Tighter budgets make it a buyer’s market for antique collectors

Money for antiques is tight for most collectors.  Fewer new collectors are entering the market and those already addicted are being more selective with their purchases.  Most collectors think twice before making a purchase.  When money is in short supply, spending even a few dollars on anything that isn’t a necessity is something many try to avoid.  Of course, most of us think of antique and collectible purchases as necessities, but many others do not.  This is bad news for sellers, but good news for buyers for now is the time to buy quality antiques.

Like many collectors, I’ve been more selective with my purchases, but I’ve actually been buying more instead of less.  Why?  Some quality antiques are now available for less.  I don’t mean that values have plummeted and everything is available for a steal; far from it.  Most collectors won’t sell their treasures at any price, but a greater than usual number are looking for extra cash.  With fewer buyers, values of some items are weak.  Prices have been affected, but it’s a hit and miss situation.  Prices are weak on some pieces and quite strong on others.  What this means for collectors is that there are some good buys out there.

I do a lot of searching on eBay.  Every morning I check through the emails for my saved searches.  Once a week, I browse through all the listings for stoneware, which often number around 10,000.  Most of the time I find little or nothing of interest, but sometimes I discover a great piece at a very good price.  I made three purchases of quality pieces in recent months.  One was a blue Mayfair Depression glass candy dish in excellent condition for under $200.  The piece is valued in books at just over $300.  Depression glass is one collecting area that has taken a hit.  I’m always searching for pieces of green Parrot I’m missing and Parrot turns up regularly under its book value.  Another recent purchase was a two-gallon Reppert stoneware jar made in Greensboro, Pennsylvania.  The jar has strong cobalt markings and only one very minor crack.  I picked it up on eBay for only $125, shipping included.  I’d expect to find the same piece in a shop priced at least twice that.  The purchase that pleased me the most was a piece I’ve been wanting for years and I mean twenty years and more.  I’m a collector of early-nineteenth century stoneware and I’ve longed for a pitcher decorated with cobalt blue.  I’ve been combing antique shops, malls, shows, auction, flea markets, and eBay for more than two decades, but could never find what I wanted at the right price.  This isn’t because I expected to pick up a nice pitcher for $50.  I’ve been searching for a good buy, not a bargain.  While a bargain-priced early stoneware pitcher isn’t an impossibility, it’s so unlikely it might as well be.  Not long ago I bid $650 on such a pitcher on eBay, but was outbid.  Then, I spotted another.  It had a very minor chip on the lip, barely noticeable, and a couple of small cracks on the bottom.  I determined it was worth about $500 to me.  The minimum bid was $395 and shipping $20.  I waited until near the end of the auction and placed my bid.  I waited and watched.  The seconds ticked down.  The auction ended and I was the sole bidder!  I picked up the piece for more than $100 under my bid.  Some might have had buyer’s remorse at this point, thinking the purchase was a mistake because no one else as interested.  I knew better.  This wasn’t a $1,000 pitcher, but it was definitely a $500 pitcher and I’d seen pitchers in similar condition I liked less sell for $700 and more.  I picked up a quality piece at a good price.

I can hear some of you thinking, “Wait a minute!  That pitcher was damaged!  How is that a quality piece?”  It’s true that an undamaged example would be a higher quality piece.  If the pitcher was marked it would have been a higher quality piece, too.  The lack of a mark and the slight damage do detract from the value.  The same pitcher, in perfect condition and marked would be worth perhaps $850 to me.  Pristine condition isn’t a necessity to me when it comes to stoneware.  Marked pieces are wonderful, but unmarked pieces are just as beautiful.  Therefore, to me, this was a quality piece at a good price.  Like many collectors, I have different standards for different antiques and collectibles.  What is acceptable in stoneware is not in Depression glass.  The blue Mayfair candy jar I purchased was in mint condition.  Even one small chip would have greatly reduced the value in my eyes.  I recently spotted an identical candy jar, with chips to the lid and base, for a starting bid of $45.  I didn’t even bother to put it on my watch list because the damaged piece wasn’t of interest to me.  I might have paid $30 for it to use, but to collect, no.

Don’t expect to scoop up quality pieces at bargain or even good prices with ease.  Many collectors, myself included, will hold onto their good pieces rather than sell them for less than they desire.  I’m more likely to give a nice piece to a friend instead of sell it for considerably under value.  I constantly browse for antiques because I love it.  Even so, I usually leave a mall or shop without finding a “good” price on what I consider to be a quality piece.  I put good in quotations because the going-rate is still a good price on a nice piece.  I’m not disappointed when I don’t find what I’m seeking, just as I’m not disappointed when I don’t find a bargain on more run-of-the-mill antiques.  Even now, such finds are rare; they just aren’t as rare as they were.  

With all this said, now is the time to buy quality antiques and collectibles.  They can’t be found with great ease, but they can be found more easily than in recent years.  Unfortunately the cause of better prices, a lack of available funds among many collectors, also makes affording a quality piece difficult.  This is why one should be patient and save up funds for the day a special piece appears.  I find myself hitting eBay harder than ever.  Browsing for antiques on eBay is free and it’s fun. Browsing in antique shops, shows, and malls can be inexpensive as well, as long as one doesn’t have to travel far.  The potential rewards are worth some cost and remember that an outing to a nearby antique mall or shop, even a failed one, can be fun.  Gas for a trip to the antique mall will likely cost less than a ticket to a movie and we all know which is more enjoyable.  Now is the time to buy quality antiques and collectibles, so get out there, search, and hope I don’t get there before you.