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America Me

Leaving California and Heading to Oregon

It’s been wonderful to be back in California. The time we’ve been able to spend with my sister and my mom, the ability to reconnect with old friends from high school, and the chance to sort of decompress and reconfigure ourselves for this American life has been invaluable. The amazing thing to me is the ‘stuff factor’. We’ve gone from five suitcases and a couple of boxes to a big 12 foot long Uhaul trailer filled with stuff. Everything from furniture to fishing poles to jewelry and baseball cards. No, we haven’t become robbers – but we have been filling up our buckets from the well of over-abundance that exists in the USA. That big trailer full of stuff cost us almost nothing because in addition to buying stuff to keep, we’ve been buying stuff to sell too – between Ebay, garage sales, and some craigslisting – the total price on our huge trailer of stuff is less than zero. That’s how it is in the USA and we haven’t even really begun to properly sell yet.

My wife has been learning how to fix and make jewelry while also learning about using Ebay and Etsy – I’ve been treading water a bit while we wait for a place of our own so that I can do my work without having to put everything back in the boxes when I’m done. Along the way, I’ve been learning tons from the people I’m selling to – whether from Ebay or Garage Sales. I can now accurately judge and evaluate bakelite, gold, silver, furniture, ceramics, and other collectibles as well as tools, fishing gear, books, and china – I wouldn’t say that I have reached the status of an antiques roadshow expert yet – but I’m far closer to that than I was a few months ago.

I helped a friend out with a couple of garage sales after it fell on him to dispose of grandparents and parents accumulated possessions – it was overwhelming! They were incredibly interesting people and collected things from England, France, Turkey, Italy, and the USA. It was a self-run crash-course on antiques, collectibles, and the complexity of pricing. Not to mention a great refresher on the art of the sale. Our two sales yielded more than $5000 and cleared out an incredible amount of stuff that might otherwise have all been taken to the Goodwill.  Along the way of evaluating, we held back everything that could bring in high dollars for a future estate sale or a “Vago Roadshow” down to San Francisco – after all the market for Japanese woodblocks, 17th century French furniture, and fine Turkish carpets is fairly limited in Redding, California. However, we still managed to sell some huge volume and some surprisingly valuable things for retail price or better.

For pricing, I generally used Ebay – I would find the items under SOLD listings and we would make the garage sale price around 50-75% of that – if they were particularly desirable items, we would price them higher knowing that there would be a future sale with more qualified buyers and that the value of the items wouldn’t go down. Case in point, a Royal Daulton pitcher and washbowl – as long as we can keep it from chipping or cracking – which is one of the many things I learned – a chip or a crack, no matter how small, takes all the value out of ceramics (for the most part). For this reason, we were able to sell a huge amount of beautiful art pottery for low prices which fit with Redding’s economy and aesthetics. People left, thrilled to have fancy ceramics and not caring about the chips or fractures.

To be honest, I was worried about some of our prices – because there was so much volume, I didn’t have time to accurately price everything but on subsequent trips to antique shops, I’ve discovered that our prices were generally close to antique retail – which explains why the dealers grumbled so much – but that was another story. Dealers were a huge segment of our customer base – the key to dealing with them was to know what we were selling and know the value – also to know what wasn’t selling so that we could cut the prices to the dealers thus giving them room for markup and profit and clearing out our own inventory. The way to do that was by having multiple and multi-day sales. The first day we marked things at high retail price just to see if we could get it. The second day we dropped that price by 50% in some cases. For the 2nd sale, we brought items that hadn’t sold from the first sale – and dropped prices even further. Since my friend’s primary goal was to clear stuff and my primary goal was to make as much as possible (I worked for a percentage) – we  needed to find a sweet spot where inventory moved at the highest possible price – the key to that is the story.

Stories are what sell stuff for the best prices. For example:

Old Turkish plates with beautiful calligraphy.

or

Turkish plates bought by my friend’s grandmother back in the 1950s when she and her husband worked on air bases in Ankara. She was the first woman to get a driver’s license in Turkey. The plates themselves come from a region where the Turkish Ottoman Sultans had all of their pottery made for thousands of years – a region famous for the vibrant blues and mellow greens used in the glaze.

See what I mean? We sold the plates for high retail beating the prices on Ebay. Without the story, we would have been lucky to get 25%. A dealer wouldn’t have paid us that price, but a lady decorating her house did – she wanted the story as much as the plates. Our stories, by the way, were all true – people can smell bullshit and it scares away their wallets.

So, we did alright and along the way, I tried to learn something from every person I talked to. The people buying stuff were my teachers. Life is a bit like that – it runs on stories and the people who you are telling the stories to, usually have some pretty great stories of their own.