Collecting During the Pandemic
Shops? Shows? Auctions?
The pandemic has really changed the way we collect. Is it safe to go into a shop? An indoor show? An on-site auction?
I don't know about you, but I'm being very cautious. With underlying conditions, not being young, and the virus raging all around us, I've been staying in.
But I'm a dealer and I need fresh merchandise. And perhaps you are a dealer or collector or an observer - and the desire - passion - doesn't stop because of a virus.
For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on the subject:
Support the Shops
If you can get to a good shop, go. They really need our support. Take precautions and make sure the shop does too. One shop I really like has disappointed me - the shop owner doesn't wear a mask, stands too close, and seems oblivious to my concerns. I will not go back soon.
But most are very aware of the risks of the virus and they will be very grateful for your patronage. Everyone wears a mask and there is hand sanitizer readily available in most.
Individual shops are increasingly using social media to sell items, especially Facebook, and some on Etsy. When you're on Facebook, search for one of the shops you know and love and see if they are featuring some of their items. In some cases you can buy from there, but usually, you have to call them and ask about the item.
The Dilemma of Shows
If you are lucky enough to live in a climate that allows for outdoor shows during the winter, go to them, wear a mask and be careful. The last time we could do that in New England was really in October. Vermont Antiques Week was a big success - outside under tents. We felt perfectly safe and found some wonderful things.
Tailgate had their last show of the season in Westmoreland NH on November 19th. It was 17 degrees when we arrived! Not much fun for anyone, and definitely the last one for this year.
There have been some wonderful shows with great dealers held in New Hampshire, Ohio and other states indoors in the last month or so. I have stayed away, much as I wanted to support my friends who set up inside. For me it was just too big a risk. But everyone has to make their own decisions about this, depending on their situation and concerns.
Most auction houses have gone virtual. There is a wealth of auctions online where you can bid in real time, or leave an absentee bid ahead of time. Very few have onsite participants these days. Most allow for a personal preview by appointment, and I strongly advise this.
The problem with most auction houses is that they don't know how to sell online. Their catalogs often have few photos of the items to be sold, the descriptions often do not describe damage or problems, and their policies are always no returns for any reason. Worse, if you have to ship the items, the shipping costs will be a mystery until you actually own the items and get a shipping quote. My experience is that the shipping costs are often outrageous.
Go to a preview if you can. If you can't, and you really want something, see if you can call the auction house and ask specific questions about the item, get more photos, and find a place where you can get a shipping estimate. (Most auction houses leave that to you, but will give you referrals of local shippers).
I have bought successfully at several online auctions, all within driving distance. When I didn't go to preview the auction I was disappointed in what I got. When I did, it worked out well. I also drove to pick things up, avoiding shipping costs.
There have been some good online shows, and most venues are still trying to figure out how best to have them online. The ones I've attended online have organized their listings by dealer. You will see photos of their offerings and then there will be a link for you to use to contact the dealer to get more information and/ or to buy. But many offer only one photo of an item, with scant descriptions - that's really up to the individual dealer. Just know who you're dealing with.
There are many good venues for online shops. Dig Antiques (www.digantiques.com) has some wonderful country dealers, many of whom I know well. Remember that dealers set their own return policies, refund policies and shipping policies. Again, know who you're dealing with.
Facebook (www.facebook.com has a number of shops and collector groups where you can buy antiques. Usually, you have to "private message" the dealer to get a price and detailed information. Some dealers are very efficient and know how to sell online. Their policies are clear and they ship quickly and reasonably, but many are not set up to do this well.
Ruby Lane (www.rubylane.com), 1st Dibs (www.1stdibs.com), Etsy (www.etsy.com) and many others offer antiques from hundreds of dealers. It is often hard to find what you want because of the volume of offerings. And again, each individual dealer has his or her own policies, so be careful.
Ebay (www.ebay.com) has been around for many years. The good news is that the buyer has protections offered by Ebay so that you can get your money back if the item gets broken, isn't as described, or just doesn't arrive. Ebay almost always sides with the buyer in any dispute ( a frustration to many sellers!).
But Ebay does not curate what's offered. There are many fakes, - many, many fakes - offered as authentic antiques. If you can prove it, you'll get your money back, but you will have to repackage and return the item. There are some good dealers on Ebay but you have to learn who they are, sometimes the hard way.
Single Shop Websites
More and more dealers are setting up their own websites. I did this 6 years ago and have learned a lot about managing a site and dealing with diverse customers from all over the country.
My feeling is that you need to find sites that make you comfortable that you are not taking a big risk in buying from them.
I offer an unconditional guarantee of authenticity of all my items and I will accept a return of all items for any reason at all. Many do not.
I try to show 6-8 photos of each item for sale with a description of any damage or wear along with as much detail as I can about the item. It's hard to buy online, especially if you're used to touching and feeling the antique before you buy it. I understand that. I try to make it as easy as possible to feel comfortable buying from me.
Individual websites take a lot of work. Sites that sit with no changes for months are boring and won't attract customers. I have a site update about every 3 weeks with lots of fresh merchandise each time. I love playing with my computer, love photography, am comfortable with social media for promotion, and have the time, so it's perfect for me. But it's not for everyone.
I can't help but feel that the antiques business has changed forever in some ways. I don't think online buying and selling will replace in-person buying and selling, but I think people will be more comfortable with it. A great advantage to it is that geography stops being a problem. You can find wonderful things without having to travel.
As more dealers, auctioneers, show promoters and shop owners adapt to the norms of online selling, shipping and returns, the buying experience will be more varied, broader, and less risky. Time will tell.....
We've been hearing that a lot. We're all so weary of this long isolation.
I'm hoping to see my dear fellow antique dealer and customer friends in person, in the sun, at a wonderful show where we no longer have to wear masks and can hug each other the way we used to. It will come.....