Monday, May 31, 2010

Give the People What They Want

Recently Husbola and I set up at the fanciest antique show we do each year--the Delafield Antique Show held at the hotel in Delafield Wisconsin. This show is without question the best show in the upper midwest. But it is undergoing changes just like every other show these days.

This show has been on our calendar for 12 years--and it was held several years before we joined it. It is held twice a year--in spring and fall--and we do it in the spring. Our quirky garden and decorative merchandise is a better fit for the spring--but we are considering adding the fall show if there is space available.

In the early years of the 1990s, the show was almost exclusively high end, museum quality American and English antiques, folk art, paintings and furniture. Over the years, the dealer mix has brought in a bit more variety-which we think adds to a well balanced show. This is not a costume jewelry or postcard show--which have a place--that is just not at the Delafield Show.

We sell well there--VERY well actually. No--we do not carry chippendale or federalist furniture--we carry quirky affordable decorative antiques and art. There are plenty of shoppers and browsers who love looking at high end pieces--but also want to buy a more affordable decorative antique to use in their home. You will find in our booth items that range from $50 to around a thousand--and the high end will usually be a painting or two. We receive compliments on our set up--which is more cluttered than spare--and after we greet people--we leave them to browse--we do not "mug" our shoppers.

There are always great stories that come out of an antique show. Why is it that dealers who have a high price tag on their items --and possibly live east of the Allegheny mountains-- feel they need to add the "snob" factor into their demeanor and selling relationships? This is the Midwest for goodness sake--lighten up! People are friendly here. Every show--no matter where you are--always has a dealer or two--who take themselves way too seriously. Husbola and I agree that the antiques business has to be "fun"--and if it ceases to be--than we will cease to be involved in it. I must say that I do get a little perverse please doing some shows--where we sell like gangbusters--our quirky items--while the higher priced items in neighbors' booths goes unsold. Right now--we are selling what many Midwestern buyers want--well priced merchandise that is unusual. No snob factor there.

Remember--the antiques business is a food chain. There is a place for the flea marketeer who places items on a blanket on the ground in a parking lot. There is a place for the upper end antiques. And there is plenty of room for us to take our bite out of the middle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Part II--Elkhorn Antique Market

May can be a dodgie month-weatherwise--so when we prepare to sell at Elkhorn--we are never quite sure what clothes to take. The weather can be delicious outside--but when sitting in a large metal animal barn with a cement floor--it can be cold and clammy.

We lucked out last weekend--the weather was cool enough for light jackets--and that is perfect for packing in and out. This year--we were in the "Small Animals" building. Each building at Elkhorn has a personality of sorts--this building is very long with a wide aisle--and the dealers have more decorative antiques and collectables--and they take care with display.

We arrived early in Old Green--and lined up as is the custom at the north gate. At 1pm sharp--they open the gate and dealers stream in to find their selling spaces and start the set up. At the same time--from another gate--customers pay a pricey premium to enter at the same time. It is a bit surreal--as we are setting up tables and racks and lights--eager buyers are scooting around--some on bicycles and almost all with wagons--to scoop up the treasures as fast as dealers can unpack them.

Husbola and I have a plan and routine. We both unload the vehicle --but then I scurry off to start my shopping and Husbola remains to set up and decorate the booth. Yup--you read that right. Over the years--he has developed a real eye for making the booth attractive. He likes to do it--it looks great--and all the while I am racing around looking to beat out customers on the goodies foaming from other dealers' vehicles.

This year--we took better things. We did not take much "dreck" to sell inexpensively. We operated this spring on the premise that not everyone wants a rusty garage widget or a 1970s bean bag chair-or even a broken Santa nutcracker that just needs the head glued back on. We sold some french things, a small chest, a great English silver trophy among others.

A few observations from a quirky, out of our ordinary weekend. 1. There are alot of people who should never wear shorts. 1A. Even good legs need to have a little tan on them. 2. More and more people are bringing their kids--and that is GOOD thing--the shoppers of tomorrow. 3. Nothing makes you feel older than a kid holding onto a sled he just bought (and identical to the one I had in 1969) and say to his Dad--"this is a great sled--and it is soooooo antique. " 4. There are more and more grown men who wear sports jerseys. Maybe they need to leave that to the kids. 5. The Future Farmers of America booth makes great coffee. 6. Next time--throw a few of those rusty things in the truck to round out the booth.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First Elkhorn Antiques Flea Market of 2010

Recently Husbola and I packed up Old Green with treasures and headed up to Elkhorn WI for the first antiques flea market of 2010. We survived-We sold-We are pooped.

Elkhorn is one of those rare antique events that is still going strong after more than 20 years. Early on in our marriage we went with my folks--after getting up a 4am, eating pancakes at a cafe in Delavan--we hit the ground running at the itty bitty little flea market in Elkhorn. Now--more than 20 years later--it has grown to more than 500 dealers and it still sprawling on the Walworth County Fairgrounds--and it still a not to miss yearly adventure.

Three years ago--we decided to join other acquaintances in the antiques trade who "Do Elkhorn." When you tell other antique dealers that you "Do Elkhorn" some are a little apologetic--as if doing a flea market is some how reflective on your antiques business--and not as high on the "food chain" as other selling opportunities.

Well--true--there is not another antique selling place that we do where Buffalo Bob sells buffalo burgers out of a big wagon. And no--our other shows do not have patrons passing your booth carry rusty pails and garden tools and large 1970s decorative do-dads. And no-again-our usual antique venue does not have a vendor selling cheese curds and home made sausage. In the too often snobby world of "Not Our Kind Dear" antique events--Elkhorn may be the poor stepsister--but it does have a few things that we do not see in most other antique events. Huge crowds-smiling people-and young people shopping and buying. Simply said--Elkhorn Flea Market has smiling people--and not all retired folks-- who like old stuff.

The market is held four times a year--May-June-August and September. The promotors-Nona and Skip (they must have a last name--but I am not sure what) have fought the urge to expand and get bigger and hold the market more often. What they do--they do well-clean-organized-lots of restrooms-good market food-and all of this for $5 buck admission. As a dealer--I see that they are organized--and no nonsense. If a dealer is a problem--chances are you will not see them again. Prices for space rental and electricity are very fair--and there is a wide selection of inside and outside stalls.

Later this week--I will post our observations and experiences "View From the Small Animals Building." And yes--Husbola is still speaking to me after the weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Part II-What Auctions are Supposed to Be Like

Our saga continues with Part 2 at the Perfect Early Spring Auction that Husbola and I attended a few weeks ago.

The auction crowd is growing--and growing and getting way too large for a normal auction. The crowd is predominantly men--which is unusual. There are many groups of people who know one another--and lots of talk about the deceased and her collecting habits--so the anticipation is building.

Our list of interesting items is growing--a victorian box of puzzles--box of skeleton keys--old microscope--large pier mirror--good things you don't see everyday. We do not look at or buy glassware of which there was plenty--but we always are curious about the old pottery. One pole barn had furniture--much with "condition issues" which are Husbola's code words for "you better not buy that because it needs to be cleaned-repaired-loaded up and we don't want to do any of that." His Junk Meter is set higher than mine at auctions. Usually he is right.

Auction begins. One auctioneer on the wagons of household dreck and another on the wagons we are interested in. It's coming up--It's coming up--the stuffed bear with the hump back. Probably circa 1910ish--good condition. $100-$200-$300-$400-$500-$600--WHAT??????? At a farm auction in central Illinois? Yowzer. Sold!!!! Not to the Kuceras.

Globe is up next. Papier Mache globe. Lists Persia for goodness sake. Wooden stand. $100-$200-$300-$400. Sold!!! Not to the Kuceras.

Here comes the tuba. Fabulous German brass tuba--a decorator piece for sure--in the original case--great patina--would need repair to play--but not to use as an accent piece. Husbola had run off to the other auctioneer as they were staring the books--and there were a few boxes we were interested in. So--just me--bidder card ready-- $100-$200-$300-$300-$400-$450. SOLD! Not to the Kuceras.

What was going on here? Maybe these were collectors and not dealers. A collector will go nuts and pay whatever to get an item--whereas a dealer has a top limit because there has to be the future profit built into the bidding price. But the prices realized at this auction were out of sight.

At last the auctioneer is moving on the to the area where the large adult tricycle is resting. It had obviously been under cover for many years--but was rusted. In its present condition--it was very decorative. We set our limit --and were ready.

Before I got my bid card out of my pocket--the bids were at $2000. Needless to say--that was way way waaaaaaaayyyyyyy beyond where we were going to take it. Now it is down to two bidders--$2500-$3000-$3500--$4000-$4500-$4800. SOLD. The collected audience clapped. Now folks--you never want to be the bidder for whom an audience claps at an auction. What the clapping really means is "Let's give a hand to the the whack job who just overpaid for a load of dreck!"

The new owner of the tricycle quickly headed off to the cashier trailer and paid for his purchase. Then he picked up the trike and struggled with it to carry it to his ginormous white mega van that was parked in the field. He denied any offer to help him carry it. One heckler yelled out "hey Pal, I have two just like that in my barn at home." The buyer replied "not like this one you don't." and he continued to waddle toward his van.

I followed him at a safe distance--and the underbidder followed him to his van and I was cagey enough to position myself to overhear their conversation. The buyer drove all the way from California--just to get this piece--he had seen it on the auctioneer's website. He was prepared to pay $8000 for it--and considered it a very rare piece. He travels the country looking for "wheeled contraptions."

The day was not a total loss for us. I did miss out on a great book on victorian era midwifery that went for $300. But we did get the puzzles, wicker suitcases, great dress form, pier mirror and few other bits and bobs. Great day!

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Auctions are Supposed to Be Like

Husbola and I get anxious to attend auctions in early spring. Our show schedule is starting and I am always worried that we will not have enough fresh to market merchandise to tantalize customers into buying from us. So we need to comb the auction newsletters and on line listings and get out there buying.

So--a recent spring morning--we headed out VERY early to travel about 100 miles to an itty bitty Illinois town to attend the creme de la creme of the auction calendar--a farm estate auction. Not a consignment auction full of stale merchandise dumped by antiques dealers--but an honest to goodness real dead person estate sale--and on an old farm no less.

Auctions can be all about the setting. There is nothing like a crisp dry spring or summer day--pawing through neat old stuff on flat bed wagons--and uncovering treasures to bring home. Invariably the auction bill of sale cannot list all the items that will be auctioned--so you never know what you will uncover--and just have to have. And hope that none of the 200 other people present finds it or has a clue what it is.

So Husbola and I arrive in plenty of time to have about an hour to look over the goods before the auction starts. I KNEW we were going to hit pay dirt as the roads we took off the interstate got narrower and narrower and finally ended up as wide as our home driveway. We pulled into a field to park--another good sign. In addition--there were no nearby farms--just good Illinois fresh plowed feels, fresh wind and fresh manure smell.

OOOH--this one promised to be a good ‘un. Ramshackle buildings (see photo) and ramshackle outbuildings and hayrack upon hayrack of goods. And about 500 other people who thought it was going to be a good day. Not a good sign.

You see--in April--everybody who likes neat old stuff has cabin fever and wants to go to an auction. Presumably you have been selling over the winter--and new money is burning a hole in your pocket--and you are ready to bid! And bid! And bid! Not good for getting a bargain.

On first pass--what did we see--? A fabulous late 19th century adult tricycle, two 1900s wicker and leather suitcases, old globe with wooden stand (the country of Persia was shown) a brass 1900 tuba, hump backed 1900s stuffed bear, and on and on and on. Wahoo--Spend the day.

Another good sign that the day was promising--the variety of goods available. There was everything from dishtowels to books to farm antiques. The auction company was going to run two rings--this means two auctioneers simultaneously auction at opposite ends of the lot. This is fine if there are two of you--but if there is one of you--and you want to bid on several things--you have to pick which auctioneer you will stick with--or continually jump back and forth. In this case--the normal household was going with one auctioneer- and the items we were interested in with the other. So no darting back and forth with us. We went back to car--brought out the folding chairs and thermos of strong coffee and we were ready for action.

Adventures to be continued in next post.

No More Concrete or Cast Iron Please

Dear One  and I spend many good hours wandering around looking for quirky things to sell.  There is nothing that makes a dealer smile more t...