Discover Vintage America - JANUARY 2019

Antique dealers need to re-assess inventories at year's end

Gosh it is hard to believe that another year is behind us. The passage of time brings change in many ways such as new lives and the passing of good friends and family. In the life of an antique collector or dealer we put behind us a year of finding wonderful treasures and a fair amount of trash – hopefully more treasure than trash.

An odd problem that I have is people under the cover of darkness drop things off at my house. One day last month I went out to the backyard to feed the birds and there was a beautiful sofa sitting right outside the gate. It is in excellent condition other than the fabric needs to be cleaned.

When I had my big storefront, the back porch was hidden from the street. It was always a thrill to pull up to the shop in the morning and see a pile of boxes from the previous night. As excited as I was about these boxes of potential wealth, the truth is that 99 percent of the goodies were trash. We won't get in to my auction addiction and the one-dollar box lots I would buy.

One necessity for antique dealers and collectors is the six-month purge. As an antique dealer I go through all of my inventory and items that have not sold within the previous six months and they get packed away, the boxes are dated and stored. Some of the items go into a donate box because the items have fallen out of favor with buyers or collectors. This allows room for new inventory and doesn't leave the shop filled to bursting. If you have too much eye candy your customers can't soak it all in and often leave without making a purchase.

The same applies to online shops and even more so to booth rental space. The nice thing about keeping items packed for six months is that if someone inquires about an item they had seen I could check my inventory list and make another sale.
When I do my end of year purge I re-access items packed away six months prior and most of those become donate items. Then I go through the inventory on the floor and start the purge process again.

For this method to be effective you need to track your inventory. I track items as I acquire them and on the tags I place the date that they went on the market. When you donate wares, this also must be documented for the tax write-offs.

What's in; what's out

What items have fallen out of favor and are not worth keeping or buying as a dealer? Here are some examples"

Why did these items fall out of favor? On the contemporary items, it was supply and demand created by mass production. The "limited edition" plates and dolls, for which there was an order form in most major magazines, were limited to a certain number of firing days. But they could make a vast number of these items in one day.

While the Roseville Company went out of business in 1954, Roseville's work continued to circulate, gaining value over the years as it grew in popularity.

Whether acquiring pieces at antique shops or area dealers, collectors prized every Roseville find they could claim and as a result, prices shot through the roof. That is, until the Internet came along and put a stop to it all by opening the world for the collectors.

One of the things that eBay and the Internet did was to reveal the years of false scarcity in the market. The impact was not only a Roseville issue. In fact, it touched many other genres such as antique dolls, books, glass and much more. Suddenly, the true supply situation was revealed. Prior to the Internet and sites like eBay, I could go to auctions, antique shops and shows and it was rare that I would find a piece of Roseville. Now thanks to the Internet, I can connect to every piece of Roseville for sale in the world.

Something else that the Internet revealed was how much prices depended not just on overall supply and demand, but also on regional supply and demand. A piece was as valuable as the supply of Roseville pots that the buyer could find, regardless of how many pieces existed in the world. When the local antique store has just two pieces in stock, then that can drive some hard bargains. When shoppers can go home and do a Google search and find 800 pieces, then the playing field is not very level.

Toss in the recession in early 2000 and for we appraisers and dealers, prices became as fluid as a bucket of water. I always like to mention the "reality" TV shows showing people picking antiques and vintage items, buying from storage lockers or taking things in to a pawnshop. First and foremost the only reality TV show is "Antiques Roadshow" and the prices given can be taken to heart. (In fact, on shows that are repeats the producers compare their quoted prices to those in the current marketplace.)

The other shows put out casting calls for unique old items or plant goods in lockers or barns. The prices given for resell are very inflated and unobtainable. All of this makes the two-cycle purge all the more necessary. It also keeps inventory fresh for our customers, which should lead to happy customers and happy dealers.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.