Dec 5, 2014

Holiday Shipping: Hazardous to Your Gifts?

damaged package
If you’re gifting and shipping collectibles for the holidays, I hope you are either very lucky or very well insured.
I recently shipped a First World War artillery-shell lamp and packed it to the point where I thought it was bullet-proof: a layer of paper wrap, tape-reinforced at the lamp’s base and socket, bubble-wrapped, and then double boxed and sealed with strapping tape. My box was clearly marked “fragile” in several places. Nevertheless, the package arrived damaged. The box was torn and crushed, and the lamp was bent.
An artillery shell? Bent? They were made to be fired from a cannon; how could it get bent?
Surely, I thought, this was a fluke. Until last week, that is, when I read a featured article in the current edition of Readers Digest titled “Confessions of a UPS Handler.”
The former UPS handler says that during the holidays “parcel delivery service” is a synonym with “herds of uncomfortable, sleep-deprived people shoving too many boxes into too-little trucks.” Author Sara Ohlms goes on to explain that prior to loading, packages ride on conveyor belts and sometimes log-jams occur where one belt meets another. “When that happens,” says author, “it’s like tripping at the head of a stampede. There’s nothing we can do…but say a prayer.” Read More>>>

Nov 25, 2014

Getting Past "Just Looking"

just looking
The most thought-provoking comment I’ve heard lately came just last week from the mouth of a four-year-old boy.

I was browsing through the men’s department of a mall store when the four-year-old appeared, holding his mother’s hand. A clerk asked the mother: “Can I help you?” and without dropping a beat the young boy replied: “Just looking.” Then the clerk turned and left.

I don’t know which stunned me more, the response of the child or the response of the clerk. Clearly, the boy thought that “just looking” was the proper response to give to a retail clerk; he had probably heard his mother offer the same response dozens of times.

The clerk, too, upon hearing the words turned away, giving no thought to the fact that the words were said to him by a child.

The “can I help you – just looking” scenario is repeated thousands of times per day in retail stores all over the country. No one benefits from such an exchange: the clerk doesn’t make a sale and customer goes away frustrated, with their needs unmet. “Can I help you – just looking” traps both the seller and the buyer in an unproductive relationship.

Sales gurus have claimed for decades that the “just looking” response is a defense mechanism used against what consumers view as “pushy sales persons”. So, the gurus say, sales clerks should not open with the “can I help you” gambit, because it almost certainly assures the “just looking” response. I’m not so sure that this is true. Read more >>>

Nov 22, 2014

American Estates are Gaining Momentum: Will Yours Keep Pace?

Freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom to peaceably assemble. The American Bill of Rights was created as a framework for American Society. But the real gem created by the Founding Fathers—the one that truly separated American society from British society—isn’t part of the Social Studies curriculum of any American public school. The hidden gem? Determining how wealth would be passed from one generation to the next.

Despite the best efforts of Thomas Jefferson & Company, though, demographics are about to create the societal imbalance that Jefferson feared back in 1776.

First, a little background: Until the late 19th century, the British laws of primogeniture and entailment limited the passing of estates and titles to a specific line of heir, with the elder son or closest male heir getting most of the bounty. In that way, wealth could be preserved from generation to generation within the same family. The newly formed United States government left estates open to taxation, though, and most of the new U.S. states rejected the concept of entailment altogether. When there was no will involved, states decreed that a decedent’s assets were to be divided equally among his children or closest heirs. North Carolina justified its 1784 inheritance statute by declaring that keeping large estates together for succeeding generations served “only to raise the wealth and importance of particular families and individuals, giving them an unequal and undue influence in a republic.” Read More >>>

Nov 20, 2014

Auction Buyer Beware: Ivory Hazardous to Your Financial Health

Ivory figure
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) recently released a 40-page report titled “Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis and the Role of Auctions in the U.S. Ivory Market.” The report is worrisome, because it appears that most U.S. auctioneers haven’t gotten the message that selling undocumented ivory is illegal, and auction buyers don’t seem to have gotten the message, either. These facts, where they know it or not, could be extremely hazardous to their financial health, as buyers of the ivory offered at auction risk the loss of their purchases and additional fines.

Auctioneers wouldn’t be offering ivory if buyers weren’t bidding on it. I just did a quick search on for the keyword “ivory” and found 485 live auctions in the month of October 2014 that were offering ivory for sale in the U.S.

Most auction houses “pass the documentation buck” to the purchasers of ivory. The IFAW report states: “When asked about what kinds of documentation the auction house provided when selling ivory items, several galleries said “none” or that it was up to the buyer to secure such information. One staff member said, “The person needs to take care of themselves, if they buy the ivory.” This was a common attitude among staff at many of the auction houses visited, placing the legal responsibility for following endangered species laws on the customer. In essence, the auction houses are saying “we want to sell you the ivory and get top dollar for it, but we are not willing to provide you with provenance.” Read More >>>

Nov 18, 2014

Who Gets Your Digital Assets When You Die?

Our lives have become digitized and password protected, and when we die, access to our accounts and rights to the contents thereof die with us—unless we make digital access part of our estate plan.
It wasn’t too many years ago that one’s “important papers” were stored in a shoe box, file drawer or safe deposit box; now, business is done online. Retail stores used to have door keys and brick walls, but now online stores are owned by thousands of sole proprietors. Thousands of blogs are filled with author’s intellectual property. Wall-to-wall bookshelves have been replaced by Kindle accounts; photo albums by Picasa accounts. We carry our music collections on an iPad and keep our money in digital wallets, PayPal accounts or Green Dot money cards.

Last month (August 2014), Delaware became the first state to grant estate executors and administrators access to a decedent’s digital assets. Delaware’s House Bill 345, entitled the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” allows executors the same account access held by a decedent. The Delaware bill is modeled after a law proposed by the Uniform Law Commission, an organization that since 1892 has provided state legislatures with legislative drafts designed to provide state-to-state consistency to statutory law. Read More >>>

Nov 17, 2014

KNZ Brokers Disclaimer

I continue to see my personal profile listed on the KNZ Brokers website, listing me as the "Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing" on their "About Us" page:

For the record, I am not now and never have been an employee of KNZ Brokers, Vice-President or otherwise. I did, however, write three of their training manuals on a contract basis, work being submitted between February 2011 and August 2013.

I requested months ago that KNZ remove my profile information from their website, as it is misleading. Also, in case they get sued for something, I don't want anyone to think that I am part of this company. I have no control over, no financial or legal interest in, and no responsibility for anything that happens at KNZ.

As of this date, they have not removed my profile.

Wayne Jordan
Meadows of Dan VA
November 17 2014

Tracking Media Inventory: SKU, Alphabetize, or RFID?

photo courtesy of
C.K. writes:

"I own a consignment shop in which I sell a lot of my own estate-purchased inventory. I also sell some items online. In my shop, I display books, CDs and LPs alphabetically by genre. Each time I make a new estate buy I find myself shifting everything around to insert the new purchases into the alphabetical order. Is there an easier way to organize these items so that customers can browse what I have in my shop, yet I can still shelve them quickly and find items easily when I have to ship an online order?"

Dear CK:

I see your dilemma: the browsing needs of your customers are at odds with the warehousing needs of your online business.Customers like to browse by category, but if you shelve your books by category-only you'll spend too much time searching for a particular book when you need to ship it.

Organizing your inventory by category and then alphabetizing within each category actually makes the situation worse, because so many books could fit into multiple categories. You may choose to put a book in the "philosophy" category one week, and a similar book in the "religion" category the following week, depending on your frame of mind at the time you are cataloging books.

In both the above cases, finding a particular book when you need to ship it is troublesome. Also, if you have more than one copy of of a particular book, how can you be sure that the book you are shipping matches the condition of the one you actually sold online?

Another issue is that even though you might give lots of thought to how you will organize your shelves, customers will often pick up a book, look it over, and then put it back in the wrong place. How do you find it then? This is why Public Libraries display signs that read "Do Not Re-shelve Books! Place Them on the Cart!".

Shelving by category and shelving alphabetically are two common ways to keep inventory. Let me review a third, and then I'll suggest a couple of possible solutions to your problem.

If your business is online only, the best solution for warehousing is a "SKU"  (stock keeping unit) system. In a SKU system, each inventoried item is assigned a number that indicates where it will be placed in your storage area. For example, if you are storing books, you might keep them on ten bookcases labelled A, B, C, D, etc. If each bookcase had five shelves labelled 1,2,3,4,5, then a book label might list the location as A1, C5, or G3. When you received new inventory, you would simply place it on the next available shelf and label the location accordingly (SKU labels can include any other information you might need as well).

So what's a good organization approach that will allow your customers to comfortably browse your books while enabling you to easily stock your shelves and locate an item you need to ship?

The most practical solution is an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) system. RFID systems are similar to barcode scanners, but operate on the basis of radio frequencies. Details and costs can be found at Simply, into each book is placed a small chip, which costs about a nickel. The chip contains information about the book: its condition, location, price, etc. Once the chip is in the book, a  portable RF device (about the size of a hand-held scanner) is able to locate the book no matter where you have placed it in your store.

Consequently, with an RFID system you can organize your books however you want to, and you'll still be able to quickly and easily find a book when you need to ship it.

How much does such a system cost? A basic mobile system can be had for around $6,000. Systems can become very costly, depending on how many items you are tracking. Lest this sound expensive, remember that if you're selling a lot of books & media you'll eventually reach a place where you will need to hire a part-time employee to stock, pull, and ship your sales. A part-timer working 15 hrs/week that is paid $8/hr will cost, in the course of a year, $6,240 plus employer's share of taxes at 15%, which equals an annual cost of about $7,200 total.

So, a basic RFID system will pay for itself in about 10 months; after that, the only cost will be chips. Also, in most cases an RFID system can be expensed in the first year, reducing your tax bill. In year two, you'll be able to reduce or avoid the part-time employee expense, increasing your profit.

Nov 16, 2014

Bequeathing a Collection, the Smart Way

dept 56
To some, leaving behind a meaningful legacy upon death is important. To have built a house, written a book, created a business or performed a heroic deed speaks to one’s character and may have a more lasting effect on future generations than the dollars and cents that are passed on through one’s last will and testament.

A collection is such a legacy, and it, too, makes a significant statement about a decedent. Collectors devote much energy and resources to developing their collections. A good collection is more than an assemblage of similar objects; it is well-thought-out, with each component complementing the others and combining to form a harmonious whole. A well-curated collection is, in itself, a work of art.

In his 1968 book “The System of Objects,” French philosopher Jean Baudrillard asserts that a collection is a complex statement of a collector’s being. Of the objects in a collection, Baudrillard states: “The object… emerges as the ideal mirror: for the images it reflects succeed one another while never contradicting one another… this is why one invests in objects… .” To a collector, a collection is vested with emotional value that exceeds its’ monetary value. Read More >>>

Nov 14, 2014

Vintage Store Psychic?

OK, this post is just for fun.

Every week, I sort through dozens of videos looking for decent content to link to from this blog. The kind of videos I look for are informative, clearly written, and not too cheesy.

The attached video was just too strange to pass up. We've all met some odd enthusiasts in the antiques business, but I've never seen anything like this.

Roxanne Elizabeth Usleman may be the real deal. She may be able to divine the past life of a garment. Lord knows, if some of my old clothing could tell their story I might have to start burning my cast-offs rather than giving them to Goodwill.

If you're for real, Ms. Usleman, please accept my apology and write me a scathing rebuttal. I promise to print it.

In the meantime, dear reader, please judge for yourself. I recommend that you play this at full-screen for the maximum effect.

Deciding Who Gets Mom's Belongings

Mothers Day
“When I’m gone,” said Mom about a year ago, “I want you each to have back the gifts you’ve given me over the years. I’ve marked them all with a sticker on the bottom.”

My siblings and I shot quick glances at each other; we hadn’t expected this. We had gathered at Mom’s for our annual Mother’s Day dinner, and I suddenly wished that my gift to her this year had been a vinyl Duran Duran album.

Sister Kate said what I was thinking: “But Mom, I gave you those gifts because I wanted you to have them. I don’t want them back.”

“It’s only fair that you should get back what you gave me dear, and I insist,” Mom said in her Stern Voice. I was well familiar with that voice; when we were kids proclamations in that voice were always followed by “I’m counting to three!” as if doing so could magically bend the universe to her will.

I hadn’t given much thought to Mom dying, at least not in an immediate way. I suppose she was right to be thinking about how her personal possessions would be distributed after she’s gone. It’s best to have a plan in place. Cousins Ralph and Teresa nearly came to blows over a couple of Christmas tree ornaments when Aunt Judy passed away two years ago. It’s odd what family members place value on. Sometimes we get really attached to an item as we grow up. When a sibling becomes attached to the same item, deciding “who gets what” can become a difficult decision. Dividing money among heirs is easy. Dividing personal property can be a major challenge. Read More >>>

Nov 13, 2014

Biedermeyer, Neo-Classical and Mid-Century Modern Furniture

The starting point for any appraisal is to know what you're looking at. There has been so much stylistic overlap in furniture manufacturing that sometimes it tough to determine exactly what "style" or "period" a piece of furniture is based on.

The furniture pieces in this video by interior designer Cathy Hobbs are wildly divergent; there isn't much (stylistically) to connect the Austrian Biedermeyer of the early 19th Century to American Mid-Century Modern of the 1950's.

But, when the features pointed out by Ms. Hobbs are consistent within the styles, it's much easier to determine if a given piece is a good example of the period or a mix & match of several styles.

In general, the defining characteristics of the styles shown in this video are:


  • Simple geometric shapes
  • Not much carving or ornamentation
  • Use of inlays and specialty veneers
  • Addition of Classical (Roman) columns, pediments, domes, and arches


Neoclassical is a broad term that embraces several furniture styles: Biedermeyer Louis XVI and Empire) that utilize classical Greek and Roman archetectural motifs. Picture in your mind Roman columns and spas, and those elements are likely to be included in Neo-classical furniture.

Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Mod furniture was manufactured from about 1935 to around 1970, mostly in the US and Scandinavia. The most-recognized furniture of the period is the bleached blonde mahogany dining sets of the 1950s. If you watch re-runs of the old TV show "I Love Lucy", you'l see that Lucy's apartment is filled with Mid-Mod furniture. Other characteristics of Mid-Century Modern furniture include:

  • Clean lines
  • A variety of materials (including plastics, fiberglass, teak, and metal)
  • Painted and colorful
  • Expose joinery, like dovetails and rabbet joints.

Nov 12, 2014

Keeping Up With Payment Systems Technology

A recurring scene in futuristic movies shows a character paying for a purchase by touching the screen of a hand-held device, or swiping a wand across a terminal. Thirty years ago such an act was certainly the stuff of science fiction. Today, this payment method is a reality. The future is here.
That is, except for some antique dealers who remain in the payment-processing Stone
Infographic courtesy of: Community
Infographic courtesy of: Community
Age. You know the ones I mean: Checks and cash only, or sometimes layaway.
While entertaining out-of-town guests last month, I stopped at a local antique mall in a tourist town. My guests spent about an hour perusing the mall’s three floors, selecting a few items that could easily be packed in their suitcases for the flight home. They were flabbergasted when they got to the check-out and found a sign that read “No Credit or Debit Cards Accepted, Cash or Good Check Only.” Wanting to hold on to their cash, and not carrying a checkbook (Who carries a checkbook anymore? Isn’t that what debit cards are for?), they expressed their dismay to the clerk and returned several hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise to the shelves.
The following week I phoned the mall owner and asked him about his credit card policy. He steadfastly maintained that he has never lost a sale by not accepting credit cards. When I told him of my recent experience, he said that as far as he knew it was the first time that had ever happened in 20 years in business, and that gaining one sale wouldn’t begin to cover the expenses of accepting credit cards. Read More...

Buying or Selling an Antique Business? Proof of Profit Trumps All

On a regular basis, I get phone calls from dealers seeking advice on how to best sell their business. Most of these calls are from long-term dealers who want to retire but aren’t quiteAntiques shop sure how to go about closing up. They all have the same question: Is it best to just sell off my inventory and equipment and close the doors, or should I try to sell my business as a going concern? (“Best” meaning “Which way will net me the most money?”)

My answer is always the same: If you have a profitable business, an established location (or web store or show circuit) and three to five years of financial statements (income statements, balance sheets and tax returns) then you are probably better off selling your business as a going concern. If not – or if you’re in a hurry to sell – then the better choice is to liquidate your assets and move on. If you’re not in a hurry to sell, then start keeping good financial records, wait three years, and then sell. Read More >>>

Nov 8, 2014

Dealing With High Gas Prices

high gas prices
I don't know DeWayne Butler, but his business seems to be very similar to my own: auctioneer, antique dealer, and raconteur. His comments in the video below got me to wondering about how other antique dealers budget for gasoline expense. The cost of gas varies wildly from state to state, and month to month.

I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, and it's very rural here. The closest mid-size cities are about 75 miles away, but there are a couple of college towns about 50 miles away. The upshot of this is that I can easily drive 300 miles on a Saturday hitting the sales, and one auction per week can add another 200 miles or more to my mileage total. I drive a Dakota pickup with a V-8, so I can spend a small fortune on gas. I prefer the pickup because I can carry big furniture items in it and still have enough power to make it up the mountain.

Right now, gas is at the lowest level in more than a year ($2.64/gal). A few moths ago, it was about 50 cents per gallon more. That's a monthly gasoline expense of between $350. and $450. How can I justify that expense, when there are so many alternatives for buying inventory?

If all I'm buying are smalls, it doesn't pay me to drive around to yard sales. Shipping costs are usually low on smalls so if that's what I'm buying I prefer eBay or, where I can choose from a variety of items from the comfort of my office.

Estate sales might be worth the drive depending on what they are selling and if I can get there early enough to be one of the first in the door. I prefer to buy at estate auctions that have a good selection of smalls plus some antique furniture.

One thing I absolutely don't do anymore is peruse the classifieds for sales, plan a Saturday morning route, and take off driving with the hope that I might find something worthwhile. Doing so is a waste of gas, in my opinion.

Some dealers keep track of the amount they spend on gas and add it to the cost of the merchandise that they buy on any given day, claiming that the gas is an "acquisition expense", much like a shipping charge. Adding the cost of gas to the cost of merchandise is not a good accounting practice; it skews the value of the merchandise at wholesale and will increase the amout of personal property taxes that you pay. A better method is to simply create a "car expense" category in your bookkeeping Chart of Accounts and figure the expense into your overhead in the same way you do with rent and insurance.

Here's the DeWayne Butler video. His approach to the gasoline issue is to buy more merchandise on each trip and pack a lunch.

Sep 20, 2014

Antique Mall Profits

Antique Mall Profits

Whether you already operate an Antique Mall booth or another type of antique business this book is designed with one purpose in mind: to help antique dealers make the connection between their inventory and their money. Inventory - buying it, pricing it, displaying it, and selling it - is at the core of a dealers "business puzzle". Dealers who fail to grasp inventory essentials will struggle and risk failure, and it won't be because they can't make a profit. Forty percent of all small businesses that declare bankruptcy are profitable; they just run out of cash.
In this book, I'll point out a few of the common traps that new retailers - and some old-timers - fall into. Once you know what the traps look like, you'll be able to avoid them. If you already find yourself in a financial tight spot, you'll learn a few tactics that will put you back on solid ground. Here's a small sample of what you'll learn in this book:

●How to know if you should buy an item - or walk away from it.
●How to make your booth stand out from the competition.
●Eight tactics that will turn your booth into a selling powerhouse.
●Five tips for buying right: practice these techniques and you'll seldom overpay for inventory.
●A simple formula for knowing how much inventory you'll need. Never be stuck with dead inventory again!
●How much you'll have to charge to make a profit.
●Ten pricing tactics that will keep your inventory moving.
●Five strategies to sell more without taking markdowns.
●When - and how much - to take markdowns; timing is everything!

This book presupposes that you already know something about antiques. I won't tell you which items you should stock or what items are hot-sellers; all that information is available elsewhere. My purpose here is to present the basics of running a profitable mall booth. Although my focus is Antique Mall dealers, the principles apply to retail stores of any type or size.

Sep 18, 2014

Flea Markets: The Times They Are a-Changin'

“Where are all the antique dealers?” I wondered as I wandered through the roughly one-square-mile of dealer booths at the annual Hillsville (Virginia) Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show. The show, in its 47th year, has morphed over the decades from a local VFW-sponsored gun show and flea market to a national event that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
My first visit to the show was nine years ago, and I’ve attended every year since. In 2006, my opinion was that the show would attract bigger spenders if they would re-name it the Hillsville Labor Day Antique Market. I was wrong. Nine years ago, almost
Hillsville Labor Day Flea Market
This was a common sight at the Hillsville Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show, in Hillsville, Va., as shoppers toted pull-carts brimming with purchases, albeit filled with fewer traditional antiques. (Photo courtesy Wayne Jordan)
every row of vendors had an antique dealer or two (or more). This year, antique dealers were spread thin and it wouldn’t have been much of a show if it was billed as an “Antique Market.” Gone were most of the antique machinery, phonographs, Victoriana and furniture. Instead shoppers would find mostly mid-century knick-knacks, pallet lots of various consumer goods and junkyard paraphernalia.
As my wife made a purchase, she commented to the vendor about the dearth of antiques at this year’s show. “What do you consider to be an antique?” asked the vendor in his distinctly Australian accent. I got “the look” from my wife so I jumped in with my opinion, which is always at the ready. I gave my usual spiel about the U.S. Customs 100-year standard and the regular re-defining of the word by some antique writers (thank you, Harry Rinker). The vendor disagreed with me, as did several neighboring vendors (none of whom sold antiques). It wasn’t long before a consensus was reached: No one really knew what defined an antique and no one really cared one way or another about a “correct” definition. Read More >>>

Sep 17, 2014

Why Wal-Mart Is Good For Your Antiques Business

One of my favorite quotes (erroneously attributed to Mark Twain) is “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Statistics are a business writer’s favorite device. I use them often to support my conclusions. Statistics help me make connections between what seem to be unrelated issues and draw parallels to the antiques trade.
It’s too easy to lie (deliberately or inadvertently) with statistics. It’s important to WalMartunderstand the studies that produced a set of statistics: Who did the study (and who paid for it); who the participants were; how the study was conducted; and what was being measured and compared. Statistics taken out of context (darned lies) can be used to prove almost anything, and if used often enough, can sway the opinions of a large portion of the population.
Take the Wal-Mart controversy, for example. Wal-Mart often finds itself on lists of “America’s Top 10 Most Hated Companies.” News of a Wal-Mart coming to town will cause most small business owners to tremble in their boots. But if you’re an antique dealer, one of the best things that can happen to your business is to have a Wal-Mart move into your zip code. Read More>>>

Sep 16, 2014

The Shipping Wars: Do Online Sellers Benefit?

You may have seen the YouTube video preview ( posted by Amazon Prime Air eight months ago: It’s had more than 15 million views. The 1-minute, 20-second video tracks an Amazon order beginning with a customer clicking the “Prime Air 30-Minute Delivery” button online and ends with a drone gently placing a package at the customers doorstep (presumably within 30 minutes).
Of course, the video is just a “preview of coming attractions.” Amazon isn’t currently making deliveries via drone. The FAA disallows commercial use of drones (although some companies ignore the rule). But, once safety and privacy issues are worked out and insurance companies get a handle on underwriting such an enterprise, we can expect to see drones delivering packages nationwide.
Amazon isn’t saying what the cost to the consumer will be for 30-minute delivery. The unanswered question is: Will consumers pay the price? All indications are that most consumers aren’t willing to pay for super-fast delivery; at least not directly. Consumers’ No. 1 objection to buying online is delivery charges. Read More >>>

Sep 15, 2014

Global Selling: Let the Pros Do the Heavy Lifting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about overseas selling, and perhaps importing items for domestic resale. I began to research the concept by interviewing a half-dozen acquaintances who have or are still buying and selling across international borders. Next, I read “Import 101” by Paul Lidberg []. My first impression was that import/export is not for the faint of heart, and perhaps I’d better stick to domestic selling. Although some of my friends are quite adept and successful at import/export, all had “horror stories” about problem buyers, payments not received or shipments confiscated by customs for some paperwork deficiency.
Making international sales can be accomplished quite easily selling through eBay, Amazon and other marketplaces. Making sales, however, is not the same thing as getting them delivered and paid for. Once a sale is made, someone has to fill out the customs forms. Packages could be checked at each border, at the whim of the local customs agents. Shipping to foreign countries may involve several different postal systems, all with differing size, weight and labelling requirements. Some countries don’t offer package tracking, and buyers sometimes claim that they never received their packages. Without tracking proof, who can argue with them? Some eBay sellers have regularly lost money and suffered bad feedback regarding “missing packages.” One of my eBay-seller friends swears that he was providing golf shirts for free to foreign customs agents and their families. Read More>>>

Sep 14, 2014

When Auctions Move Slowly, It's Good for Buyers

I had a wonderful experience last weekend: I attended an old-fashioned onsite country estate auction.
This auction was “way back up in the hills,” so there were no cell phone signals or WiFi connections available. Consequently, no credit or debit cards could be accepted: Cash or check only. Everything was sold absolute to the highest bidder. There were no lot numbers; items were auctioned individually or grouped on an ad-hoc basis. There was no catalog. There were no buyer’s premiums and no Internet bidding. There were no smartphones for checking prices online and no browsers calling partners for a consultation. It was like stepping back in time.
As I sat in my Coleman camp chair waiting for my lots to present, I had time to watch the crowd and reflect on how much the auction business has changed in the past 20 years. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the changes – buyers’ premiums, credit card fees and simultaneous online bidding – have benefitted the auctioneers first, consignors second and bidders last.
It was with great pleasure that I watched a first-rate auctioneer work the crowd in front of him to get the best possible prices for his consignor. No online bidders would thwart the plans of the local crowd. Read More>>>

Jun 10, 2014

Know The Right Selling Price Before You Buy

Last weekend, after browsing through a live auction preview, I sat cross-checking my notes against my online research service. As my research progressed, I made notes for each item that I was interested in: high selling price, low selling price, how many were offered on eBay, how many of those sold. The item’s sell-through (number sold divided by the number listed) would tell me what my chances were of selling an item quickly.

I hate to have money sitting in inventory. I’d rather sell an item quickly and make a little money than sit on it for months hoping it will sell for big bucks. I can only leverage an inventory investment if I sell it; having it sit on a shelf doesn’t make me a dime. So, I check my research service before I buy anything. I know before the bidding starts how much I should bid, how I should price an item and about how long it will take to sell it.

The gentleman sitting behind me was curious. “What’s that you’re doing there?” he asked.

“I’m deciding how much I should bid for the lots I’m interested in,” I replied. “Do you ever look items up online?”

“Nope! I know what my customers will buy and how much they are willing to pay. It’s all right here,” he said, tapping a finger to his head.

“Good for you.” I smiled and went back to work. >> Read More

May 29, 2014

Raleigh Furniture Gallery: Leveraging the Future

Greek mathematician Archimedes once wrote, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

The concept of leverage — using small efforts to achieve great results — is a curriculum basic to both engineering and business schools. Business owners and investors who use leverage wisely can turn a small investment into a big gain. And if a big gain doesn’t materialize, then it’s easier to lose a small investment than a big one.

Over the past five years, this column has discussed dozens of topics designed to help dealers sell more, manage better and plan effectively. The ideas presented were not original to me; rather, they were compiled from discussions with dealers who had used such ideas successfully. A common thread running through these discussions is that the Internet is a tremendous tool for leveraging an antique business if it’s used properly. It’s easy to spend thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars to develop a strong online presence in your market. But if you were to spend thousands of dollars, you wouldn’t be leveraging, you’d just be spending.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kevin Mayeu of North Carolina’s Raleigh Furniture Gallery is an antique dealer who understands how to leverage his marketing efforts and operating policies to produce outstanding results. His website, incorporates email, Facebook, and Twitter>>>Read More

May 4, 2014

Boost Your Sales with Sidekick Merchandising

I’ve always marveled at fictional sidekicks. A good sidekick lends perspective to enigmatic heroes and helps us to know them better. How well could we understand the complexities of Sherlock Holmes’ mind without having Dr. Watson to ask the questions we are thinking? How much more dignified is Andy Griffith when compared to simple-minded Barney Fife? How much cooler is Ferris Bueller when compared to his uptight best friend Cameron?

Sidekicks give us a point of comparison, and the drive to compare is inborn in humans. There is a branch of behavioral economics titled “Social Comparison Theory” [], which postulates that humans have a basic drive to compare the various elements of their environment. Sidekicks provide us an easy way to compare A with B.

Antique dealers can use a consumers’ basic drive to compare to improve their merchandising. Dealers love to fill their shelves with unique, one-of-a-kind items. Perhaps these treasures would sell faster (and for more money) if we provided a “sidekick” item as a point of comparison for our shoppers. Big-name retailers have been using the “sidekick” marketing method for decades, with good results. Back in the early 1990s, Williams & Sonoma introduced the first bread-making machine to America. Their research had shown that the item would be well-received by consumers: Pour the ingredients into a machine, turn it on and a few hours later one has fresh baked bread. No kneading and no floury mess to clean up. Read More >>

Apr 30, 2014

Avoid Accounting Workarounds: Use the Right Software

Work-arounds: We’ve all used them. Sometimes, we use them for so long that they become our normal way of doing business. Eventually, the cost of a workaround — in time, money and aggravation — becomes so high that we consider changing the way we do things. A few months ago I spoke with a dealer whose business was at just such a point. Her records consisted of spreadsheet lists of inventory and sales, and her business had grown too complicated to continue to use such a cumbersome system. She sold online, executed estate sales, displayed at antique shows and sold on consignment. Details were getting dropped, sales were being lost and she was spending too much time keeping track of sales, merchandise and settlements. The dealer asked me to suggest a comprehensive software system that would track all of the operational information she needed to access while simultaneously keeping her books. Her objective was to enter information once, and then be able to access that information in real time for various sales venues, inventory acquisition, customer details and settlements. After all, she said, this was the 21st century, and it’s a mobile world. Surely there must be software available that would fit her needs. At the time, I didn’t know what to suggest. There were software programs available that would track consignment sales, or online auction sales, or retail sales of owned inventory, or do accounting, but none that would track all of these without some sort of workaround (at least that I knew of). I determined at the time that I would find some suitable software options for growing dealers, and in the past few months I have interviewed CPAs, read software reviews and browsed dealer and software user forums. I’m now in a better position to make software suggestions. Read More>>

Apr 6, 2014

Don't Bank on the Investment Value of Your Antiques

In the early 1980s, I was fortunate to live near Wilmington, Delaware’s Winterthur Museum. Winterthur is a former estate of the DuPont family and was used as a residence until 1951, when it was converted to a museum. The estate contains one of the country’s finest collections of 18th and 19th century furniture and decor.

Like many wealthy American families, the DuPonts furnished their homes with pieces that were both practical and investment-quality. No run-of-the-mill, mass-produced furniture could be found at one of these elite estates. Wealth wasn’t maintained by investing in disposable consumer goods; only antiques and fine art would suffice.

The “antiques are a good investment” mindset endured through the 20th century, but is losing its appeal in the 21st century. The Annual Furniture Price Index, a compilation of Great Britain’s Antique Collectors Club, shows that values of antique furniture have steadily declined since the 1980s (a fact well known to American antique dealers). The club’s February 2014 report attributes the value losses to the decline in formal dining and falling demand for dressers and “coffers.” Investment quality furniture is only an investment when demand goes up. Those of us who watched antique prices rise in the 1980s were shocked to find values evaporate 20 years later. Read More...

Apr 3, 2014

A Look at the Collectible Guitar Market

In 1933, struggling 22-year-old musician Leonard Slye needed a guitar. He found one at a California pawn shop and paid $30 for it. In 1933, $30 was an average week’s wage, but Slye believed that the guitar—a three-year-old Martin OM-45 deluxe model serial #42125—was worth the price. New Martin OM-45s retailed for $225.

Slye went on to become the famous movie and recording star Roy Rogers, dubbed “King of the Cowboys.” The Martin stayed with him through the 1940s. Although Rogers didn’t know it at the time, the Martin was a rare find; there were only 14 of the OM-45 Deluxe models made, and his guitar was the prototype: #1 in the series.

In 2009, Rogers’s OM-45 was sold by Christie’s for $460,000. A similar 1930 vintage OM-45 (#44999, with an Adirondack spruce back and sides, Brazilian rosewood neck, mahogany fret board with ebony frets, and gold-plated banjo tuners with pearl buttons) will be sold in an auction atGuernsey’s of New York on April 2-3, 2014, titled “The Artistry of the Guitar … A Landmark Collection at Auction.” The starting bid for Guernsey’s 1930 OM-45 guitar is $875,000, and it is estimated that it will bring $1,750,000 to $2,000,000.

If Guernsey’s 1930 OM-45 crosses the $965,000 mark, it will be the highest price ever achieved by a guitar at auction. The $965,000 price was reached just last December (2013) by the Fender Stratocaster owned and played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The prior record for a guitar at auction was Eric Clapton’s 1956 Fender Stratocaster, which brought $959,000 in 2004. Read More...

Mar 31, 2014

Hammond Model S Chord Organs: The Non-Musician’s Instrument of Choice

Americans value their leisure time. I know I do; it’s nice to have some time to spend however I see fit. My ancestors (yours, too, I suspect) worked all day and had little time for hobbies and amusements. Now, middle-class families have a wide range of leisure activities that they can engage in.

As the middle class grew in the late 19th and 20th centuries, entertainment technology grew as well. We all love to be entertained, and over the years manufacturers have fed our desire for amusement. From machine-age diversions like mechanical arcade games and player pianos to digital-age gaming consoles and smartphones, our leisure hours have been filled with technology for more than 100 years.

Some technologies (player pianos, for example) took a while to reach their market saturation point. Other technologies—like radio—gained a foothold quickly. Every technology needs an infrastructure to support it, whether retail distribution, phone lines or radio transmitters. Whenever a new entertainment technology was introduced into an existing infrastructure, the possibility of a sales explosion existed. Such was the case with America’s first electric chord organ, the Hammond Model S.

Introduced in 1950, the Model S was designed to have non-musicians “playing lovely organ music within 30 minutes.” The Model S chord organ was laid out in easy-to-navigate divisions: keyboard on the right, chords on the left, and two pedals underneath. Read More...

Mar 29, 2014

Collectible Rockabilly Records

Collecting records is easy. Records are widely available and often cheap. But assembling a meaningful record collection requires thought, vigilance and no small investment.

Records have been produced for so long—since 1894—and in so many different musical genres and formats that serious collectors must consider the boundaries and contents of their collections or they will be overwhelmed by the available choices. Will they collect a certain genre of music (rock, jazz, etc.), or type of record (78, 45 or 33 rpm) a certain record label (Sun, Verve) or perhaps just 33-rpm albums with interesting album art?

Some record collectors focus on a particular technological era, collecting not only the records of a period but also the machines that played them. Collectors of 78-rpm records often collect Victrolas, and collectors of Edison-style wax cylinders must, of course, have a cylinder player or two to enjoy their collection.

Other collectors focus on the music of a particular social period or cultural group: the Depression-era protest songs of Woody Guthrie and his contemporaries; the roots music of the Mississippi Delta; the early “hillbilly” music of the Virginia and Kentucky mountains or ’60s psychedelic rock.

Collections that reflect cultural, technological or musical change tend to be well-thought-out collections. Collections that can represent all three of these attributes have the potential to be fine collections, indeed. All three of these attributes exist for collectors of rockabilly records. Read More...

Mar 27, 2014

Muscle Car Music: Collecting 8-Track Tapes

To garage-salers and flea market buffs, they seem to be everywhere. Most folks walk right by boxes full of them with their nose in the air and an attitude of indifference. For collectors, though, boxes of unwanted 8-track tapes are pure gold.

Monthly sales of 8-track tapes number in the thousands on eBay, with prices sometimes exceeding $100 for rare quadrophonic tapes. There is even a brisk market for broken 8-track tapes, because collectors regularly disassemble and repair tapes to gain access to their favorite music format. 8-track enthusiasts claim to love the feel of the tape cartridge in their hand and to crave the full-bodied analog sound of the music contained therein. To collectors, 8-track tapes are the embodiment of the 1970s.

That’s not how I remember them. I remember 8-track tapes as being the most aggravating music format ever invented.

For starters, the tapes were on a continuous loop, which meant I couldn’t fast-forward or reverse to search for a particular song. If I was cruising down the highway listening to “Freebird” on my Lynryd Skynyrd tape (it was the ’70s, after all) and wanted to hear the song again, I’d have to listen to every other song in the set first. As tapes were played repeatedly, the rollers wore away and they would get dirty and fill with grime. The tapes would jam, break, and sometimes change programs in the middle of a song (No! Not on “Freebird!” Not again!). Stretching would cause tapes to lose firm contact with the playback head, and sound quality would suffer. Worst of all, I would occasionally unwrap a brand-new tape only to have it break on the first playing, sending me back to the store for a replacement. Read More...

Mar 25, 2014

How to Open, Price and Sell Residential Safes

One of my “go-to” movies when I’m in the mood for a caper-flick is “The Italian Job” starring Mark Wahlberg. In a clever bit of cinematography, Wahlberg’s gang of thieves steal a safe full of gold bars by using explosives to cut a hole in the floor around the safe causing it to crash through two lower floors and into a Venice canal, where they open the safe and steal the gold.

I’m reminded of that scene every time I appraise an estate that contains one or more of those big, heavy, steel safes. I comment to the executor that I’m glad that I won’t be the person required to move them, because I’ve moved too many already. I’d almost rather blow a hole in the floor and let a safe drop into a big, dark pit than move another one.

Auctioneers and estate-sale operators will admit that one factor affecting the price of some estate property is the difficulty of getting it moved. Pianos, gun safes and concrete yard art sometimes cost more to move than they are worth. When they don’t, their prices are generally lowered to compensate for the difficulty of moving them.

Residential safes are becoming more common with each passing year. Sales are up for residential safe dealers. A 2011 New York Times headline reads: “Sales of Home Safes Surge, Driven by the Recession and Recent Disasters.”  Read More...

Mar 23, 2014

Near Meltdown for $33M Fabergé Egg

What a difference a few minutes of research can make.

If you haven’t heard by now, collectors around the globe are talking about the discovery of the third Imperial Russian Fabergé egg, identified last week by Kieran McCarthy of London’s Wartski jewelers. The Fabergé community is extremely excited about the find, as the egg has been missing for more than 80 years.

I’m intrigued by the discovery as well, but for a different reason than most: I wonder why it took so long to identify it.

The egg sat on a kitchen shelf in a Midwestern U.S. home for more than 10 years. The egg’s owner was a scrap metal dealer who had purchased it at a flea market in 2002. He bought the egg in order to have it melted down for the value of the gold it contained. Dealing in scrap gold has become a popular pastime in post-recession America. Drive through any city and one can see signs nailed to telephone poles: “We buy scrap gold! Highest prices paid!” Even cable TV’s National Geographic channel has jumped on the bandwagon, with its series titled “Meltdown,” which was introduced last summer. The series tells tales of urban treasure hunters who “search for precious metals in unlikely places hoping to turn junk into gold.” According to National Geographic, revenues in the scrap gold business approach $1 billion annually.  Read More...

Mar 21, 2014

Create More Cash Without Raising Sales, Prices

Too often, we antique dealers find ourselves in the position of being “inventory rich and cash poor.” We have a lot of money tied up in inventory but not enough cash to pay our bills and write ourselves a regular paycheck.

While sales have their place and time in business, if overdone, discounts may lead to disaster.

We try various tactics to squeeze more cash from our inventory: We mark-down items, advertise a “big sale,” raise prices when we can and set up booths at antique shows and/or flea markets to increase our exposure. Sometimes, when we’re hard-pressed to pay the bills and need instant cash, we sell items at deep discounts to other dealers.

Squeezing more cash from inventory isn’t as simple as “selling more.” All retail stores reach a sales ceiling that’s tough to penetrate. In some years sales are a little higher and in other years sales are down a bit. But, for the most part, our stores tend to stay pretty much in the same range year after year. It could be that in our particular market, we have all the market share that we’re going to get. And, without more financial resources, we find it tough to break through to the next level. Read More...

Mar 19, 2014

Cruise Ship Art Values a Matter of Knowing Appraisals

Wandering through the house with the executor, I tried to get a sense of the contents of the estate. I was immediately curious about the dozens of shipping tubes I saw; they were everywhere. There were tubes in closets, on shelves and in the spaces beneath the beds.

I asked if the decedent an architect. No, he was a school teacher.

As it turned out, the tubes weren’t filled with building plans; they were filled with art purchased from auctions aboard cruise ships. A fan of shipboard “champagne art auctions,” the teacher had amassed quite a large collection of art.

Like many comfortably situated seniors, the decedent cruised a couple of times a year during his retirement. More than 20 million people—almost 20 percent of the U.S. population—cruise annually. The demographics of cruisers match well the demographics of collectors; they are age 50 or older with an average household income of $109,000, 86 percent are college graduates and 38 percent are retired.

Onboard art auctions are a popular attraction. They are designed to be part entertainment, part sales venue. The primary art vendor for the major cruise lines, Park West Gallery, sells in excess of $300 million annually. That’s a lot of art, and it’s cropping up at estate sales and online auctions across the country. A quick search of WorthPoint’s Worthopedia Price Guide lists 4,326 results under the search term “Park West Gallery.” I’m sure that if I searched by individual artist, I would find even more cruise-ship art on the market. Read More...

Mar 17, 2014

New Ivory Ban to Prove Problematic for Executors, Dealers & Collectors

In February of last year, armed wardens of the California Department of Fish and Game descended on an auction preview hosted by Slawinski Auction Company. The wardens seized 40 lots of ivory with a market value of about $150,000.

Slawinski employees claimed that there were about 20 wardens, armed and in uniform. Owner Bob Slawinski said that his younger employees were “intimidated and shaken” by the display of force. Fish & Game spokesman Patrick Foy laughed at the notion that there were so many wardens, saying “I doubt we’re able to get 25 uniformed and armed officers together in this state at one time. That’s a little over the top.”

Over the top or not, for the past year California has cracked down on the sale of ivory, as well as other animal parts and trophies. California Fish & Game wardens have raided auctions, flea markets and antique dealers. They have executed complicated “stings” to arrest Craigslist and eBay sellers.

This lot of pre-ban ivory is no longer saleable without proof that it is more than 100 years old.
Although it has been illegal to sell ivory in California since 1970, ivory sales are now an enforcement priority. U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) intends to make the penalties for dealing in ivory even tougher than they currently are by making it prosecutable under statutes used for other felonies such as drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.

Despite California’s tough stance for the past year, dealers who regularly sell ivory have found ways to work-around the situation. But, a “California work-around” is no longer possible.

On Feb. 11, 2014 the Federal government instituted a “near complete ban” on the commercial sale of African elephant ivory in the United States. The U.S. ban currently does not include ivory from Asian elephants or from whale bone and teeth. California makes no such distinction. Other states are considering tighter restraints on ivory sales, notably New York. Read More...

Mar 15, 2014

Dealing in Used Goods More Profitable than New

My friend Brian is an exercise fanatic. He has special outfits for each type of exercise, and electronic meters to gauge each workout. I’m not into exercise at all. You’ve heard the expression “No pain, no gain”; my motto is “No pain, no pain.” As Phyllis Diller once said, “My idea of a workout is a good brisk sit.”

But I admire Brian’s persistence. What I admire even more is his meticulous record keeping. Brian strives to improve his performance with each workout, and he understands that the only way to improve performance is to first measure it.

Business owners are constantly measuring and analyzing their performance. The compare this month’s sales figures to the same month last year, compare store A to store B and so on. Some industries have national associations that provide “benchmarks,” or performance standards for their particular industry. Each year, industry business associations send out anonymous questionnaires for member business owners to fill out and return. The information collected from owners is organized into categories, which become the operating benchmarks for a particular industry and goods. Typical benchmarks for retailers include sales per square foot of floor space, profitability, gross margins, inventory turnover, certain balance sheet ratios and return on investment. Many retail businesses – but not antique dealers – have national associations that track benchmarks.

Having benchmarks enables a retailer to answer the question, “How’s everybody else doing?” With such information, a retailer can determine if he’s doing better or worse than the rest of the pack. Plus, benchmarks offer a clue as to what could be done better in one’s own business.

Although antique dealers don’t have published benchmarks, I’ve found something very close that dealers can use to gauge their performance. Plus, my discovery confirms the gut feeling I’ve had for a few years now: The antiques business is the best kind of retail business to be in at present. Read More...

Mar 13, 2014

Ed Sullivan Show’s Autographed ‘Beatles Set’ Section to be Auctioned

On April 26, 2014, a two-foot-by-four-foot section of backdrop from the Ed Sullivan Show’s studio 50 stage set of Feb. 9 1964 will be auctioned by Heritage Auctions. It is perhaps one of the most famous sets in television history, as it was seen by 73 million Americans on that date in 1964.

The set was used as a backdrop for The Beatles first live television performance in America. In between songs, all four of The Beatles autographed and drew doodles on the set section. The piece, made of plastic and professionally mounted in a shadow-box frame, is expected to bring $800,000 to $1 million at auction.

That the set section even exists is remarkable. Typically, such sets are made for short-term use and then discarded. But an observant carpenter cut out the section encompassing the autographs and gave it to a disabled teenager with whom he was acquainted. Had The Beatles not erupted onto the American music scene a few months earlier, I’’s unlikely that the carpenter would have been inspired to cut out the section of wall. After all, Sullivan had “big stars” on his show every week, and sets for those stars ended up in the trash bin.

In the 1980s, the piece was sold by the former teen to Rodney Cary, owner of the Southdown Lounge in Baton Rouge, La., who displayed the piece on a wall inside his lounge. Sometime later Cary’s wife Laurie took the piece to a Beatles memorabilia show in Los Angeles, where she was offered six figures for it by interested buyers. Surprised at its value, the Carys took the piece back to Louisiana and placed it in a vault for safekeeping. In 2002, it was purchased for $100,000 by collector Andy Geller. It is Mr. Geller who is offering the piece at auction. Read More...

Mar 11, 2014

Baby Boomers Tuned In with Transistor Radios

A recent family reunion found me sitting at my sister’s dining table with siblings and their families, sharing stories and looking through old photos. The older adults were actively conversing, and the younger adults were in their own world, each texting away on their smartphones. As the photos made their way around the table, a niece stopped texting long enough to exclaim “Uncle Wayne! Is that a pack of cigarettes in your shirt pocket?”

I recognized the tell-tale pocket bulge instantly: it was my pocket transistor radio. Mine was a Realistic model (Radio Shack) that I had received for my 12th birthday in 1961. Further photographic evidence proved that today’s generation is not alone in their addiction to technology: the family photo box also produced a pic of me and my friends sitting in the grandstand at Calvin Griffith Stadium, watching our beloved Washington Senators lose to the New York Yankees. The photo captured the four of us, eyes fixed on the field, wearing ear buds, transistor radios in our laps, listening to the play-by-play on the radio.

When pocket transistor radios became affordable in the early 1960s, they were as common to teens and ’tweens as smartphones are today. They gave a kid a new independence: no longer were we restricted to what Mom and Dad wanted to listen to in the car or at home. We could plug-in anywhere, and we often did. A trip to the park could turn into an ad-hoc dance party, playing music that was discouraged at home: Elvis, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and a host of Motown girl-groups. Bus rides and school trips were made more tolerable because of these electronic wonders, and we were willing to take risks to have access to them. Proof thereof: my school principle had a desk drawer full of confiscated transistor radios (we weren’t allowed to use them in school). Read More...

Mar 9, 2014

Opening a Second Store? Do Your Homework

When the ghost of Jacob Marley visited Ebenezer Scrooge on that Victorian Christmas eve, Marley was dragging chains representative of the mistakes he had made in his life. Small business owners – especially retailers – do the same thing. We drag our mistakes around year after year until we become accustomed to them. We feel that their weight is a normal part of doing business, and we don’t recognize how much they drag us down until we are shed of them.

We drag chains made of excess inventory, debt, employees and unproductive locations.

All of these chains are difficult to get rid of. The solution to the problems they create can be compared to quitting cigarettes: It’s better to not start at all. But, a generation ago, teens would start smoking because it was cool and available. As small business owners, early successes boost our egos and we crave more success. We say: “If I can make ‘$xx’ profits from one store, I can make twice as much from two stores.”

It’s an easy trap to fall into; I fell into it myself. I bought my first store while in my mid-30s, and quickly tripled sales and profits. I thought I was a genius. So, I bought a second store, and then a third. The profits didn’t double with my second store, or on the third. But my workload and troubles easily tripled. Nevertheless, I carried those troubles year after year, just like Marley’s chains, until I figured out a way to shed them.

Once away from them, I could look back and clearly see where I made my mistakes. There’s no teacher like experience: It gives the test first, and the lesson afterward.

It’s a rare occurrence when a second store is as profitable as the first. Read More...

Mar 7, 2014

American Bandstand Collectibles

Promotional merchandise has become such a part of American media marketing that many new movies launch simultaneously with a merchandising push. Disney is a master of such promotion, along with Lucasfilms and Pixar. Most of the merchandise comes and goes quickly, but dolls representing cultural and pop icons linger on year after year, moving from the bedrooms of adolescents to the shelves of collectors.

One such cultural icon is the Dick Clark doll, still making its appearance 45 years after its introduction. Yes, the American Bandstand host had his own doll—along with a host of other products. Dick Clark was a master of promotion, and a record business genius. From modest beginnings in Philadelphia in 1956, he built a music business empire around his American Bandstand franchise.

American Bandstand is the longest-running television show in U.S. broadcast history, airing continuously for 37 years (1952 to 1989). The original show premiered on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV as Bandstand, and was hosted by WFIL-radio disc jockey Bob Horn. In the spring of 1956, Horn had some very public run-ins with the law and he was fired. Bandstand producer Tony Mammarella filled in as host until Clark was hired. In the spring of 1957, Clark pitched the show to the ABC television network; it was picked up nationally and the show’s name was changed to “American Bandstand.”

The show’s theme song was changed from Artie Shaw’s “High Society” to the now-famous “Bandstand Boogie” by Les Elgart’s Big band. The Bandstand theme was updated over the years as musical tastes changed, and the final version (in use from 1977-1989) added lyrics and vocals by Barry Manilow. Read More...

Estate Executors Can Only Profit from Hiring an Appraiser

There’s a very compelling reason why estate executors should enlist the help of an appraiser or auctioneer when sorting through an estate’s personal property: Executors often have no idea what’s collectible and what’s not.

A case in point:

I recently helped a neighbor sort through the contents of her brother’s estate. It was a typical middle-class estate: lots of household goods and a few collectibles on display. The neighbor had already spent a fair amount of time sorting and cleaning. On a dresser was a small bag of trash, and it was spilling over onto the dresser top.

As I opened the jewelry box on the dresser to inspect its contents, my gaze fell onto a ticket stub in the pile of trash. I recognized the ticket instantly, because for years I owned one. It was light blue-green in color, and featured the images of three of the four Beatles. I picked it up and confirmed that it was a ticket to The Beatles concert at the D.C., Stadium on Aug. 15, 1966. Read More...

Mar 5, 2014

Danelectro Guitars: The Beginners’ Instrument Collected by Stars

Vintage guitar auctions are heavily weighted toward the three big names in guitar history—Fender, Gibson and Martin—and rightfully so: in recent decades, those companies have produced the guitars that have shaped rock ’n’ roll and folk music. When a name-brand guitar owned by a big star goes to auction, it brings big bucks.Fender Stratocasters owned by Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton have recently sold for nearly $1 million at auction. Other well-known guitar brands achieve high prices at action as well: D’AngelicoHofner, Mosrite, Gretsch and Rickenbacker among them.

What’s rarely seen at prominent guitar auctions—but are just as collectible (and a lot more affordable)—are guitars that the great players learned to play on when they were young.

Beginner Guitars
Most parents haven’t a clue whether their children have musical talent, and few of them will invest in a fine instrument until they know for sure if Junior is going to keep up the lessons. Try it, and then buy it; that’s the usual parental philosophy. If your child turns out to be a rock star then the money was well spent. If not, little was invested. Read More...

Mar 3, 2014

Executors’ Headache: Selling Trophy Mounts

If you were an estate executor and discovered a cache of illegal drugs in a decedent’s home, you’d know not to sell them, right? Of course; everyone knows that there are consequences for selling controlled substances. If you have even a modicum of environmental awareness, you also know that it’s illegal to improperly dispose of household hazardous waste and that personal property having a safety impact (firearms, for example) needs special care and handling.

What most executors and heirs don’t know is that they could go to jail or be fined for selling grandpa’s prized mounted deer head, fish, bird, rug or other decorative wildlife trophy item.

A case in point:

A California man inherited a mounted mule deer trophy from his grandfather. Gramps had “bagged” the deer while on a hunting trip to Colorado a few years earlier. Maybe grandpa thought he was being funny, because the heir in question was a vegetarian with no interest in such trophies. A college student in need of cash, the heir offered the trophy for sale on Craigslist. After playing “phone tag” for about a week with interested callers, an appointment was set and the trophy was sold. Read More...

Mar 1, 2014

Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’—Goblins, Ghosts and Lawyers

Thanksgiving celebrations at my house usually conclude by watching one of the more than three dozen film adaptations of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (we’re not football fans). I find the variations in scripts and character portrayals to be fascinating. My personal favorite is the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge.

This year, what struck me when viewing “A Christmas Carol” was the FBI anti-piracy warning at the beginning of the film. The FBI warning has been attached to every DVD I’ve ever viewed, but this year, in this instance, I found the warning ironic. You see, Charles Dickens’ legal battle to gain copyright protection for “A Christmas Carol” brought literary piracy to the attention of courts of law on two continents. In early Victorian England, literary piracy was so common (pirated copies often contained altered book titles, character names and minor plot points) that lawyers generally considered copyrights to be unenforceable.

“A Christmas Carol” was first published on Dec. 19, 1843. The work had been created in just six weeks. In his subsequent reading tours, Dickens said that as he wrote he would weep and laugh out loud, and often took long walks through London—sometimes 15 to 20 miles—“when all sober folks had gone to bed.” When the book was finally complete, he “broke out like a madman.” Read More...

Feb 27, 2014

Naughty or Nice: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Capra, Commies and the FBI

“He’s making a list, checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

When Coots & Gillespie’s famous Christmas song debuted on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in 1934, they warned that “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Not many years later, in Hollywood, Calif., a new set of lyrics could apply: “J. Edgar Hoover was coming to town.”

Hoover, too, was making a list and checking it twice. One of Hoover’s Hollywood concerns was Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” now a Christmas classic. Were Capra and the movie’s production staff naughty, or were they nice? Hoover intended to find out.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had sent shivers through Capitalists everywhere. After the First World War, the American government actively sought to identify and stop Communist threats in the U.S. When the FBI was created, this task fell to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who believed that Hollywood movie producers were a potential threat. His belief was not misplaced: Joseph Stalin often said that motion pictures were a strong channel for Communist propaganda. In 1925, columnist Willi Muenzenberg wrote in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker that an important goal of the Communist Party “is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them.” Read More...

Feb 25, 2014

Sounds of a Victorian Christmas

If I had to admit to a Christmas-time pet peeve, it would be this: I’m a Scrooge when it comes to cover versions of classic Christmas tunes: I don’t like them. Bah, humbug, says I.

Hip-hop “O Holy Night?” I don’t think so. “Jingle Bells” by the Austrian Death Machine? Fuhgeddaboudit! Give me those “old-time” Christmas songs delivered by the original artists: let me hear “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jimmy Boyd.

It seems that every recording artist is forced to release an album of Christmas tunes, and each song treatment has to be “their own.” Every carol has a jazzy version, a hip-hop version, a hard rock version, a country version and a bluegrass version. Unfortunately, these remakes are hard to avoid; they’re on every radio station and in every department store beginning shortly after Halloween.

Of course, you may not like my choices in Christmas music, either. One’s preferences in music are informed by their age and culture. My choices were shaped by the 1950s. I suspect that Victorian-era carolers would think even less of the Ying Yang Twin’s version of “Deck the Halls (Deck da Club)” than I do. To Victorian ears, “Good King Wenceslas” would sound much better on harp than it would on synthesizer. Read More...