Can I sell you an old piece of junk?
Updated: Aug 14
I've already told you that I love to make stuff. Now, I'm telling you that I also love to sell stuff. Even better if I sell you something that I've made, right?
I think I also told you that I started sewing when I was about eight--making doll clothes, just like I saw my Gramma Toots making. The thing I didn't tell you is that I used to sell these doll clothes to my friends, also just like my Gramma Toots, who supplemented the family income selling darling small metal trunks of hand-made doll clothes. So there's the tradition, right?
I'm not sure where the selling comes from--maybe we're descended from gypsies (no aspersions on gypsies) or used car salesmen (them either)--but I, personally, look upon selling as a form of sport--rather like fishing. You prepare your lures (clean and oil that cute music box you found at Savers, last week) you cast your line (put that polished-up music box in your antique booth or in your online etsy shop) and wait for someone to bite. If no one nibbles, you wiggle your bait (put a note on Craig's List or pay for better exposure online) or make it more attractive (put it on sale). If it all works, you have a nice dinner. If it doesn't work and no sales, you go home and check your tackle box (inventory) for something better to throw out there, tomorrow--(hmmmm, maybe that glass beer mug with the Brigantine ship etched on it or the Majolica chicken).
I have sold, ( in order---after doll clothes), porcelain dolls that I dressed in period fashions for college spending money, flower arrangements at the first job I had, in a florist shop, Victorian pillows and other fluffy stuff from my "Confections" business, handmade gifts from other artists at our River's Bend sales, truckloads of unwanted and what-was-I-thinking!? items at rummage and garage sales, where the last thing you'd ever think someone would buy is always the first purchase out the door,
I've sold quilting patterns and books that I have written,--- I have even sold myself, as a quilting teacher/lecturer.
I sold an entire huge house full of Victorian antiques and furniture that were, literally NOT going to fit in our current 1950's "Prairie Rambler" home.
AND at the moment, I'm selling antique Persian rugs. WHAT?? you say! "How can you sell Persian rugs when you look like you just celebrated your birthday with a nice lutefisk dinner?? What could you know about Persian rugs??
Well, it all started with my mother--she of the jodphers and the eel in the last blog. My mother was a "picker". Yes, it's true. If you don't know what a "picker" is you must not be in the antique business. My mother would take herself off in the 1936 Ford, out into the countryside and visit the country folk to see if they had any valuables they would like to get rid of....cheap. She would come home with a trunkful of items of dubious ancestry, where-upon my Dad always said the same thing. "What are you going to do with that trunkful of JUNK?? He never really "got" the looking-for-treasure-thing.
But, he was a good guy and so, like the many hamster homes he built in a former blog, he put up wall after wall of shelves in our basement so that she could set up her little shop. Being a "picker" means that you are the one that finds the treasures or "not-treasures" and sells them to the "real" dealers with the fancy shops, who come to your basement to buy their inventory. At least, that's the way it used to be, in 1949.
Nowadays, we dealers ARE pickers and get up at 3:00 AM to go to estate sales, to sit in our car when it's still dark and wait, in carefully monitored order--"you were number 4 and I was number six" ---so you could go in in an orderly fashion when the sale opens, and not like the women in Zorba the Greek, claiming the "left-behinds". We visit Goodwill and Savers and the Salvation Army stores, looking for that item that we know to be a valuable treasure, while others haven't a clue. Hopefully, that treasure doesn't need extensive repair
I can remember my mom, sitting at the kitchen table, late into the night, surrounded by her antique reference books, doing the research to see if there was anything that was going to pay off the mortgage, in the trunkful she'd brought home that day. As a matter of fact, I still have her loupe that she used then, to look for that all-important mark or signature that turned a nothing piece of give-away glass into a signed piece of Steuben. I'm here to tell you that my mother would have loved Google!! and ebay and etsy and Ruby Lane and Trocadero!
The other person who has to take the blame for the fact that I am now selling Persian rugs, is my wonderful mother-in-law, LeeAnna, and she's not even here to defend herself. Two of LeeAnna's great passions in life were classy clothes and good jewelry. Not necessarily REAL jewelry, but lots of high-end costume stuff mixed in with the real. When LeeAnna died, I inherited some of that fascinating jewelry. Being my mother's daughter, I was driven to find out all about it--so I bought some jewelry reference books--and sat up late at night, looking it all up. I KNOW you know what happened next----I started buying my own vintage jewelry.
One of the first pieces I found was what I knew was a Wm Spratling Taxco sterling bracelet. I had seen it in one of my books. I barely managed not to jump up and down and give myself away!! The distinctive signature was stamped on the sterling hook clasp--bent over so it was really hard to see. But I knew it was SOMETHING. You don't always have to know what something is, but you have to be able to recognize that it is SOMETHING. Then you go home and look it up--just like my mom. I bought that bracelet for right around $50. I sold it for $500. And Folks,--THAT, in a nutshell, is what keeps a dealer going--that under-priced Faberge' egg that only you realize what it is. The Miriam Haskell pearls or the Juliana five-link bracelet that you get for $18.00 and sell for $165.00, because you had done your homework--you knew what they were. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Pez containers, questionable china figurines and junk in your trunk, in between those found treasures!
So--pretty soon, I had too much vintage jewelry. I know, I know, that's like having too much chocolate, but I happened to notice that my favorite local antique shop had a couple of empty cases--so--- in kicks my other favorite thing to do--SELL! Soon, I had a teeny booth and was learning the ropes. The first thing I did to my teeny booth was hang black and white wide-striped wallpaper all over it. And then I wondered how the other dealers knew I was a newbie!
For a long time, when deciding whether or not to buy something for re-sale, I would call up the image of my mother, and think--Would she buy that?? The problem being that, in my mother's day, cut glass, hand-painted china and silver sugar bowls were coveted and easy to sell. Now, you can't give them away as doorprizes on Bingo night. People want things that bring back their childhood--Fisher Price toys, Lava Lights, Tupper Ware for goodness sakes!! I was pushing things around in my booth, one Saturday, and I heard a young man say loudly--"Hey, Samantha, look what I found! Orange Tupper Ware!!" Sigh.....
The other thing is that dealers fall into two categories--the ones who don't want to sell their best antiques (but they'll show them to you, in sort of a nyah, nyah moment). Or, there are the ones who sell the good stuff and keep the examples with the small chips or cracks or missing handles. Unfortunately my mother was of the latter persuasion, so, from her, I have cut glass punch bowls with jagged teeth and an incomplete set of Royal Ruby.
So, when channeling my mother doesn't work, I try to figure out, by watching what people buy, just as the other dealers do, what is going to sell this month. I was working my Dealer Day one time, when a woman came in, asking for "pie birds". (those little ceramic bird figurines that you stick into your pie crust to suck off some of the steam, so your crust doesn't get soggy.) After looking all over the shop with her and finding not one single, solitary pie bird, not a single peep, I vowed to go right home and get online and find me some to sell--which I did--6 of them.. Well, of course that was really silly--because no-one has ever asked for one again!! Is anybody in need of a pie bird, out there?
So, I sell my vintage Olympic Sweaters, my Mid-Century Modern glass, aluminum tumblers, Dansk salad bowls, Coach purses, plastic bangle bracelets and, yes, Persian rugs. On a good day, can even tell you the difference between a Lilihan, a Hamadan and a Borchelou--on a good day.
I like that the rugs were hand-made, even if it wasn't by me. And that the patterns have been handed down through the generations in families. The rugs make me smile, the colors and patterns are sooooo beautiful. Just like quilts! I have to make a huge effort to stay away from the carpet sites and auctions, online, because I can feel myself getting sucked into the whorl of colored mayhem and I know, next week, my husband will be greeting the FedEx guy at the back door and saying to me--MORE RUGS??
Just like the pieces of hand-painted Nippon, the wheel-cut glass, Aesthetic quad plate tipping water pots and Satsuma with Moriagi trim vases that I have stashed away, waiting for the next generation to discover things made with an eye for beauty and not just convenience!! Maybe they'll need to have just one Carnival glass bowl like the one their grandmother served her Sunday dinner coleslaw in. And, for sure, to keep my mother from spinning in her resting place, should I ever start selling Pez containers or orange Tupperware!.
Claudia Myers is Dealer #54 at Father Time Antiques, in Canal Park, Duluth, MN.
M.y Gramma Toots also made killer shortbread--here's her recipe--enjoy!
TOOTS’ s SHORTBREAD Oven 325----makes 7 ½ doz.
Cream together- 1 pound of softened real butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar. Add and mix in—3 tablespoons of milk and 2 egg yolks. Gradually beat in 5 cups of flour. The batter will be stiff. By hand, spread out the dough on an 18 by 12 ungreased cookie sheet with sides (jelly-roll pan) or 2—9 x 12 cake pans. Pierce the dough all over with a fork and bake for 32 minutes---- cut into squares while still hot. Remove from the pan while still warm. and store in an airtight container. Maybe orange Tupper Ware!