The Nation's Premier Antiques Center

How to Become an Antique Picker? (Part 2)


In Part 1, we discussed what an antique picker is and the skills you’ll need.

Searching for quality antiques isn’t easy – but it can be fascinating and rewarding.

18th Century Gilt Bronze Figure of Mahakala - at Phoenix Asian Art - at The Manhattan Art & Antiques Center

Sino-Tibetan 18th Century Gilt Bronze Figure of Mahakala. Tibeto-Chinese, heavy bronze sculpture of the wrathful deity, shown standing on an oval lotus base, holds a skull cap, a cord hung with skulls, a tiger pelt, and a crown of skulls backed by his flame-like hair. Mahakala is Dharma protector, to protect the practitioner from all kinds of deception and delusion, bestows the power to overcome life struggles. Gilt bronze, Tibeto-Chinese, 18th century. [ Phoenix Asian Art | Gallery #68 | 718.819.9200 | ]

This time, we’ll give you more tips – including where to find quality antiques and how to bid at auctions.

Take Your Pick

Your picking is going to take you to antique shops, auctions, private sales as well as individuals. It’s quite strange but there is often very limited communication between different antique dealers so you can often buy an item from one and sell it for a profit to another shop down the road. Each shop has their own unique methods for pricing. The price tag is decided on by what they originally paid for a piece, how much they believe it to be worth and sometimes their fondness of an item will establish a price as well. This makes it harder to establish a standard pricing system. With time you will get to know the dealers and get a better idea of how they decide on a price.

Regarding buying from individuals remember to be honest. You want to be fair whilst still turning a profit. Never make the first offer. Let them decide what amount they would be comfortable with selling the item to you. If someone offers you a rare piece for a few dollars you have to let them know the piece has more value and that you can both share in the discovery. This probably won’t happen that often as people are more prone to over estimating an heirloom often because of the sentiment attached.

Buying from private sales can be tricky because the person selling a whole house of wares usually hires a professional sales manager who takes a percentage of the profits. This means you are not going to find bargains in this environment. If you do go, make sure you arrive very early – if there are bargains to be found they will go very quickly so, get in line first. If a private sale is done without a sales manager, then you are much more likely to find wonderful deals and bargains.

To Bid or Not to Bid…

Auctions are one of the best sources to find antiques for resale. But you must have an iron will so that you don’t get caught up in the frenzy of the auction atmosphere and bid to high on a piece that you are not going to be able to sell in the future for that price.

How to be an Antique Picker - Auction image

You can find out where auctions are going to be held in newspapers and online listings. Mid-week auctions are great because there are smaller crowds.

Some worthwhile auction conduct rules:

    • Get to the auction way before it starts so you can look over the items and decide on those you would like to procure and the highest price you are prepared to pay for it. Exercise self-discipline in this regard. You don’t want to end up with anything you don’t actually want or need just because it was going for cheap.
    • You don’t have to be secretive in your bidding. Go right up to the front, close to the auctioneer. You can then clearly see the item being sold and you can also look back and see which dealers are bidding on which items. Sometimes people miss out on fantastic items because they are too far away to actually see it. This is a perfect opportunity to sell the item you just bought before you even leave the sale. Being right up front means you could also make barely imperceptible bids that no-one else can see except the auctioneer.
    • If the auction prices seem to be very high and for much more than what the items are worth –move on. Go to another auction.
  • If you see two auction listings that show many antiques at one and only a few at the other, choose the latter. All the dealers will be at the one with the many antiques and you can do really well at the less well attended smaller sale.


Sparkle and Shine

Before you go back to your dealer’s shop to sell your items you might consider refinishing them which can greatly increase their salability. If repairs are not something you think you can tackle professionally then at the very least give the item a good clean and shine. Remember that you need to sell at a profit or there is no point to your picking profession. Don’t try and rush the sale with the dealer – chat with them first and then slowly introduce the items you found that might be of interest to them. The negotiating and haggling are all part of the dance, the game and so just enjoy it. If you can’t sell something you can always take it home and use it until the market for it picks up.


Got the Gumption?

This is not a profession for a shy person who is afraid to negotiate. You have to have strong diplomatic skills and be charming and approachable. A little humor will go a long way. You need good manners when dealing with people in rural areas who might be suspicious of out-of-towners.

You need to show your genuine interest and lose the fast talking. You must be able to read the situation and enter into communication authentically and with respect.

This should be enough information for you to make a foray into the picking universe. Watch, read, learn and you’ll soon get the hang of it!

(Read Part 1 here)

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