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...