Where Can I Sell It?

“Rinker on Collectibles,” Harry Rinker’s weekly syndicated column run for 35 years, a total of 1,820 articles.  Most recently the column run in Antique Collector and Auction Guide, Antique Week, Collectors Journal, Hearthstone Press and The Morning Call. This is Column #836.


When someone asks me—“What is my object worth?,” he often continues by asking—“And, where can I sell it?”

What he really wants to know is where he can sell the object for the amount I tell him it is worth.  The simple answer is he cannot.  While the reason for this discrepancy is evident to me, it often is not to the person asking the question.

Christie’s Auction Room, Illustration is a drawing by T. & Pugin, A.C. Rowlandson


When a person asks me to value an object, I provide him with the secondary market retail value, i.e., what it would cost to buy that object at an antiques shop or show.  Today, I often qualify my answer by providing a second value—the price at which the object can be bought on the Internet, either via direct sale or an auction site such as eBay.  If the person inquires about the value of the object if sold at auction, I provide a third value.

Value is market dependent.  The price of the same object can differ, and often significantly, depending on the market in which it is offered for sale.  The concept of value in the antiques and collectibles field is complex.  It is not easy to understand.  All value is relative.  There are no fixed values in the antiques and collectibles field.

Before discussing the sale venues for antiques and collectibles that are open to members of the general public, I want to propose a set of reasonable percentages against book value that the seller can expect.  In this instance, book value represents the retail value found in an accurate antiques and collectibles price guide.  Remember, not all price guides are accurate.  Alas, far too many antiques and collectibles price guides, especially one-category or one-topic guides, are authored to support or, at worst, manipulate market prices.

Book Value                    Seller’s Percentage
Under $25                                          10%
$25 to $100                                 20% to 25%
$250 to $500                                     30%
$500 to $2,500                                  40%
$2,500 to $5,000                               50%
$5,000 to $10,000                             55%
$10,000 to $50,000                           60%
$50,000 and above                     65% to 75%


Based upon these numbers, here are a few simple rules to remember:

  1. The higher the book value, the higher the percentage of return against book.
  2. While there are many factors that influence value, availability (how many of the objects there are around) is one of the major ones.  A low book value generally means that supply exceeds demand.  However, it also can mean that the object is out of fashion and there simply are no buyers for it.
  3. Selling objects valued under $100 is more likely to frustrate rather than satisfy the seller.
  4. Personal attachment and family value do not translate into monetary value.
  5. Dealers have to make a profit.  Therefore, they cannot buy at book or close to book.  Fifty cents on the dollar is extremely generous.
  6. Collectors expect to pay book price when buying from dealers.  They expect to pay the same percentages as dealers when buying from the general public.


What selling options are available to members of the general public who wish to dispose of their antiques and collectibles?

The initial reaction is to sell the object privately.  Personally, I like it when a member of the general public pursues this course.  There is no better way to educate someone to the amount of work and expenses involved with selling antiques and collectibles.  If the seller keeps track of his time and expenses, chances are he will find (1) he is working for below minimum wage and (2) although he would have received less, he would have been far better off taking one of the other selling options.

The most obvious private route is to a collector.  There are numerous sources to find buyers, both in print and on the Internet.  However, most of the individuals listed are advanced collectors.  They have no interest in buying commonly found items.

The best private source is family and friends.  Make a list of those individuals who visit and say, “If you ever want to sell that, give me a call.”  Many times these purchasers’ hearts, not their heads, govern what they are willing to pay.

When the vast majority of objects book for less than $50, consider renting a table or booth at a local flea market to sell the objects.  Give it one shot.  Box lot or junk the objects that do not sell.  Do not frustrate yourself.

If the book value is less than $25 per object, a garage sale is the answer.  Again, the goal is to dispose of the objects.  At the end of the day, give away, bulk sale, or trash whatever remains.

If a single object has substantial book value or the seller has a large and highly diverse amount of objects to sell, my recommendation is to use the auction route.  If the number of objects is limited and the person is computer literate, the obvious first choice is an Internet auction.  If the objects are numerous and the per object value above $100, use a strong regional auction house.  When the per object value is below $100, a local “box lot” auctioneer is fine.

When choosing the auction route, sellers should be aware of the cost of sale (percentage and other fees charged by the auctioneer) and the fact that most of the prospective buyers are dealers who expect to pay half or less of book value.  The advantage is that the sale is a once and done proposition.  Sellers should look at the final number and be happy.

Dealers buy privately.  When selling in this situation, knowledge is power.  If the seller has not done his homework, he is at a distinct disadvantage.  Further, dealers often only want to buy the cream of what the seller is offering for sale.  They do not want the junk, i.e., hard to sell items.  Sellers who wish to dispose of a large block of items need to adopt a “take it all or not at all” approach.

When selling to a dealer, do a package deal.  It becomes extremely confusing and time consuming when negotiating on a piece by piece basis.

Do not expect the dealer to make an offer.  This is a free appraisal.  If you ask the dealer to make an offer and then refuse it, you have utilized his expertise without compensating him for it.

It is the seller’s responsibility to set the initial asking price.  The buyer’s responsibility is to say yes, no, or counteroffer.  If a seller does not know what to ask or is unwilling to do his own homework, he should hire the services of an independent appraiser.

Finally, when the book value for a single object or group of miscellaneous objects is low, consider giving them away or sending them to the landfill.  While the seller will not have money in pocket, with the exception of a possible tax deduction if the objects are gifted to a non-profit organization that plans to sell them at a bazaar, he will have peace of mind.  Never discount the importance of the latter.

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