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Those Annoying Gold Diggers!

There is a type of man you’ll see at an antiques auctions who are 100% guaranteed to annoy me. I call these guys the “Gold Diggers”.

There are some Gold Diggers who have been doing it for a long time, way before gold prices shot up. They don’t bother me because they know what they are doing. It’s the other Diggers who bother me — the bandwagon jumpers who have begun speculating since gold shot up in value.

Gold Diggers can be spotted two different ways. First, they will always have a jeweler’s loupe with them. They crowd the tables of goods and meticulously examine each piece of gold colored metal within sight. I’ve nearly guffawed out loud when watching a man check out a 1970’s Sarah Coventry Austin Powers style swinger’s pendant necklace in goldtone. Obviously these guys don’t know costume jewelry.

As a person who specializes in costume jewelry and looks at jewelry all day long, I can pick out real gold from a distance. That’s because finding a piece of gold in my costume jewelry is like finding a little surprise treasure. (OK, maybe I’m a little bit of a Gold Digger in my heart). I’m like Rainman in the toothpick scene of the Rainman movie. Thrown a pile of jewelry on the floor, and I could spot the tiny gold pin in there within fourteen seconds.

The other way to identify Gold Diggers are by the small digital jewelry scales that they carry with them. I’ve been to auctions where the bidding had to be suspended while a Digger weighed the item and calculated how close to the bone he could cut his bid. Don’t you think he could have done this before the auction started?

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Why Some Antiques Are Scary

When I heard that actor Billy Bob Thornton is scared of antiques, I had to laugh. Some antiques are totally nasty and freak me out. I’m not worried that there are spirits attached to objects. I’m worried about the cleanliness factor of having old furniture in the house.

Upholstered furniture is the worst. Have you ever sat on an old sofa or chair and felt strange lumps under the fabric? The stuffing is all messed up in there. Once I see an old upholstered piece of furniture, I wonder how old the stuffing and fabric is and I imagine that it smells. In my mind, it smells like dust and old people and antique farts.

If I can’t clean it, wipe it down or put it in the dishwasher, it’s not going in my house!

I also have a problem with dolls. When I see people at auctions in bidding wars for nasty old dolls (dolls with missing hair and weird eyes and tattered clothing) I’m disgusted on the inside. I don’t care what those dolls are worth. It’s not worth it to me because I’d have to touch one to own it. EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW!

Below is a link to a good scary doll story. Check it out!

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Websites That Identify Vintage Costume Jewelry From Makers’ Marks or Stamps

You’ve just obtained a beautiful vintage costume jewelry pin! You’d like to know how old it is and who made it. If you spend enough time around vintage costume jewelry, you’ll begin to see that most manufacturers had styles, patterns and techniques that were specific to that maker. But without looking at anything else, many times it’s possible to identify a piece of jewelry solely by the stamps/names/maker’s marks on back.

There are a couple of web sites that are incredibly helpful in identifying makers’ marks and learning about the jewelry makers. My favorite is Illusion Jewels website. This site lists many makers, the dates they were in business, and lots of photos of their marks. I use this site almost every day.

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry is a gorgeous site which shows photos of some marks but also has many reference pages with photos of classic vintage jewelry such as Trifari, Eisenberg, Miriam Haskell.

A site which is great for researching letters and symbols stamped on chains and jewelry. It’s called “Ornament, Jewelry and Accessory”. This site has a different page for every letter of the alphabet, and these pages don’t appear to be linked. To find a page for each letter of the alphabet, change the last letters in “OJAS” on the web address to the proper letter of the alphabet. So, for letter A, I change the address to “OJAA”.

There is a website which is a virtual museum of Classic Trifari jewelry from before 1960. N&N Vintage Jewelry sells Trifari and other makers but their photos and info are fantastic. Check this site out!

Another thing that I do with good results is to Google the heck out of a jewelry mark. If I’ve exhausted my favorite web sites and cannot find info, I’ll Google a description of the mark. There are many marks which are just letters and symbols. I’ll literally describe this mark on Google and see what pops up. Sometimes I’m able to find the makers from this technique.

And, of course, eBay is an excellent resource. Once I’ve identified my jewelry, I always check out Current and Completed auctions to see what things are selling for.

There are many more helpful sites out there, and I’ve barely even touched on the subject. I’ll talk more in later blogs.

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Why Antique Malls Are Going Out Of Business

I was a seller in antique malls for nearly ten years. I enjoyed going to the store every few days, merchandising my vintage costume jewelry and talking to customers. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that remaining in an antique mall was not a smart business decision. I moved out.

I’ve noticed that antique malls and stores all over the MidWest are dying out. Below are the reasons why I think antique malls are going out of business:

1. Competition from the Internet, especially eBay. eBay allows me to market my items worldwide. Many times I would put an excellent piece of vintage costume jewelry in my mall showcase at a competitive price, only to have it sit there for months. Eventually I would get frustrated and remove it from the store to list on eBay. Invariably a collector from New York or California would purchase the item on eBay for many times what I had it listed in the store for. I came to the conclusion that my “best” customers were collectors and dealers in large metropolitan markets with money to spend. These type people rarely walked into an antique store in southern Ohio.

2. Antique Mall Rent/High Overhead: My mall charged a hefty but competitive rent for my city. This overhead was a barrier that had to be scaled each month, regardless of the level of sales. The owner of my antique mall never varied the rent — so when things were bad, the rent was still high. eBay on the other hand is tied more to dollar sales. Some antique shows have competitive fees that can help a dealer sell with lower overhead.

3. Declining quality of merchandise sold in antique stores: My personal experience is that the level of merchandise available in antique malls can decline if a mall owner is not vigilant in policing the merchandise that dealers bring in. When a mall owner is not willing to prohibit new items or Goodwill level merchandise, this leads to a decline in quality of merchandise. Higher quality dealers get frustrated and move out looking for better selling venues.

4. Inability to control image: In a store surrounded by other dealers/merchandise, the only area I had control over was my own. If someone beside me kept a dirty booth or never changed out inventory or sold low quality items, this brought down the general atmosphere of the store. On eBay and on my website, my image is totally my own.

5. Too many people who aren’t antiques dealers are selling in malls: There are no licensing requirements or education requirements to become an antiques dealer. I’ve seen this a million times over the years — someone with an interest in antiques/collectibles decides to make a go of selling some things. These people may not have a selling or business background but they are able to pay some rent. Once these people move in to a mall, they place their items in their booth and wait for the sales to come. Often, more experienced dealers come and cherry pick the better quality items. After that, the new dealer is left to sell the remainder. The items may not be properly researched and priced. The new dealers may not ever come into the booth and move things around and re-merchandise. They may not know what customers are truly looking for. I’ve heard new dealers complain that no one is buying their merchandise, but these dealers aren’t able to analyze what THEY are doing wrong. They don’t understand that possibly they are selling inferior quality merchandise that is improperly priced or is undesirable. After a few months, these dealers are gone.

6. Dealers don’t research their items properly: It’s amazing how many dealers put a high price on every item, rather than knowing what they’ve got and price items accordingly. I call this the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” approach.

7. Dealers who never change their merchandise: Again, it’s amazing how many dealers will leave an item sitting in its original spot, for YEARS sometimes, after placing it somewhere in a booth. Nothing turns me off more than walking through a mall and seeing the same merchandise I saw six months ago.

8. The Economy: Antiques are not a necessity. When the economy is bad, the first thing to go are the non-necessities.

9. Being in an antique store requires a dealer to sit on lots of inventory: When I was in selling in a mall, I had to keep lots and lots of inventory so that I had something for everyone. I needed high priced items, low priced items and lots of everything. The more I had and the more I kept it fresh, the higher my sales. Selling on the Internet allows me to keep a smaller inventory and sell as I aquire inventory. Thus, I don’t have as much money tied into inventory.

10. Fuel prices: Rising fuel prices affect everyone in the business. The cost to heat and light some of those old buildings where antique stores and malls are located has skyrocketed. High fuel prices has also meant a reduction in store traffic.

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Where To Find And Buy Vintage Costume Jewelry

I get asked fairly frequently where I get my vintage costume jewelry. Below is a list of the different sources I use to obtain jewelry. I’ve listed the sources in descending order based on my personal success in finding quality jewelry there.

1. My Contacts — over the years I have cultivated different people who I’ve met while conducting business. These people know that I am always looking to purchase jewelry. I contact these people every couple of months to see if they anything to sell me. Most often, these “pickers” are my best and most reliable source for jewelry. These pickers are often out in the market doing the same thing I’m doing…working their own contacts, attending sales and auctions and garage sales.

2. Auctions — I read the auction section of my local classifieds each week and also check a website named Both of these sources advertise local auctions in my area each week. I only attend auctions which advertise a decent amount and quality of jewelry. I like because sometimes photos are posted that allow me to preview the auction.

3. Local Jewelers — Sometimes local jewelers (I’m talking about independently owned jewelry stores, not mall stores or chains) come across vintage costume jewelry in the course of doing business. I’ve fostered relationships with a few local jewelers who do not consider me to be competition and are happy to sell me costume jewelry in bulk. I try to reciprocate by telling everyone I know how wonderful these jewelers are. I respect these guys and have confidence in their honesty and am happy to refer potential business their way.

4. Pawn Shops — I’ve visited local pawn shops and have found very good deals in the past. Again, pawn shops sometimes end up with vintage costume jewelry in the course of doing business. The only way to find which particular shops do deal in this type jewelry is to go in and ask.

5. Scrap dealers (AKA Jewelers and Coin Dealers) — Some jeweler and coin dealers will be happy to let you pick through the scrap jewelry that they originally intended to sell at scrap value. Lots of jewelry is scrapped when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it other than scrap value has, at times, exceeded the value of the jewelry itself (but jewelers don’t know costume jewelery and will scrap a real treasure). Don’t be embarrassed to go into a store and ask if they are willing to sell you scrap jewelry. The worst thing that they can say is “no”.

6. Antique Stores/ Antique Malls — I do walk through antique stores in the hopes of finding unidentified or underpriced “treasures”. This technique takes a lot of patience since it’s typical that once something is being merchandised in a store that there’s not too much profit margin there for me. But if I have time to kill and really need jewelry, I will visit stores in my area. I have found some wonderful things over the years.

7. Craigslist — I look at Craigslist every day and most of the jewelry there is not what I’m looking for. Every once in a while, though, I’ve been successful in contacting a seller and making a good deal.

8. Goodwill — Not usually a good place in my experience but I still visit periodically. Usually low end items are there.

9. Garage Sales — I don’t attend too many because I’m not interested in getting up at the crack of dawn and fighting other people for jewelry. I haven’t found too much good jewelry at garage sales. But when I do attend a garage sale, I ask the seller if they have any additional jewelry. Surprisingly, the answer is sometimes “yes” and then they bring out the jewelry still in the house.

10. Estate Sales — I went through a spell where I attended these for a while. However, estate sales often require you to get there and line up to get a number hours before the sale starts — only to get into the house and see that there’s nothing there. It can be a crap shoot but is an option.

11. Online auction sites — there are sites that conduct auctions in real time online. I’ve had some excellent but spotty results at these auctions. Read the terms of the auctions closely so that you are aware of shipping costs and additional charges.

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Getting Ready for the 2009 Burlington Antiques Show

I am SO ready for the Burlington Antique Show this coming spring! Last year, I sold at Burlington a couple of times and loved it.

The show is on the 3rd Sunday of every month, April – October. It is an outdoor show at the Boone County fairgrounds that features about 250 antique and collectible dealers. Some dealers are out in the open while others are under cover. Food vendors are present at the show, too. I like the fact that dealers are not supposed to bring “new” items to the show.

I’m in the process of gathering lots of jewelry to sell. I’ve found that it’s best to have a great deal of jewelry and to have items in a variety of price ranges. I’ve sold to people who want junk jewelry for grandkids to play dress-up in or who want to use junk jewelry for craft projects. I’ve also sold very high end jewelry to serious collectors. That’s what’s fun about Burlington — interacting with all the different people and talking to them about their interest in vintage jewelry.

I plan to sell at Burlington each month in 2009. Hope to see you there!
Burlington Antique Show
Boone County Fairgrounds
5819 Idlewild Rd. (KY Route 338)
Burlington, Kentucky(10 minutes south of Cincinnati)

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The Undercover Antiques Picker

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll see that I’ve already written about one of my pickers named Darrell. I’ve purchased from another picker named Sally over the years, but she’s what I call an “undercover picker”. This means she sells things to me but doesn’t want anyone to know, especially her HUSBAND!!!

I don’t want to give too much away but her husband sounds like a hoarder. According to Sally, the husband is manic at buying and hoarding antiques, collectibles, goodwill quality items and rancid junk. He stores his hoarded items in various jam-packed storage units all over the city and pays storage bills higher than their household rent. This storage unit rent is literally breaking their budget but the husband won’t stop. He says that his treasures are too valuable to sell. So, in order to survive and cover household bills, the wife trades secretly on the side.

I’m sure I’m not the only person Sally sells to. But dealing with her requires an entirely new language, one that won’t give her away when the husband is possibly listening. According to Sally, she’s allowed to sell linens (don’t ask me why) so the word “linens” has become code word for what I REALLY want — jewelry. Our telephone conversations go something like this…”Hey, Sally, I’m looking for some “linens”. (Wink, wink.) Do you have any new “linens” to sell me?” Sally replies, “Yes, let me call you back”.

So, later I usually will get a call from Sally with a very brief window in which she can meet and let me look at her goods. One time her husband walked in on us while she was showing me some “linens” and I had to shove the stuff in my big purse and run into the bathrooom. After waiting an inordinately long time and realizing that the husband was not going to leave, I strolled out of the bathroom and said, “Oh, hi husband! I didn’t realize you were here! I just came to visit Sally. Well, I’d better be going!”. I backed out of the place with the jewelry still in my purse.

I had to go back days later to conclude the deal with Sally.

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It’s The Antiques Business, Not the Antiques Friendness

My sister and I went to an auction a while back. It was the kind of household auction with box lots of miscellaneous household items stacked on long tables. At the same instant, we both spot a large cardboard box loaded with Lenox dishes.

My sister, who is a sometimes antiques dealer but mainly a collector, says “Oh, those plates are soooooo pretty! They would look so nice on the sideboard in my dining room”.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at the plates and I see dollar signs shooting out of the box….dollar signs like little shooting stars. I want that box of dishes, not because they are pretty or because I like them. I want them to resell and make money. Mwaaaaahahaha.

So, bidding for the box of Lenox begins and I follow my sister’s bid with a surprise bid of my own. She was so outraged by my betrayal that she stopped bidding. I won the box handily.

After I retreived the box, my sister hissed “I can’t believe that you bid against your own sister for a lousy box of dishes. I turned to her and said, “Sorry, Sis, but it’s the Antiques Business, not the Antiques Friendness”. Needless to say, my comment put a damper on sisterly love for a few weeks!

Seriously, this story DID happen but I have learned since that once you invite a friend or family member to attend an auction with you that you’ve turned the potential business outing into a social outing. At least it’s that way for me. I may want to bid on an item but I feel like I have to be a nice person and not hog every bidding opportunity.

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Darrell is my favorite antiques picker

Darrell is my favorite antiques picker. Let me tell you how I met this guy….

I was at an auction a few years ago, purchasing jewelry for resale. Bids were low and I was raking the jewelry in. I love it when nobody shows up for an auction! Anyway, this little guy approaches me and asks me if I want more jewelry. I say “Sure!” and give him my number.

Days later I get a phone call from the guy. Now, I don’t know him from Adam, but he’s ready to meet. So, I say to him, “Well, is there a McDonald’s near where you are and maybe we can meet in the parking lot so you can show me your stuff?”. Darrell doesn’t like that idea. He says, “I’ve already got all the jewelry laid out on tables at my house. That way you can see it better“.

Wouldn’t you think I might decide that this idea is possibly not prudent? But, nooooooo, that’s because as an antiques dealer, I live in mortal fear that I’ll never find good stuff ever again so I’ll go just about anywhere for that next find.

I called my husband at work to let him know my whereabouts. “Honey, I’m going to meet a total stranger at his house to buy jewelry. So if I don’t come back, his name is Darrell and his phone number is 555-XXXX”. My husband grunts and I hear the clicking of a keyboard in the background. “Did you write this DOWN?!!!!” His response gives me no confidence that he’d be helpful in locating my remains, so I hang up and call my best friend. After telling me I’m crazy, she takes down the info.

Well, Darrell’s house ends up being a moldy 1970s split-level on a large lot, isolated from other houses by trees and undergrowth. I knock on the door and hear fervent rustling behind the door. As Darrell opens the door, I take a gander and realize that jewelry is no-where to be seen. “So, where’s the stuff?” I ask. Darrell chuckles, “I’ve got it all laid out the basement. There’s more room down there!”

So, here we go down into the basement. Holy Moley, it’s the Mother Lode! And you thought Darrell was going to kill me, didn’t you? Well, you will have to stay disappointed. Darrell turned out to be totally legit. After that initial buy, Darrell became my picker. He goes to auctions and garage sales as a hobby. I can’t be everywhere all the time so it’s nice to have someone out there looking on my behalf.

Darrell likes to do business on his terms, and that’s OK with me. He calls me when he has a large group of jewelry and miscellaneous items to sell. When he calls, he wants to meet RIGHT THEN. Sometimes I get the feeling that Darrell’s motivation to sell is directly related to his immediate need for cash. I have to buy it all…good, bad and indifferent. Sometimes I get the better of him and sometimes he gets the better of me. It’s been a good thing, though, and Darrell has come through for me when I have felt like things had dried up and there was no vintage jewelry to be found.

Would I meet a total stranger at his house again? Probably not. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it! I’ve cultivated other pickers from my goings-about and didn’t have to resort to meetings in dark places.