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You Don’t Make Money Selling – You Make Money Buying – Explained

The first time I heard it, I recognized it as a profound and universal truth.

“You don’t make money selling, you make money buying”  The speaker was some anonymous homespun picker up in Washington State who was poling around through the same boxes as I was at a random garage sale back in the 1990’s. He may not have said it just the way I wrote it, but that’s how I’ve remembered it – and I can tell you without a doubt that I remember it and always will.

tin litho train

He was saying it to the proprietor of the garage sale who had just said something like “We’re selling some stuff because we need to make some money…” It flew right over the guys head and smacked me in the face. I should have grabbed that old picker and asked him to make me his apprentice because with that one piece of wisdom, he’s earned me a lot of money. I can’t imagine what else I might have learned from him.

It might sound ridiculous to you, as it did to the garage sale guy – obviously you make money by selling things and you spend money buying things, right? Yeah, of course that’s right, but only if you are looking at things with no perspective and no perception of the past or future as already existing.

You sell the stuff you have. Where do you get the stuff you have? You buy it. If you buy stuff that no one will buy from you then you aren’t making any money in the future from it, but if you buy things that will sell – well then you’re making money by spending money – easy as that. If you don’t buy anything, you are just using up your potential energy as you sell what you already have – and eventually, the well will run dry unless you are selling your wit, your wisdom, your body, or something else that you can produce from vapor.

tin litohgraph toys

Want some examples? I’ve got a lot of them.

I went to an antiques show recently and I waited in line with the other dealers to be as close to first in the door as I could. We all laughed and joked with each other outside but when the doors opened – it was every man or woman for himself. One guy went left, another went right, and I went straight in and to the back. I saw a table lined with tin lithograph toys and I asked the vendor what she would take for all of them – as she started adding them up I threw a lowball offer – she raised it by 50% – and I agreed. It was less than 1/4 of the added up price. Deal was done. $125 for everything on the table.

While I did that another guy bought 40 WWII maps on silk for $300, another bought up four Navajo blankets for $150 each, and a fourth dealer grabbed seventy large unframed photos of racehorses from the 1930s for $100.

Here’s what you need to know – all of these cool items were sold within a couple of minutes of opening and they were all sold for a fraction of their worth. My buddy sold the pilot maps on silk within a few days and made nearly $600 in profit. The tin toys paid for themselves the same day, I listed  a few of them for sale in my Ebay shop. The Navajo blankets are worth several thousand dollars and as for the pictures of the racehorses – I don’t know but they are worth far more than the $100 she paid for them. So, $1125 was spent and an estimated $5000 was earned leaving a profit of $3850 – and that money, nearly four thousand dollars was made not by selling – but through buying.

tin lithograph toys

I can hear some of you saying “But hey, you have to sell that stuff to make money” – Yes, you’re right, but the origin of the money is the buying, not the selling.  None of us walked into that sale with no idea what we were looking for.  We all know the market and as dealers, we are all learning all the time. I walked right past the Navajo blankets – and I’ve learned from my mistake – the next day I bought a book on Navajo rugs and blankets. I also got online and began educating myself about old photographs – and the next week I knew the right price to offer for a box of photographs. More money made through buying.

There’s a reason each of us bought everything on the tables – if you buy in bulk you get a better price and – even more importantly – people often miss the trees for the forest. In every case above – there was one item among the lot that was worth more than all of the rest put together. One blanket was more valuable than the combined worth of the rest. One tin litho toy was worth more than all the rest together. One silk map worth more than all the rest. One horse picture worth more than all the rest.  This happens so often that you can almost consider it a universal law. By lumping all of the items together, the percieved value on the group as a whole becomes less.  There are several lessons that can be taken from that last statement.

Here’s the main thing – and I hope this is clear: you can’t just walk in and buy everything or anything. You need to know what you are purchasing, approximately how much it is worth, and have an idea of how much you can get it for.  Hoarders and G-Sale junkies tend to just buy anything and everything – and I have to admit, I love it when they finally have a yard sale. Here’s an example:

Yesterday, I went to a hoarder sale. There was so much stuff. Much of it was priced on the nose, a lot of it was overpriced, and some of it was priced for a very modest profit. I ignored almost all of that and looked for the sleepers – the items that the hoarder had overlooked as being truly valuable…I found my sleeper and ended up paying $1 for an item that I would flip for over $2000 within a few days…

I’ll tell you about that in the next article which will be all about sleepers….

 

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The Satisfaction of a Sale Explained – My Stapler Collection

I’ll get to my staple collection in a minute…

stapler collection
Part of my stapler collection

In the world of antiques and art – there are a couple of golden rules that I’ve learned in the years I’ve been buying and selling – I’d love to take credit for these, but the truth is, they are almost universal knowledge among dealers – so it would be rash for me to claim anything of the sort. I can only claim the particular wording as my own – any picker worth their salt knows the truth of these.

1) You don’t make money selling – you make money buying.

2) A sale is validation that you know your business.

For this rather short post, I will focus on the second bit of wisdom. Here goes:

Anyone can roam the landscape and buy every potentially valuable thing they see, hoard it, and wait for someone to come and tell them they have a treasure.  Mostly what happens in that situation is that someone comes along when the hoarder or their family finally decides enough is enough and they buy the valuables with the garbage, throw the garbage out, and no one is the wiser when the treasure comes to light.

At this point, it pays to divert myself from the topic at hand and go into a different direction….

There are hoarders – who buy stuff and never sell any of it.

There are collectors – who buy stuff and might sell it to improve their collection.

collections

There are dealers who buy stuff in order to sell it.

I’m an antiques dealer – everything I have is bought to eventually be sold. I’m also a collector, but my collections are generally being put together so I can sell them, and to some extent – I’m a hoarder – because I have some items that are worth very little that I expect will be worth a lot in the future (like my stapler collection)  but in my defense…I use the staplers frequently….

So, as a dealer – if I were to try to sell my staplers…I would be very disappointed. In fact, I don’t buy them to sell them, I’m hoarding 🙂 – but most of the stuff I buy is to sell in the very short term – there is really not much worse than buying something with the intent of selling it and then not being able to find a buyer…in fact..it hurts because it tells the truth – you’ve either paid too much or bought something that no one wants…

This, I think, is the reason the hoarder does nothing with what they have bought. They are scared of being wrong. They already, in fact, know they were wrong…the things they bought were worthless and so they go for volume over quality which is always a mistake (even with staplers).

Satisfaction comes when you buy something knowing that it is a work of art and then you sell it for a profit. Monetary Validation. Ah-ha!

An example – my friend’s estate sale. This was actually my introduction to vintage staplers…

In the estate were a couple of very interesting staplers. They were Bates B Model Staplers. I capitalize the name because this is the crown jewel of staplers. They are staplers that you load with copper wire and which make smaller than usual staples from the wire – so in fact, they are bending, cutting, and shaping. The minute I saw them, I recognized a wonderful piece of machinery. These weren’t staplers…they were art. Despite my friend’s protest that they were JUST staplers, I refused to let him price them at $1 each…or at $5 each…or at $10 each…and instead I priced them at $50 each!

Model B Bates Stapler
The Crown Jewel of Staplers

He thought I was nuts. And I began to agree with him, but eventually, a guy came and asked if I would take $20. Another came and asked if I would take $30. Finally, a guy offered $75 for the two and I took it. ( He got a great deal as a Bates model B in the box with two cartridges routinely will sell on Ebay for more than $100) but at the time, I didn’t know that and our mission was to clear stuff out, not hoard it. Those staplers brought more than much of the fancy glass, the figurines, the brass, the statuary, and the tools everyone thought would sell…that was the validation.

Since that sale, I’ve bought and sold nearly a dozen Bates Model B Staplers….

Now, I know about them….but before that first sale…it was just a matter of my taste vs. the world – and until they were sold – I actually started to doubt my taste…but it was validated…

And that, my friends is the satisfaction of a sale explained…it validates your taste and experience.

P.S. I don’t have a Bates Model B in my stapler collection (or a Model A) because when I get them, I sell them…however…I’m holding onto my Swingline Speed Stapler 4 and my Bostich and Bates 550 models until I can get what they are worth…