Thinking back on the dealers I used to know

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August 22, 2014
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..and there are not many of them left.

I started in the antique business 30 years ago, and I was fortunate to open my antique shop, at a time when antiques where at their peak of popularity. I say I was fortunate, because it was during the time before antique malls and on-line selling.  It was the time of the “old style” antique dealer, and there are not many of them still around today. Most of the dealers I knew, myself included, bought and sold antiques for a living.  It was their only source of income. They paid the rent on their shop, and mortgage on their house, the vehicle payments, raised their families…everything on the income from antiques. Many would go to two or three auctions a week, buy privately as well, refinish the furniture, as well as work the shop.  It was not easy. I knew married couples who both worked the business.  One couple I knew lived over the shop, and their only vehicle was a cube van.  They would both show up at the auctions after a day of refinishing furniture and working the shop.  Go home with a truck load and likely not get to bed until after midnight.  They would do that two or three times a week. Many of the dealers I knew could be a little on the “crusty” side.  Most were pretty good dealing with people… however, others were terrible and I often wondered why they got into the business in the first place? Many of them could be pretty ruthless when they were buying at an auction. Very competitive and determined, and in my mind they would pay much more than they should have.  Often ego clouded business judgement. Some would conspire with other dealers to discourage some new, upshot dealers from buying at the auctions they attended regularly.  They would bid against the new dealers and run them as high as they could, just to discourage them, or at the very least, make sure they paid top dollar for anything they bought.  If you were new and cocky, and gonna show the old timers how it should be done…chances are you would get your wings clipped pretty quickly! Most of the dealers I knew where not particularly well schooled in antiques…they survived instead by knowing what people wanted.  If items were hot, they made sure they had them for the store. They followed trends…they were not ahead of the curve, or “thinking outside the box”…they just tried to get you what you wanted. I know only a few dealers like that now. We talk about what is selling…what is not selling…the outlook for the future of the business, and I really appreciate and value their input and opinions.  I need to hear from those dealers on the frontline…the ones directly dealing with the buying public…the ones who still make their sole income from the antique business. These “old style dealers” are the people I worked with and associated with for ten years when I had my store.  Nearly all of them are gone now…many passed away, while others left the antique business, when they could no longer make a reasonable living. Most of the dealers I know now, are hobby dealers.  They have retired with a good pension, or they still work full time, and just do antiques on the side. Antique malls and on-line selling, have created the opportunity for many collectors and antique enthusiasts to become part time dealers, and that is not a bad thing…it’s just very different from when I was in the business. (1984-1994). I interact with many dealers on-line, and the dealers that annoy me most, are the ones who do antiques as a hobby, but then seemingly look down on the old style, general antiques dealer.  It is fine to buy and sell only what YOU like, and complain about the buying habits of the general public.  They do shows, and sell to each other mostly I suspect, because most of the general public is no longer interested in what they are trying to sell.  One of these dealers recently commented about the “crap” some dealers are selling in order to make a living. My response was…”at least they are making a living in this business, and they are doing what they have to do in order to survive”.  That same “dealer” also has a good full time job, and never had to rely on the antiques business solely to pay the bills. So, hats off to the old style dealers.  The ones I knew and learned from. The ones who seem to be few and far between now.  The ones I will remember. Rob
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