My husband and I found a new antique mall this weekend and we were checking it out. Now, most of the time, we go to stores just to say, “Oh, my grandma had one of these!” but the longer I have been in the eBay business, the more these trips turn into “Remember how long it took us to sell this? We couldn’t give it away and they want $75 for it and ours was in better shape.” It is very hard to turn the seller in me “off” on the weekend.

I came across a basket with no price on it and I saw pony hair (when you collect My Little Pony, you get an eye for technicolor fake hair sticking out of boxes and baskets) and in the box were three very common vintage ponies. All were very dirty and had their hair cut. Also in the box were a few of broken bits of two different Strawberry Shortcake vehicles and a few misc MLP and SSC brushes. There were also a few bits of MLP clothes and when I say bits, I literally mean bits as they were torn so I would have needed to sew them back together. So mostly, a basket of junk but it wasn’t without hope and if I matched some of the bits with other peices I had at home, I might be able to at least trade some of the stuff for stuff for my collection. So basically, a few ponies and a handful and a half of broken bits.

I take the basket up to the register. “How much for this?” I ask. “Five dollars,” she says. I figured the whole basket would probably cost me $10 so I was pleased and then she suddenly adds, “each. $5 each for the accessories and $8 each for the ponies.” Needless to say, I left the box of broken bits in her care. If you could really get $5 a peice for a broken My Little Pony brush, lady, don’t you think we’d all be rich right now? The basket would have cost me just under $100 total at that price.

This story brings up a few things about selling collectibles or antiques. The first is that seller had an over-inflated idea of what she had. Sure, someone must have told her that some MLP toys and some Strawberry Shortcake toys were worth money. A lot of sellers extend that logic to mean that every tiny bit of that type of item must be worth money even if it was broken. Sure, had one of her Strawberry Shortcake vehicles been complete, she could have gotten over $5 for it. But I am not going to pay $5 each per wing and $5 each per seat when you don’t even have the body of the airplane when I could probably buy the entire set in fixer upper shape for around that price. She didn’t know enough about what she had to group related peices together and sell them as a set. A little research would have not only educated her on the items value, but would also have told her what bits went with what and shown her how damaged some of them were.

But trying to sell the ponies dirty, with hair cuts, in a basket full of broken toy bits and then upping the price tag? If the pony had been clean, even with the haircut, and nicely on a shelf many collectors would have bought them because it would have been worth the time not to have to clean if. If you are too lazy to clean your items, you have to knock some money off the price for that. Are there clean, non-haircut ponies worth over $8? Of course, most are. But common ones, with a haircut, filthy and in a basket of trash? Come on!

Secondly, I was ready to buy the entire basket full of stuff even though most of it was trash. There aren’t many people who are going to have a use for broken bits of accessories and clothing so, even if she does manage to sell the ponies, she is going to get stuck with all those broken bits. That seller missed a sale, big time by not turning around and giving me a set price for everything. She should have at least attempted to just give me her inflated pony price but thrown in the rest for free if I bought the ponies when she saw that I balked. When she told me the price and I polietly said, Oh, OK, nevermind then, her face fell and she immediately knew she had asked for too much but she didn’t try to follow up. All she needed to do was make me a better offer and I might have taken it. And she would be free of those broken bits she wasn’t otherwise going to be able to sell. But instead she just looked sad and sat on her chair.

Incidentally? Looking like you are going to cry is never going to guilt me into buying your overpriced trash. Toughen up and making me a counter offer instead.

I also suspect, as she didn’t have a price on the items to begin with, that she totally made up a high price when she saw me rummaging because she thought she was going to make some extra. Heck, I am all about being oppotunisitic. But if she made up that price on the spot, as I suspect she did, then she had all the more reason why she should have been able to back up and give me another price. But if she had posted a price, she could have saved herself the embarassment she obviously felt after she told me her price. Also, if she’d had the prices listed, I would have had some idea of what she expected and whether it was worth it to make an offer at all possibly avoiding the entire conflict.

The point is, whether you sell your vintage, collectible, or antique items online or in a brick and mortar store, you need to remember the following:

  1. Research. Find out how much your items are worth ahead of time. Just like you don’t want to lose money by charging too little for an item, you don’t want to overcharge either or items will just sit in your inventory forever. This will also help you to ensure that you are not charging seperately for items or peices that are all part of the same set. Brick and mortar stores can up their prices a little more above average because the buyer isn’t paying shipping but you still need to charge without the rhelm of reality of what the item is worth.
  2. Presentation. Whenever possible, clean your items and present them in the best possible way. If you cannot display your item standing on a shelf, at least put it in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get dirty or dusty while waiting for its buyer. If you are going to try to sell your item dirty and in a box or bag with lots of other dirty items, expect to make less per item. For online sellers this means taking a good photo with good lighting and cleaning the item up so it looks presentable.
  3. Flexibility. Markets change and deals present themselves. If someone comes along and is willing to take some hard to sell items off your hands in exchange for a deal on some other items, take it! Be willing to haggle on price when needed and stay on top of the value of your items so you can lower or raise your prices accordingly. Give buyers who are willing to buy many items a deal if you can. For online sellers, this means saving on shipping and for instore sellers, it means buying buyer loyalty. 

I know some of my readers also moonlight as collectors. What other suggestions would you make for dealers of older items both online and off?