Sep 11, 2015

The Green Man Tradition: Collecting an Ancient Icon

“It’s Pagan,” she said, pointing to the image carved into the crest rail of an antique chair. “And I won’t have Pagan symbols in my home.”

I let her remark slide. I don’t waste time arguing with someone whose mind won’t be changed. Besides, she was partly correct: the symbol was Pagan. And Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Celtic and Hebrew and Wiccan. It was the symbol of the Green Man, which, for thousands of years, has been carved into wood and stone, etched into jewelry, and painted on canvas.

Chances are that you have seen this symbol (or family of symbols, actually) but you may not have recognized it for what it was. You may have seen a carving where the entire face was composed of leaves, or maybe a face with vines or branches sprouting from the mouth, nose, ears or eyes.

Rather than the facial cavities sprouting foliage, you may have noticed that the facial hair was made up of leaves or fruit. Maybe you’ve seen a head surrounded by foliage wherein the leaves were not actually part of the face. Within the general description of “face with foliage” the variations are almost endless; there appears to be no standard representation of a Green Man.

Carved into antiques and architecture, you may see: >>>Read More

Sep 10, 2015

Collecting Vintage Salesman's Samples

“She Ran Away With A Shoe Drummer” read the Chicago Tribune headline of April 19, 1890. The ensuing article told of a great scandal: a recently married young socialite left her husband to run off with a travelling salesman (“drummers” in those days were travelling salesmen, called such because they would “drum up” business for their employers). This scenario was apparently so common at the turn of the 20th century that the phrase “she ran off with a drummer” became part of the common lexicon. It was incorporated into the plots of stage plays, dime novels and silent films.

A hundred years ago, there was an entire sub-culture built around the profession of travelling salesman. Many boarding houses, restaurants and hotels catered to these itinerant businessmen. Trains offered discount fares to regular users (similar to today’s frequent flyer miles). Drummers sometimes achieved celebrity status, and their comings-and-goings were heralded by local newspapers.

The Bloomington (Ind.) Daily Leader featured a regular column titled “Among the Drummers,” which featured news and gossip about travelling salesmen. “This has been another week of many drummers,” noted the July 25, 1891, edition of the Leader: >>>Read More

Sep 9, 2015

Understanding the Auction Consignment Process

Arguments rage as to whether it’s better to consign collectibles for resale via auction or to sell them oneself via private treaty. Detractors of the auction method say that auction house fees are too high: up to 50 percent of an item’s final price. Auction enthusiasts say that the auction method of selling is inherently better and ultimately brings higher prices regardless of the fees. Which point of view is right, and what difference does it make?

Depending on what you’re selling, either point of view can be right, and knowing which point of view is best for your circumstances can mean more — or fewer — dollars in your pocket. If you’re considering consigning your collections for resale, here are some points you may wish to consider before consigning to an auction house.

1. Make sure your items are genuine. Generally, serious collectors know that their items are the “real deal.” But when collectibles are inherited or sold through an estate executor, a collection’s provenance may come down to family hearsay. This is where the advice of a reputable auction house or >>>Read More

Sep 8, 2015

Achieve Higher Prices Through Storytelling

A baseball cap worn by Neil Armstrong after the Apollo 11 mission sells for $12,000. A typewriter belonging to novelist Cormac McCarthy sells for $254,500. A football used during the NFL’s “deflategate” scandal sells for $43,740.

Baseball caps and footballs are commonly available for under $10; typewriters for under $100. Clearly, in the above sales the extrinsic value of the items greatly exceeded the intrinsic, functional value of the items. A $6 baseball cap shades the eyes as well as Armstrong’s $12,000 cap. A $100 typewriter types as well (in some cases) as a $254,000 typewriter. As antique dealers, we understand that an antique’s extrinsic value — its rarity and provenance — are major contributors to an item’s price.

Sometimes, though, prices achieved by run-of-the-mill consumer objects — ones that are neither rare nor of noteworthy provenance — reach absurd levels. Why do we humans imbue such common items with high value? Antique dealers who understand why this happens can achieve higher prices for their merchandise and move those dull, old inventory items off their shelves.

Material Culturist Tara Bloom states: “Objects or artifacts often symbolize something more than their intrinsic nature … through personal association objects gain subjective meaning based on the memories that we have of them.” According to writers Glenn and Walker, such “memories” can be artificially created and passed to an objects new owner.

For the past two decades The Significant Objects Project, an ongoing study by brand analyst Joshua Glenn and New York Times Magazine contributor Rob Walker, has demonstrated that common objects can be infused with extrinsic value even where none actually exists. When that occurs, consumers are willing to pay higher prices for said objects. >>>Read More

Sep 7, 2015

The Format Wars

Those of us over a “certain age” have seen format wars come and go: VHS vs. Betamax; 8-track vs. cassette; Apple Mac vs. IBM DOS; Blue-Ray vs. High-Definition video. Each of these technologies served the consumer in a similar way. Each format required compatible hardware in order to make its “software” work; Betamax tapes couldn’t be played on a VHS player, and vice-versa. Eventually, in each case, one format won out over the other, leaving some consumers with obsolete technology and eBay sellers with another collectible to hawk.

The above format wars pale in comparison to the first media format war, the grand-daddy of all format wars: the contest between disc and cylinder recordings. As with other competing formats, product compatibility was required in order for a format to operate. The first format war foreshadowed those to come, and the story is instructive to both collectors and technology buffs. >>>Read More

Sep 6, 2015

Operating is Risky Business Without Insurance

In my July 26, 2012, Behind the Gavel column, I related a story about the Mountaintop Antique Mall in Hillsville, Virginia. This popular mall near Interstate Route 77 is one of my favorite places to visit when I go antiquing near Hillsville. Last month, intending to visit Mountaintop, I drove right past the mall entrance. Thinking that I hadn’t been paying attention, I circled back and was momentarily confused: the mall was gone. There was nothing there but the gravel parking lot and a few outbuildings.

I drove to a neighboring antique store, and there I got the story: In the winter of 2014 the roof had collapsed under two feet of snow in high winds. To quote the Galax Gazette, the 12-foot-high ceiling “came crashing down on countless collectibles, furniture, glassware, art, pottery and showcases.” Though mall owner Charles Nelson had insurance, many dealers do not.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a general lack of concern about insurance among small antique dealers. Allison Steeves of insurance brokers Steeves, Smith and Associates in Monroe, Connecticut, is very blunt about this situation: “The problem is that antique dealers don’t look at themselves as business people,” she said. “Based on the contracts they sign for their booths, any exposure makes them liable”.

Angie Becker, president of both the Antiques and Collectibles Insurance Group and the Antiques and Collectibles National Association [http://www.acna.us/], agrees. Antique dealers are often underinsured and at risk of serious loss. Lack of liability insurance is the most prevalent issue, says Becker.

Regardless of where a dealer does business – in a storefront, antique mall, flea market, fair, antique show, auction or estate sale – accidents involving their displays leave them liable for damages.

For example: >>>Read More