Monday, August 21, 2006

My Secret and Brief Garage Sale Life

Drawing Of The Holy Family Late 18th or Early 19th Century

Artist Unknown


For a brief time I thought I was going to make a fortune selling old books and vintage "finds" on Ebay after I retired. I was watching way too much Antiques Roadshow! My dear friend Mary and I would have meetings about what we would look for to sell. At first I thought costume jewelry would be fun but the more I researched the more confusing jewelry was. Then I decided I knew about books and that would be my ticket to a neat little hobby - HAH!

I scanned newspapers and planned my garage sale weekends. The only problem was I had to get up early and I'm NOT an early bird. So for a few weekends I hit the sales and looked for "estate" sales in particular.

One house I'll never forget. It was the smallest house on a ritzy block. The house belonged to an elderly, childless woman who died. She had eclectic tastes and many of her things came from her European trips. She was divorced from some famous painter who did portraits of Washington...wish I could remember his name but I recognized it at the time. What was so unique about the house was her old pink gas stove (free) and the shelf paper inside her cupboards. The shelf paper was actually old "Free Love" posters from the Haight Ashbury hippy days in San Francisco. Now this was a woman I wished I had met.

I wandered around her house in awe looking at her cherished possessions. They weren't Roadshow material but said alot about the woman who bought them. And this is the problem I have going to estate sales after someone has died. It feels like I'm invading something very personal. But it obviously didn't stop me from buying some items. I bought a couple of beautiful old books, a hand painted Japanese plate with swallows, an old Rexall drugstore poster circa 1915 that was framed in her bathroom and a European drawing of the Holy Family (above) in an old gold leaf frame.

My ex husband was a darn good artist and we spent so much time in Europe going thru museums I was certain the drawing was worth more than the $35 they wanted. When I got home I knew it wasn't for Ebay since I needed more information about it's age. It sat around forever before I finally found an auction house in San Francisco with open appraisal days.

I trekked to Bonham's and Butterfield with 2 items and spent 3 hours waiting for an appraisal. It looked like a mini Antiques Roadshow and I had fun seeing everyone with their treasures - but almost everyone was disappointed with their valuations. Hardly anything was left there for consignment.

When it finally was my turn the appraiser was immediately intrigued with the drawing. He thought it was 17th century and started rapidly explaining the New York office would need to look at it but it was his opinion that a bottom figure would be $600 and it could really go "wild" - did I want to consign it with them? Well of course I did - with dollar signs dancing in my eyes.

He took it and I went to another desk to fill out the paperwork. I didn't put a "reserve" price on it cuz Ebay encourages you to think reserves inhibit bidding. It was set for their February 2006 sale.

This was November and by the time February rolled around I was convinced "New York" would discover it was a Michelangelo drawing and worth millions but since there wasn't a call before the auction I was only counting on maybe half a million.

And this is what a greedy mind gets you...it actually sold for $300 (I think) and I got a check for $250. Now you normal folks would say that was a nice profit over the $35. It was. But now I wish I would have kept it. Turned out to be late 18th century and I never owned anything that old! Or maybe I should have put a $600 reserve on it meaning it couldn't sell unless the bidding hit $600.

I did check their site for other sales and I was surprised at how cheap some original art sold for - like mine! Jay and Alan - check the link for their current vintage car auction.

What I'm supposed to be doing this week is cleaning out all the "junk" and books I thought I was going to auction and turned out to be worth NOTHING. But I can bore you to tears about how to identify a first edition....and I leave you with these ideas if you love garage sales:

Ernest Hemingway once lost a suitcase full of unpublished manuscripts.

Only 3 signatures of Shakespeare are known. NONE of his manuscripts have been found.

No one has seen a full plate daguerreotype of the New York City skyline but some were known to have been made.

Someone once found one of the first printings of The Declaration Of Independence in the back of an old framed picture.

Someone found a copy of Tamerlane in a mail hamper filled with old agricultural pamphlets.

_________from the Collected Works of Bookseller Hints


Tamerlane is the one I'm looking for. Last copy found sold for $198000. It's Poe's first published work - in a pamphelt - his name is not credited. No signed copy has been found. There were not many published and none sold when published. So let the treasure hunt begin.......

20 Comments:

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Betty said...

Saz, I put a very ornate (ugly) china mantel clock up for auction. The date etched in back metal door was 1853, and it was appraised for $600. It didn't sell in the auction, because I told the auctioneer that I wouldn't take less than $500 for it. So, now, I'm stuck with that ugly clock. I also have a first edition "Red Pony" by Steinbeck that they will have to pry out of my cold dead hands.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger saz said...

You should try the clock again and keep the reserve!

1st edition Steinbeck....I'm drooling. Where did you get it?

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger Peggy said...

Ok Saz,

You'll just have to come to the antique places over here. Plenty of stuff from the 17th Century.

 
At 9:50 PM, Blogger saz said...

Peggy - I know...Bonham's has an office in the UK they make the auctions here look sparse....

 
At 10:06 PM, Blogger Joy Des Jardins said...

I've thought about selling some things on E-Bay too Saz. I look around this house and just roll my eyes and just put it on the back burner again. I've been doing that for months, since my husband passed away last November. My son thinks it would be a great way to make some extra $$ AND get rid of a lot of stuff I don't need anymore. Sure, sounds good in theory, but it's the follow-through that's just not very appealing to me. It's a lot of work. I know some people make a living at it. I just don't think I'm one of them. Hey, I wish you luck if you should decide to jump in the E-Bay waters....everyone's doing it.

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger saz said...

Joy - I did do the Ebay thing for a year or so. The stuff I sold (mostly books) didn't have a huge profit margin and it is lots of work but also fun.

 
At 6:14 AM, Anonymous claude said...

One has to be a gambler at heart to do that, and I am too easily scared.
I only sell things I want to get rid of and I've been known to be willing to pay to be rid of a few things ;)
But I am always curious of other people's story and I liked yours, Suzan.

 
At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Alan G said...

One of the days I am going to have to post a few photos of items that have been handed down to me and see if you guys think I am border line rich or anything. I don't have a clue about antiques and am even more suspicious of some of these places that do appraisels.

I have a complete hobnail glassware serving set that I am really curious about. I have seen lots of individual pieces but not sets. I know it is not worth gazillions but still I am curious. I really like it whether it is worth anything or not. It is rose colored glass with white hobnails. :)

 
At 12:53 PM, Blogger Chancy said...

I once bought a print by Andrew Wyeth at a run down Little antique shop. I actually bought it for the frame as I did not particularly care for the somber picture. It was called "The Quaker" and had a certificate on the back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art saying it was a limited edition print and so forth.

Well, it sat in our basement for a few years until we moved and I gave it and some books and clothes to "Goodwill"

Then later I was browsing on the Internet and on EBAY and I nearly fell out when I saw "my picture" selling for close to one thousand dollars.

I could have kicked myself.

My husband and son felt so sorry for me that they searched EBAY and found another identical copy of the print for around 500 and they bought it for me and it now hangs in my upstairs hall.

You just never know.

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Kell said...

I have a terrible time letting go of anything, especially if they're old. I'm trying to be more rutheless because we have just way too much stuff. But I hate having garage sales and I don't think I have anything good enough for Ebay. We had a friend who went to estate sales and then sold stuff on Ebay. He found a box of Monte Blanc pens for $5, sold each of them for over $100 on Ebay. That's the kind of find I want!

 
At 8:06 PM, Blogger F&W said...

I'm a web savvy chickie but eBay scares the pants off of me. The website is so not intutive and user friendly to me. I'm always in awe of those who can not only figure it out, but actually use it! :o)

I like the drawing.

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger goldenlucyd said...

Saz,
I'm so happy you started blogging! Your posts are wonderful. Re this one, ebay is a whole other world. What fun to share your adventure!

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Ginnie said...

Hi Saz: Having a daughter and husband in the antique business makes me aware of just how difficult it can be. You were probably right to take the $250 and run. I'm really proud of my kids because they have a large following & are know to be very fair...but it's a tough way to make a living.

 
At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Terri said...

Very interesting and that woman sure sounded like a character...what a shame you couldn't have met her.
I have some very old books that I believe are first editions....I should get with you for a few lessons. Sounds like you really know your stuff.
I don't even know how to access E Bay....lol

 
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