What to Know Before Selling Your Collection

We get a lot of emails from people wanting to sell their stuff – collections and individual pieces. Sometimes they’ve been collecting for years, sometimes they’ve inherited an estate or estate item, and now for whatever reason, they want to ‘unload’ and get cash. In today’s economic climate, this can be a daunting task and I always remember what a long-time antique dealer told me many years ago,  “If you’re going to collect, collect because you enjoy and like it – don’t collect thinking you’re going to get rich or make money off your collection down the road because that will never happen.”

That statement is just as true today as it was then for those who love collecting  because:

You’ve most likely paid retail price for the items you purchased and,

even though the item may be collectible, you may have bought some items with damage “just because you liked them”  not realizing they have little potential for resale value.

Note:   Any item with damage basically has no resale value unless you find someone that needs that one item to finish out a collection or – like you – they just like it.

For those looking to sell a collection or item, we’ve put together some points to consider before attempting to sell anything…

Details to Know About the Item

Have a complete  list of the items you want to sell – including pictures to email, if requested – along with close-ups of any unique details, damage or marks.  Be able to answer questions about the items, i.e,  unusual details, marks, dimensions, materials of construction, damage of any sort, etc.

Know Your Price

Know what you want for the item/collection before you contact anyone. You don’t have to have an exact price but at least have a price range in mind.   Do not expect the potential buyer to ‘make an offer”.

If you have kept good records of your purchases,  you may already know how much money you have invested in your collection and what you want to get. If not, then you’ll need to find out what the current market values are for the items you want to sell. This can be done by checking collector’s price guides, visiting antique stores or malls and looking for similar items, or checking realized bids for completed auctions.

Do not approach a potential buyer without knowing what you want or hope to get as this typically results in one of the  two follwing  situations . . . 

1.  They’ll make you a ‘low ball’ offer and you’ll be offended or 

2.  You’ll take the offer and find out later you were taken advantage of.

Also, if you have a collection you want to sell, always try first to sell the collection as a whole.  Do not allow buyers to ‘cherry pick’ items. You’ll find that they will take the best pieces at the lowest price possible and the remains you’re left with will be hard, if not impossible, to sell for a good price.

Who to Sell To

You’ll need to decide if you want to sell to the public or to a dealer. Selling to the public gives you the best opportunity of getting a better price, if you don’t mind dealing with strangers. This may include having them come to your home or your going to a flea market or similar venue to sell.

Selling to a dealer can be easier, particularly if you take your stuff to them; however, you’ll only get a percentage of the items’ value since the dealer has to have room to mark-up the price for his profit.

Note: You can typically expect to get 50-60% of the book value of the item. This value will be based on condition, whether you have original box (if it came in a box), over all market trends for that type of item, and geographic location. Some items sell better and for higher prices in different parts of the country.

Making the Transaction

One of the primary considerations when looking to sell is how the transaction will be completed. If you are selling locally, there is little to consider other than payment method. However, if you are planning on selling out of your local area – possibly over the Internet – you need to think about how the transaction will be completed. Do you trust the buyer enough to send your items to them without receiving any payment? Are you willing to pack everything up and pay for boxes, packing, postage, insurance, etc and hope they are an honest buyer?

Don’t expect to receive payment first.  Most dealers will not send payment pending shipment of items – not because they don’t trust you – but because at some point the in the past they’ve had a bad experience with someone else and lost money. So you have to consider,  is it worth your while to travel to the buyer’s location to complete the transaction or would you be better off to get less money and sell locally.

Be Honest with Yourself

Finally, when you’re ready to sell – approach the process objectively. While you may think the most precious things in the whole world are your favorite Aunt Jane’s cracked Roseville vase and Uncle John’s old tin car with the missing steering wheel, you’ll not get any real money for them.     So if something is valuable to you because of  its sentimental value rather than its collector value, you’ll  probably be better off keeping it .

For more information on  10 ways to sell your collection – along with the pros and cons for each – visit  Texas Antique Mall Compendium – 10 Ways to Sell My Stuff.    Or visit the Compendium Index   for a wealth of collector and antique information on everything from caring, cleaning to identifying your items.


2 comments to What to Know Before Selling Your Collection

  • Janis Whitker-Smith

    I have inherited items of which I currently has no interest in. I would like to know their value. I have 3 hand craved Ivory items. 1. knife with ivory carved handle. 2. An elaborate (I believe Spirit house many levels to it.) 3. Is an elaborate carved Arch. these were handed down from generation to generation in my family.
    I done my research on selling items made of Ivory and realize the paper work needed I do not have. Maybe there’s another avenue you might recommend.

    I also have a collection of 18th century swords along with their sheaths. I will be happy to supply pictures of these items. So that you may more accurately assess their value.

    Janis Whitaker-Smith

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