuous learning experience. And what more fun than researching beautiful things? I never excelled in history as a subject in school, but through jewelry, I've learned about different eras ... the fashions of the time, the cultural mores, and even the influences of the various empires on jewelry styles (Mr. Cutler, my high school history teacher, who said I'd never know my Hapsburgs from my Ottomans, would be proud of me today.)

I haven't been in antiques very long. Started out only about 15 years ago. As I recall, I was writing a brochure for a client of mine from the Diamond Exchange, and he asked if I thought that diamonds could be set into a piece of "bakelite" jewelry. Never having heard of bakelite before, and having no reference books to consult (I have a vast library now), I got busy searching the internet (not so easy in the pre-google era), and eventually stumbled onto a site called "ebay." I was mesmerized ... and hooked.

Up until that point, I had never owned an antique anything in my life. Nothing.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2 in the continuing saga of "An Antiques Addict"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Erica asks: Which is your favorite jewelry era?

There was a time when I wouldn't wear a piece of jewelry that wasn't at least 100 years old. But as I've gotten older (not old), I've learned to appreciate quality ... regardless of age. That goes for jewelry as well. I've come to the conclusion that while a finely crafted antique piece may enjoy added value due to its age and rarity, it doesn't make it any more intrinsically valuable - or more finely crafted - than a well-made modern piece.

What's your preference in jewelry? Antiquity, Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Vintage, or Contemporary? Do you stick with one style, or are your tastes eclectic?