Saturday, July 31, 2010

Adapt or Retire


"In the old days" the best part of being an antique dealer who did shows was the trip to the bank on the Monday after a show. Not so very long ago--the frenzy at an antique show was incredible to behold. Before the show would open--if you peeked out the front entrance--there were lines of eager shoppers--waiting for the appointed hour to start racing through the aisles and start gobbling up the treasures. I do remember asking customers to please wait their turn as we were filling out receipts and wrapping as fast as we could because several customers were waiting in line.

Oh--those were the days. Long ago and far away. Different times mean different shows and the understanding that we have to do business a different way. And adapt or cry.

We recently did one of our stalwart shows. Not the jewel in the crown but a good solid show that we have been doing for 13 years. The writing was on the wall before we did it--but I think Husbola and I were trying to convince ourselves that maybe this year would be different.

You don't need me to tell you that the economy is different and people are spending their money more carefully and some not spending on extras at all. But I also think that antique dealers are seeing the effects of the "slap in the face phenomena" as well as "what is that" problem. I'll explain.

An antique customer has the thrill of the hunt in their DNA. If you are a person who appreciates the old, vintage, historical items--you love the story and history behind them. I am not sure that goes away as the pocketbook shrinks. But didn't we all get a slap in the face of sorts when then economy "went south"? What we spend money on and how much and if at all changed like a slap in the face. Do I really need that? Will that item hold its value? Let me think about it for awhile. The spontaneous purchase is gone. Every dealer knows that when the spouse or partner or friend is brought into the booth to look at the item of interest--the deal is dead. It's the slap in the face. Recently--it was not unusual to see an item of $400 be a spontaneous purchase--"that painting will look fabulous in the powder room!" No more.

Now the "what is it" problem. Our recent show was full of gray heads. That is Husbola and my name for the retirees that are many times the mainstay of an antique show. Oh sure--there were plenty of young people and young families--but not enough. The number of questions we receive at a show of what is that? How was it used? And then the response--oh reeeallyyyy...is usually the next comment. Which translates into --that is interesting--but I do not want to own it. Now I realize that we have to constantly educate the new up and coming buyers. But if Perspective Buyer can really buy a needlepoint footstool at Home Goods for thirty bucks, why would she buy ours that is victorian English, hand embroidered with glass beads on an inlaid elm and rosewood frame? For three hundred. If you can't appreciate what the item is and the craftsmanship that went into it--you see the thirty dollar Chinese piece a bargain. Because after all--you will probably pitch it within five years anyway. But don't get me started on that!

After each antique show, Husbola and I have to evaluate the experience--and the expenses versus profits and decide whether it will be on our calendar for the coming year. If we don't do this most recent show then we need a new plan and a new show or selling experience on the horizon. But what about all the extras that go with the show circuit? How will we buy cherries and maple syrup and wild rice at roadside stands if we don't do the show? We will not be able to eat lake perch for dinners during the show. And certainly the most TRAGIC for me will be that we cannot stop at Lambeau Field for a pit stop and a tour around the Packer Pro Shop!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Antique Dealers Really are Crazy


One of my favourite quotes is by Henry James, "Summer afternoon --summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language."

Those of you who know me know that I might alter that a bit to be "Summer antique estate auction" are the four most beautiful words in the English language. But even I have my limits and Husbola and I reached those limits recently at a local auction.

The ad sounded fabulous--both in the paper and on line at auctionzip.com. A deceased doctor's estate--four outbuildings that had not been looked at or unloaded for decades. The location was less than an hour away-- the allure of the unpicked was intriguing. To me maybe--Husbola was sceptical.

First--the dewpoint was about 70. No sun was a bonus--but still--we perspire just thinking about a 70 dewpoint.

Second--when we arrived--the ads had not said--"each and every item is covered in inches of grime." Not good. "But look, Husbola." said I as we wandered to each wagon, "this would be really neat when cleaned up." "Uh-huh," said Husbola. This is his generic response when he is not convinced the auction is any good--and when he would rather be someplace else.

There really were some interesting salvageable things at the auction--great 1930s snow shoes-early western US 19th century maps--great lead pig weathervane--our kind of things. And look at the picture--behind the crocks? That great all wooden fishing boat--with original label and patina? BUT--when the order of auction was announced--those items would probably surface mid afternoon. Ok--but not when your watch says 9:30am and the auctioneer has to wade through wagons and wagons and WAGONS of the grimy dreck.

Now--if you are familiar with the American Pickers program on PBS--you know that those two men get all excited over the possibility of this inventory. They don't attend auctions--but these items came out of grubby outbuildings--and they would jump with gusto uncovering these things.

Husbola and I were not jumping and certainly not with gusto. Actually--Husbola was watching the sky as it was churning and darkening--and I was watching big time decoy collectors pay ridiculous thousands of dollars for chippy decoys. Finally Husbola prevailed on me to hurry back to the car-just as the sky opened up and the thunder and lightening started to rock and roll. All the while the auctioneer continues to call the auction. Nuts. And dangerous.

So--calmer heads prevailed (well--ONE calmer head prevailed named Husbola) and we decided to pack it in and head home. I HATE to do that--especially as it is summer--and we have several shows and need inventory.

We ran some errands and came home and enjoyed a summer afternoon more like Henry James' style--which included a nice G and T on the patio.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Our Own Antique Roadshow Moment

I know you probably join me in the continuing interest and fascination with the PBS Antiques Roadshow. Long before this program came to the US, Husbola and I would tune into the British version that was on Sunday night TV in the UK. Wouldn't we all like to find a dust catcher in our house, parade it in front of an expert and then have them utter the magic words--"We are going to film this!"

Well--Husbola and I had a find even though it was not through the Roadshow--and it was thrilling nonetheless.

After Husbola and I got married, I moved into his condo in downtown Chicago. It was a beautiful place and had a great deal of good closet space. The guest bedroom was a catch--all kind of room. (this is a bit of an understatement if you know Husbola and me personally) It had a large closet on one wall and one day I felt inclined to sort through the stuff--lots of dreck that I am not sure even Husbola remembered was there.

In the back of the closet was a HUGE framed print. Think Holiday Inn starving artist sale kind of framed piece--probably 50 inches by 36 inches. It was a really tacky still life print--fruit-bread-cheese-globe-book-1970s wall filler kind of a print in a wood grain but not really wood kind of frame. "YUCK" I exclaimed--and questioned Husbola about it. He said that years ago when he bought the condo from a divorcing couple--they left all sorts of stuff in the condo and in the storage unit--and this treasure was left behind. We both agreed this was not a "keeper" and I started to disassemble it for the rubbish chute.

I pulled off the tacky poster that had been attached to a backing board--it came off rather easily and was actually attached by some old glue residue and tape. "What's this??" I exclaimed as the backing board had an image--that was much older than the poster and was infinitely more interesting.

The tacky poster was glued on top of a chromolithograph of the Grand Canyon. Not just any chromo. It was a full color chromolithograph from Hermit Run Road by the artist Thomas Moran. THE Thomas Moran who is known for his incredible paintings of the American southwest and west and many of the now national parks. Pieces like this were usually framed and graced train waiting rooms and hotel lobbies throughout the US. And this little treasure was nestled behind el tacko poster in our guest bedroom!

During the late 1980s, Chicago was host city for many high end antiques shows that have since gone away. The next antique show we attended--we found a chromo like ours in a booth of a good print dealer--pricetag? $5600 smackers. We had it framed and have enjoyed it everyday since then.

So--of course--Dearest Pack Rat Husbola has "mentioned" our find on a few occasions--usually to justify continuing "accumulation tendencies" and "what if I had thrown that poster away." OK OK he is right--the lesson learned here is make sure what you throw out is what you think it is--be thorough and not hasty. One more reason in my book--to give that pile of junk on the neighbor's curb a little closer look as you drive by...

Sad Farewell Beautiful Lady of Paris

Adieu Belle Dame.... View from the beautiful blooming park behind the cathedral.