Saturday, August 28, 2010

Think Vintage: A Picker's Guide

Being a picker of vintage collectibles and antiques requires having a lot of knowledge of your products. If you're new to buying and selling vintage merchandise, then you aren't ready to be a picker. I don't mean to put you off. I'm just telling you the truth.

The picker's motto: Buy then sell as fast as you can will keep the money rolling in.

As a picker, I think in margins and percentages. That's why you have to be a very good buyer. If you pay too much for an item, your profit margin drops. Some people think that pickers "steal" the merchandise they resell. That's not true. It is the seller who sets the price of their items and choses to dicker or not on the price. It is not the picker's job to educate the seller. A seller should always know the value of their item before they sell it.

As a picker, I sell to collectors, antique shop owners, and auction houses. That's why anyone who is considering being a picker must be able to buy the items at a price that enables you to sell it at wholesale or retail prices. The only person you can sell to who will pay what you consider the full retail value of your items is a collector. Antique shop owners and auction houses expect to pay wholesale prices because they intend to resell the item. It is up to you to do the research to know what your item is worth.

Keep in mind that the price items sell for on Ebay are usually wholesale prices unless the item is rare. And the prices given in antique price guides are based on the sale price of the item in a shop. The true value of the item you are selling depends on supply, demand, and location. As an example, an item might sell for more in New York City than it would in a smaller city in a different state. It is worth your time and effort to browse the shops in your area to know what prices they are asking for items similar to your own. Picking up booklets from your local auction house is a good research tool too. It also gives you a good idea of what to buy and how much you should pay for the item when you are out picking for resale. You need to make a profit off what you sell as a picker while leaving room for the shop owner or auction house to make a profit too.

If you intend to sell to a collector, then you can usually find them in antique magazines or papers as well as online. I send them an email inquiry to tell them what I am offering, my asking price, and ask them if they would like me to send them photos of the item. If the collector is interested, they will contact you. Sometimes, after receiving the photos, a collector may send you a counter offer. If the price suits you, then accept. If not, try contacting a different collector. I don't send out inquiries to more than one collector at a time. If the collector buys the item, then I package the item securely and ship it with insurance and Delivery Confirmation after I have received payment.

If you decide to sell to an auction house, then take the pieces you intend to sell and go to their auction house. You should have a wholesale price in mind when you walk in their door. I have gotten between 1/4 and 1/2 of the item's value when I sell to an auction house depending again on supply, demand and location. I sold a pair of sterling candlesticks to an auction house a few months ago and made a nice profit even though I sold them for 1/3 of their value. You make your money when you buy. A good picker understands that concept and abides by it.

Selling to antique shop owners takes a bit more work on the picker's part. Once you've researched the items you intend to sell, I never show a shop more than 25 pieces at a time, list the items on index cards and include your wholesale selling prices. Calculate the total cost on a separate index card for your own use. I also subtract a percentage from the total cost on that index card of mine in case the shop owner decides they want to buy it all. I never sell broken or chipped items to a shop owner. The only exception is if the piece is very rare. Make sure the pieces are clean before you package them in soft wraps or colorful paper, never use newspaper with print as it could bleed into some items, and put them in your box(es). I prefer wraps for my larger items because they are reuseable many times over and they don't tear like paper does.

If you've browsed the antique shops in your area, then you should now have a list of which shops you think might buy from you. Put your box(es) of merchandise in the car, don't forget your index cards, and go to the first shop on your list. Also make sure to carry along some blank index cards. If this is your first time trying to sell to this shop owner, then browse around the shop a few minutes before you ask the shop owner if they are buying today. Most times, the first question they will ask you is "What have you got?" That's when you hand them your index cards and, while they are reading the cards, go out to the car and bring the box(es) into the shop. Show your pieces to the shop owner one at a time, explaining more about the item than you have listed on the card. Keep the items you have unwrapped on the shop owner's counter as you unwrap another one. Many times, the shop owner will start separating what they want from what they don't. Once all the items have been unwrapped tell the shop owner that you're willing to lower your price if they buy all the items. If they want only a few items, then stick to the price you have listed on your index cards. If they decide to buy everything, then tell them how much the total comes to as written on the cards, then give them the lower price you have already calculated.

Once the sale is complete, if you have items that they didn't buy, wrap up the items, put them back in your box(es), take your index cards back, thank them for buying and tell them you will come back again when you have new items to sell. If the shop owner buys it all, let them keep the index cards, then put all your wraps back in the box before you leave the shop. I also ask the shop owner if there is anything specific they want me to look for when I'm out picking and keep notes on what they request.

If the shop owner did not buy all the merchandise, then once you leave the shop you need to rewrite your index cards and go to the next shop on your list. Please don't sit out in the shop owner's parking area if you need to rewrite your cards. There are plenty of other places to stop between this shop and the next. Sometimes a shop owner will pay you in cash, other times with a check. If it is a check, then I usually stop at the bank branch written on the check to cash it. The reason I do it this way is because I once had a shop owner give me a check for the merchandise, I deposited in my bank account, then I found out the check was declined because of insufficient funds.

A picker must have a lot of knowledge about many different items. That's why I don't specialize. Many times a shop owner knows a lot about glassware, or another collectible, but very limited knowledge in other vintage areas. As a picker, it is part of my job to teach them about the items I am offering.

The reason I limit the amount of items I take into a shop to sell is because I know from experience that sometimes the shop owner only has a certain amount of money to work with that day. If I take them too many items at once, then they tend to "cherry pick" me. They try to only buy the very best items I am offering and will pass up the rest. I learned that mistake early on in my picker days.

When I first started out being a picker I asked another picker how was the best way of doing it. His answer: You either need a lot of money and a little knowledge or a little money and a lot of knowledge. I chose the latter and it has served me well.

Another tip for a picker is to buy all the used antique books and price guides you see. The prices in the guides don't matter. It's the information about the items that makes the books worth buying.

Good luck with this endeavor. I hope it works as well for you as it has, and does, for me.


  1. I do think knowledge is very important in selling vintage. I've seen people walk pass some great bargains because they didn't know what the item was, which turned out to be good for me.

  2. Same here, ModredVintage. There's good stuff out there, if you have the knowledge to recognize it when you see it.

  3. Actually my best source of pricing and what to pick has been attending auctions on a regular basis. Not only will this help to figure out pricing if you decide to pick for an auction house but you will get a great idea what shop owners are willing to pay for the items you pick. I dont fancy myself a picker but I do regularly supply auction houses with merchandise . The books are great for identification but the real market is determined by supply and demand.

  4. Another good tip. Thanks. Lisa.

  5. I've decided to continue with this blog. There's a lot more can share and it's a good place to discuss our finds and give helpful hints to each other.

    My first hint: NevrDull. It's spelled that way on purpose too. We use to to clean sterling and most other metals. It does a wonderful job and is less messy than other methods we've tried. It comes in a small tin and is kerosene soaked cotton. It even works good on hubcaps and other metal pieces on cars. I guess that's why wallyworld sells it in their automotive section. It's inexpensive and lasts a long time.

    I'll be writing more very soon so please check back and I hope you'll join in with your own comments, finds, tips or suggestions.