Monday, May 19, 2008

Antiques & Collectibles: Buy What You Can Sell

"Casablanca" movie poster sold for $23,000 in March of 2006 through Heritage Auction Galleries (

What is the true value of an item? This is the most important question that can be answered for you in the Antique, Collectible and Fine Art business. Being able to understand what creates an item’s value will save you unlimited pain and loss in the future.

There are many areas within the collectible business and several of these areas you will want to avoid at all cost. So, before you get started, you’ll want to scratch them from your want list because they will likely not create profit for you, regardless of their price.

Franklin Mint items are tops on the list. I once saw a young man with Franklin Mint collectibles that he had paid over $30,000 for turn around and sell them to a dealer at $1500 – and the dealer still lost money. This is also true of the collector plates, most often sold on the Bradford exchange. Today, these plates are listed at ten cents on the dollar of their original selling price.

I’ve had to learn some valuable lessons in these area myself. I once attended a large auction in Louisville, and I couldn’t help myself when a set of twelve plates came to the block. I had researched them and found they had originally sold for $3,600. I won the plates with my bid of $400, and I was sure I had found a treasure that day. I kept them for many years, and after moving to Chicago, I thought I’d test the water on my great buy, so I listed them at a local auction. They sold for only $300. The only way I could justify my $100 loss was to tell myself that at least I hadn’t lost as much as the first buyer.

Another market that hasn't done so well for me is the Movie Poster Market. You can look in the Kovel's price guide for Movie Posters and find prices for many posters as high as $5,000 or more. However, I am very familiar with prices that reach tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands for the most rare posters. Heritage Auction Galleries auctions movie posters and recently, a Bride of Frankenstein poster sold in the high 300,000's. The movie poster market is a very controlled market, and a poster getting anywhere near the posted price is nearly impossible. Go to any dealer that specializes in Movie Posters and ask the price for a rather rare one they are showing. Return later to the booth and tell them you have one of those posters, and I will almost guarantee you they won’t give you a price. I do think that some movie posters are wonderful, but we are in the business of making money. If you buy something and can't sell it at a reasonable price, then you must go on to the next item.

For the consumer, Galleries selling works of unlisted artists might be the most unfair market that I know of. There isn't ever a secondary market for this type of art work that I can find, and after it’s bought, the paintings will only have a value similar to other decorative art items.

I once was call to a house by a woman who needed money for a surgery. She showed me a painting that her father-in-law had gifted to them, having paid over $18,000 for the painting at the time. Many phone calls later to auction houses and galleries, I was finally able to sell it for $1,000 to a buyer. (He did me a personal favor by buying it.) If the artist isn't listed or the painting doesn’t have a record of its history, pass on it and go to the next item.

The final area of items to stay away from is Limited Prints. If the prints aren't signed by the artist, I have no interest in them. Unsigned prints are a dime a dozen and are to be avoided at all cost. The framing will be more valuable usually than the print. Signed prints are a different story. Most of the prints you find will be signed within the print. But, what you’re looking for is where they have been signed after the print has been produced. So on most of these they will have a double signature and usually one will be in pencil.

While you’re on the lookout for valuable antique and collectible treasure, keep these three words in mind: Secondary, Secondary, and Secondary. I repeat it three times so you’ll not forget it – ever. If there’s an item you are considering and you don’t know if there is a secondary market for it, let someone else have it and save your money for a better buy.

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