New York - As the Covid economy continues to cycle people in and out of lockdown, a new breed of antique and vintage collector/dealer has begun to emerge from the shadows of self-isolation and quarantine. Freshly minted collectors who've been attempting to hone their garage and estate sale 'hobby picking' skills into something more profitable and professional, while working patiently from home over the last few months, are suddenly beginning to make their presence felt within the decorative arts scene. Armed with beginners enthusiasm, and a few months of pandemic-induced online searches under their belt, these nascent collectors, cum dealers, are the antique world's answer to the frenzied day-traders of the Robinhood investment firm. However, as with most new-to-market experiences, there are usually growing pains, and this latest batch of freshly-baked dealers are finding out that they're no exception to the rule.
Roger Crozier, a longtime seller of musical memorabilia on eBay from San Francisco says that after about a month of lockdown, he started to notice a change in the number of queries he was getting regarding his online items and how they were listed. "It was strange," said Crozier, "Normally I'd just get the usual listing questions, but by early spring I was receiving emails from people who were more interested in how I got into the antique business than the item itself." Crozier said that many of his other online colleagues also seemed to notice an uptick in requests by people who were simply inquiring about how to sell antiques online.
For those who are just starting out, or may be entering the antique and vintage field due to a piqued curiosity brought about by an extended home layover from the Coronavirus, the learning curve for buying and selling can be steep. Jessica Smith, who's been a vintage photography dealer on eBay for over fifteen years says that it takes time to learn the ropes. "Most mistakes I'm seeing by recent buyers are easily correctible, but you need a check list of do's and don'ts - and what I'm noticing from these new dealers and collectors is a lot of don'ts."
Smith says that the most common errors she encounters on eBay relate to basic research. "Don't be afraid to ask the seller questions before buying. Examine photos carefully for any signs indicating a fake or reproduction, such as lack of wear and usage, and look to see if the seller has multiple listings for similar items - a telltale sign of mass production." In addition to these simple offerings Smith also says that buyers should be asking about any noteworthy condition issues, as this will help the purchaser should the item need to be returned because it was misrepresented during the sale.
Smith thinks that some of the freshly-sprouted dealers might also be shortchanging themselves on a lack of comparative price checks. "Look at realized pricing from all over the Internet - if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is," says Smith, "which means you should adjust your bidding strategy accordingly." Smith also noted that if you're bidding on an item that comes with a signature or manufacturing mark on it, make sure you're familiar with these renderings and their meanings before purchase, since they can have a big impact on determining authenticity and overall value. Lastly, you need to check the sellers reputation by going through their feedback, says Smith. "It's really pretty simple, but you'd be surprised how many new collectors don't fully vet their online purchases before hitting the 'buy' button."
For Derrick Hardy, who deals primarily in small nautical antiques from his shop in Halifax, Canada, the change in eBay listings was noticeable. "I buy and sell almost exclusively online, so when I started seeing an influx of listings with items being misrepresented, along with poor photos, and over-the-top prices, I started to get a little concerned." Hardy freely admits he didn't initially make the connection between the stay-at-home timeline and the spate of new dealer listings until he started to examine their selling history. "Over time I realized that many of these dealers had just started listing within the last few months."
Being a successful online seller also requires its own checklist, says Hardy. "Comparing similar items and verbiage used before posting an item on eBay is paramount - it gives you an idea of how to construct your own listings." Hardy said he also noticed a slew of other mistakes from the springtime postings such as improper titles, or listings without relevant keywords, and photos that didn't accurately represent the item being sold. "Little things like not putting in a reserve bid or ending an auction early are all bush-league mistakes," said Hardy, "In the end, prep-time pays off."
While the majority of longtime online dealers and collectors would likely agree that adding new blood to the decorative arts community is certainly a positive step in the right direction, many are also likely to acknowledge that this fresh resurgence of interest in the antiques and vintage field by neophyte dealers and collectors is likely to be short-lived, unless there's a serious reckoning of homework first, with 'listings' to follow...
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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