Dec 28, 2013

Vexing Estate Executor Issues: Finding Value in a Collection

Previously published on

We are a society of collectors. From bottle caps to art to old newspapers, our collections fill the closets and dens of estates everywhere. Not all of these collections are valuable, but they do have one thing in common: they confuse the dickens out of estate executors.

The confusion stems from the mandate on estate inventory forms which requires executors to “list collections separately.” Sometimes the instruction comes with a value minimum, sometimes not. I regularly get calls from clients who want to know “what sort of items make up a collection.” Should I consider all the art on the walls to be a collection, or are they just a bunch of single artworks? How about the tools in the tool box; are they a collection? Videos and records? Books?

Then the follow-up questions: How many items are in a collection? How do I value a collection? Do I add up every single item or take them as a whole?

These baseball cards, part of a collection of 30,000-plus vintage and modern cards from 1937 to present, recently sold for $8,600 on eBay. Read More

Connect with Millennials to Bring a New Buzz to Your Biz

Last fall the antiques world was set a buzz by multiple sightings of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift shopping for antiques. For a brief moment, dealers held out hope that the young star’s interest in antiques would spawn a renaissance in antiques buying among her contemporaries.

We’re still waiting for that to happen.

Those darned Millennials. As a group (b. 1981-mid ’90s), they just don’t seem to have the same shopping standards that the rest of us do. The two older demographic cohorts, Boomers and Gen X, tend to value similar types of consumer goods (but for different reasons). Gen X grew up in the McMansions that their Boomer parents bought to house their accumulated possessions. For Gen X, there was always room to have friends over to enjoy the latest video games, movies, music and eating gourmet snacks while sitting on comfortable, stylish furniture. Gen X (as a group) still favors purchases that will help them socialize. When they buy, they buy with the group in mind (Factoring for X: An Empirical Study of Generation X’s Materialistic Attributes, Nora M. Martin University of South Carolina, Diane Prince Clayton State University). Read More

Dec 27, 2013

Hofner Violin Bass’ Long and Winding Road into Rock ’n’ Roll History

Previously published on

It’s no secret that celebrity endorsements increase a product’s sales. It doesn’t seem to make any difference whether the endorsement is paid or unpaid. Oprah endorsed the Clarisonic skincare device on her show, and sales rose from 1.7 million in 2005 to more than 40 million in 2008. Mark Zuckerberg mentioned the iGrill on his Facebook page, and two hours later the iGrill website crashed due to an overwhelming number of visitors.

Paul McCartney played a Hofner 500/1 bass on the Ed Sullivan Show in front of 73 million people, and the Hofner violin bass became a rock-and-roll icon.

The 1959-1960 Hofner model sports 22 frets, separated chrome pickups, rectangular control-panel cover and pearloid pick guard.

Despite the fact that Hofner produced only 250 of the 500/1 bass guitars in the seven years prior to the Beatles’ Sullivan appearance, Hofner was soon forced to increase production of the violin-shaped guitar just to keep up with new orders. Thomas M. Jordan, current sales director for Hofner, says that the Hofner violin bass has “been manufactured in large quantities almost unchanged for more than 50 years and is always attracting new aficionados.” Read More

Antique Dealers: Don’t Give Up on eMail Marketing

Just to watch her reaction, I asked my mail carrier to break the law.

“Jane” I said, “I’m going to put a trash can right here next to my mailbox. Would you mind just throwing the junk mail into the trash can and putting the important stuff into my mailbox?”

“I certainly will not!” she replied (she wasn’t being a very good sport about this). “It’s against the law for me to do that. I have to deliver your mail to an approved box! Besides, how do I know what mail is important to you and what isn’t? I can’t make decisions about your mail!”

Darn. I was really hoping I could get her to do that for me, like my email provider does. They decide for me what’s important and what isn’t. They search my mail for clues about its desirability: Clues like the mail’s origin, and whether it contains subject-line words like “Special Offer,” “Hello,” “Free,” “RE:,” “FW:,” text in ALL CAPS or exclamation points! They can even tell whether or not I’m opening mail from certain senders. Read More

Dec 26, 2013

Five Appraisal Options for First-Time Estate Executors

My friend Stan showed me the inventory that he’d just completed for his uncle’s estate. He was proud of his thoroughness; he claimed to have spent more than 150 hours compiling the inventory and acquiring valuations for the estate’s personal property. I complemented him on his meticulous work. As he drove away I grinned and shook my head, knowing that he could have had the entire inventory and valuation done in fewer than 20 hours on that particular estate, (including typing the report!).

Stan made the mistake that many first-time estate executors make: too much detail in the inventory report. He made the job harder than it needed to be. If Stan was employed fulltime rather than being retired, I’m sure he could not have devoted as much time to this inventory.

An important part of the estate’s settlement documents, the inventory of tangible personal property is the most time-consuming to prepare. The value of most estate assets (stocks, bonds, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.) can be determined by simply looking at the latest statement. The value of personal property, though, has to be researched, and that can be time consuming. Read More

Smells Sell

Sometimes the antiques business stinks. Not the buying and selling part, but rather the smells that can accumulate in a store filled with used merchandise. Few things are more off-putting than to walk into a store and inhale the mildewy stew of odors that can be created by rooms full of used goods.

Have you ever walked into someone’s home and noticed residual odors from cooking, tobacco, poor cleaning or general dampness? The homeowner living with those odors seems to be oblivious of them. Shopkeepers, too, become immune to the odors in their stores. The odors of an antique store seem to come with the territory, like the sweet smell of lacquer in a refinishing shop or the greasy oil and gasoline mix of an auto repair garage.

On one of my recent antiquing forays I discovered a Goodwill Industries store and stopped in to have a look around. Had I walked into the store blindfolded, I would have known that I was in a Goodwill store. I have never been in a GW store that didn’t smell stale and musty. Read More

Dec 25, 2013

Jukeboxes and Collecting Make Beautiful Music Together

Previously published on

It commands attention: this icon of the 1950s is outfitted with sparkling chrome, flashy fins, gleaming bumpers, taillights and a dashboard-style console that’s surrounded by a glass windshield. A 1958 Chrysler Imperial? Nope. A 1958 Seeburg Silver Age jukebox.

The 1950s were the peak of America’s love affair with both automobiles and jukeboxes. Eisenhower pushed for an interstate highway system (“defense highways”) to be built, and drive-ins, motels and sleek aluminum-shelled diners began to pop up all over the landscape. Each business housed one or more jukebox, with designs heavily influenced by the autos coming out of Detroit. Like cars, the jukeboxes of the 1950s were sleek and streamlined.

Nothing says “fifties” quite like a jukebox. Back then, they were found everywhere people gathered: restaurants, bars, community centers, malt shops, military PX’s, even Laundromats. For a little pocket change, any gathering could be turned into a dance party. As long as patrons continued to pump the ‘box full of coins, it would play all night, commercial-free and with greater musical variety than could be heard on a radio. Young baby boomers would beg their parents for quarters for the jukebox in the same way that boomer’s children would beg for quarters for the video arcades in the 1980s and 1990s. Read More

How to Buy an Existing Antiques Business

For Sale: “Great little antique shop … packed floor to rafters with inventory of all types … new owner won’t have to buy inventory for two years … make more money if new owner will keep longer hours and sell on the Internet. Priced at $349,000; Inventory value $299,000 (40% of retail).”

What a great deal – for the seller! For potential buyers, this business could be an opportunity for financial ruin.

Such “business opportunities” are commonplace. Recently I spent about two hours browsing business-for-sale websites, looking at antiques stores for sale. Having been both a store owner and business broker in previous careers, I continue to be curious about how various businesses are selling. I browsed several dozen antique stores for sale across the U.S. (There were more than 100 offered for sale; I just got tired of browsing.) All the listings were bright and cheery and seemed full of promise for new owners.

Some of these shops will sell for the right price to the right buyer and everyone will live happily ever after. Read More

Dec 24, 2013

Refinish Your Antique Furniture? It’s a Question of Value

That crisp new $20 bill in your wallet is more valuable than the worn $20 you got as change from the convenience mart.

Don’t believe me? Next time you make a purchase, take note of which bill you are inclined to give to the clerk. Chances are you will use the worn $20 and keep the newer bill for yourself.

It seems that no one likes dirty money. There is an “ick” factor associated with it; no one likes to handle someone else’s germ-laden bills. Fresh, crisp new bills are perceived as being more desirable than old, worn bills. Consumers are more willing to spend worn money, spend it faster and are more inclined to gamble with worn money. Consumers prefer to keep new bills for themselves but are willing to spend them to impress their friends.

Such are the conclusions reached in a study by Theodore Noseworthy of the University of Guelph and Fabrizio Di Muro of the University of Winnipeg. These conclusions are published in their paper titled “Money Isn’t Everything, but It Helps If It Doesn’t Look Used: How the Physical Appearance of Money Influences Spending.” Read More

Training Antiques Sales Associates to Succeed

I get a big kick out of my fellow auctioneers. Some of them (especially the newbies) think that auctioneers are such great salesmen. Wherever auctioneers gather, you will see a few of them assembled telling “war stories” and comparing notes about what they and others have sold. At some point in the conversation, someone will proclaim “(insert name here) was a great salesman! He could sell anything!”

Give me a break. How hard is it, really, to stand in front of a crowd, call bids and declare an item sold to the highest bidder, regardless of the price? Such sales are pre-ordained. In a no-reserve auction, every auctioneer is a great salesman. In an auction with reserves, successful selling depends on many factors outside of the control of the auctioneer: the item, the reserve amount, the size of the crowd and the number of items to be auctioned. In an estate with 600 lots to be sold, an auctioneer will sell a lot roughly every 20 seconds. There’s not much time for a big sales pitch. The “art” to auctioneering is what happens before the auction: the marketing, set-up and flow. Read More

Dec 23, 2013

Investing in a Steinway: Is It Worth the Price?

The investment value of Steinway pianos has long been touted by piano dealers. In their sales training, Steinway teaches an acronym based on their name that must be learned by all candidates: “S” stands for sound; “T” for touch, “E” for enduring beauty, “I” for investment, and so on. New salespersons must memorize all the S.T.E.I.N.W.A.Y. touch points in order for their training to be complete.

The “investment” touch point promotes Steinway’s historically high resale value. New Steinways are expensive, and that makes the market for used Steinways very good. In 2003, Reuters reported: “A 10-year-old Steinway in good condition usually sells for about 75 percent of the current retail price, which goes up about 4 percent each year.” Consequently, there is a big demand for used Steinway pianos. Leo Spellman, senior director of communications for Steinway & Sons says “The biggest competition for a new Steinway piano is an old Steinway piano.”

But does Steinway actually live up to its reputation as a good investment and, if so, under what circumstances? If you own a Steinway piano, how can you determine its present value? Read More

Amazon Opening its Traffic to Antiques Dealers

When I was a kid in the 1950s, monster movies were all the rage. There were dozens of monsters on the big screen; King Kong, Mothra and Rodan were a few of my favorites. Of course, the undisputed leader in the monster movie category was Godzilla. To date, there have been more than two dozen Godzilla movies, more than twice as many as the next-highest contender: King Kong. Godzilla was alternately a good guy or a bad guy, either destroying cities or protecting them from other monsters.

Today, Google is the Godzilla of the online world. They are so big that for 15 months the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating them as a trade monopoly. But Google’s days are numbered as the World Wide Web Monster. These days, Google-zilla is shaking in its lizard suit.

Google is losing significant revenue to the toughest competitor it has ever had. No, it’s not Facebook; it’s not Microsoft, eBay or Apple. It’s Amazon. Read More

Dec 22, 2013

Putting Together an Executor’s Estate Settlement Team is no Game

In odd moments, I occasionally daydream about creating a board game titled “Estate Settlement.” Yeah, I know what you’re thinking; it should be called a “bored game” instead. But let me assure you, settling an estate can have all the intrigue of “Masterpiece Theatre” and all the surprises and disappointments of “American Pickers.”

In my imaginary game, a player moves around the board by a roll of the dice, with the goal of getting an estate settled. When a player lands on a space, he draws a card from either the Character deck or the Event deck. The Character deck introduces “influencers” who can either help or hinder the player. It could include heroes, villains, comic sidekicks, grumpy bureaucrats, or others. The Event deck would present challenges or rewards that can introduce setbacks or successes, like finding a genuine Picasso in the attic or learning that an heir is challenging the will.

I’ve never followed through with this game idea for two reasons: One, I don’t think anyone would buy it and, two, I’ve spent plenty of time playing the game in real life, both professionally and personally. Read More

What's Your Auction - Live Auction Bidding Strategy?

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I’m sure all you romantics are diligently surfing eBay for that perfect and rare gift for your sweetheart. Of course, the fun in surfing eBay isn’t just found in bidding. Winning is even more fun, provided that you don’t pay too much. Therein lies the danger in auction bidding: You can always win if you must. All you have to do is outbid the competition. But, winning doesn’t always mean paying a higher price. Outbidding the competition is as much about strategy as it is about price.

That being the case, what’s your auction bidding strategy? At live auctions, are you a “stealth” bidder, who bids with a wink, a nod or a surreptitious wave? Or do you bid aggressively, hoping to scare off the competition? What’s your online bidding style? Are you a sniper or a squatter? Do you bid online using the same style of bidding that you use at a live auction? Read More