Buying and Selling Antiques Online

Watch out eBay and Sotheby's. Two new sites are making it easier, more affordable, and safer than ever to buy and sell antiques (and collectibles) online. Plus tips from an expert on what you need to know before you buy antiques online.

Anyone who has ever watched "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS has had an "Antiques Roadshow Moment," that fervent hope that that end table or painting or vase she picked up 10 years ago at that tag sale for $5 or maybe $50 is actually worth $5,000, or more. But where to find an appraiser? Then, where do you sell it?

Until recently, if you wanted an antique appraised and/or sold, you went to a local antiques dealer or maybe contacted an auction house. Then came eBay, which purchased auction house Butterfield & Butterfield in 1999, and antiques and collectibles buyers and sellers had another option.

However, as anyone who has ever auctioned — or tied to auction — antiques on eBay has quickly discovered, moving big-ticket items is rarely as easy or as profitable as it seems. Similarly, selling antiques through a dealer or an auction house, while perhaps more reliable, can get pricey when you factor in commissions, fees, and shipping. Buying can be expensive, too.

Today, however, antique sellers and buyers who don't want to go the live auction or eBay route have two more options - both of them reliable and less expensive than the more traditional methods of buying and selling antiques.

Welcome to the worlds of Oldandsold.com and iGavel.com, the next generation of buying and selling antiques.

Oldandsold.com: An online antiques marketplace with everything you need to know about buying and selling antiques and collectibles
The technical brainchild of Eric Stajda, Oldandsold.com was a direct result of Stajda's aunt's frustration buying and selling antiques on eBay. Stajda's aunt, an antiques dealer with over 30 years experience, thought there had to be a better way. Together with Stajda and her sister, Stajda's mother, they developed Old and Sold, an online antiques auction house and marketplace.

Officially launched in 1999, Oldandsold.com allows individuals to list items for free. You just have to register, also free, and then you are off and running. If a listed item does not sell during the first 10-day auction, it is automatically re-listed.

"The people that sell on our site are fairly experienced and have been around the block, so they know how to deal with the buying and selling process," explains Stajda. "We have a lot of people who list a lot of items that they're not looking to necessarily move real quick, and they don't want to keep having to re-list on eBay and pay four or five dollars or whatever per auction."

Most items on the site sell for between $50 and $5,000, and customers seem to be pretty happy with the service.

The site's partners are also pretty happy. In addition to providing auction space, Oldandsold.com provides a venue for buyers and sellers to exchange information.

"The site is more of a portal for antiques," says Stajda. "We have thousands of articles related to antiques. We have guides. Plus we do appraisals, and have deals with appraisers. A lot of people use the site for finding information to appraise their antiques."

At its peak, Oldandsold.com was getting 1.5 million page views per month. Traffic has slowed a bit, mostly due to the economy, but the site is still profitable — and feels it has a successful, sustainable model.

IGavel.com: Online auctions of fine art, antiques, and collectibles with guarantees for authenticity and condition
A noted appraiser who often appears on "Antiques Roadshow," Lark E. Mason, Jr. knows antiques. As the former director of online auctions at Sothebys.com, Mason also knows all about the tricky business of buying and selling antiques online. That's why when Sotheby's decided to pull the plug on its dotcom site, Mason took the opportunity to start his own online auction house.

"If you look at the live auction, there are a lot of inefficiencies out there," says Mason. "Taking objects from Houston, Texas, bringing them to New York to sell, simply because New York is a major urban center, and then having that same object bid upon by people who may very well live in Houston, so it gets taken back to Houston, or if it's not sold, the seller having to incur the cost of having it shipped [back to Houston], it's enormously inefficient. I think the industry is ripe for [change]."

iGavel.com, Mason's site, plans to be the change agent.

Launched in July 2003, iGavel.com is a full-service antiques auction and information portal that guarantees the authenticity and condition of the objects auctioned. IGavel does this by restricting access to selling and requiring all prospective buyers to register with a valid credit card number.

Buying tips from Larry Canale,
editor-in-chief of Antiques Roadshow Insider
  • Don't be afraid to ask the seller questions, either by email or by phone.
  • Use the Internet to fully research each antique you are considering bidding on. In particular, look to see what similar items sold for.
  • Get a guarantee from the seller that if the object is not as advertised, is flawed in some way, or a reproduction or a fake, that you can get your money back.

"The only sellers on our site are those that have contracts with us, who are experts in a particular field in which they wish to sell, and we vet all the sellers," explains Mason. "You have to apply to be a seller with us. And those sellers agree to guarantee all the items that they sell. However they describe the item, that's the guarantee. If the item turns out not to be as described within a certain time framework, then the buyer receives his money back."

Individuals who are interested in selling items on iGavel can contact the company via email or phone. Then Mason or an associate contacts the prospective seller and discusses the item. If iGavel thinks the object or objects have merit, the seller sends pictures. IGavel then refers the seller to one of its approximately 500 regional associates.

Because of the online format, iGavel auctions mean lower commissions, fees, and costs for both buyer and seller than live auctions. Auctions take place monthly and the average sale is over $800, with some items going for over $250,000. So iGavel isn't for everyone. But the site is an undeniable success, profitable in its first year and growing, with bidders in every state and overseas.

"What we're really trying to do is create a model that is sustainable, that is going to have steady growth, that is going to result in an international network of buyers and reputable sellers, that will offer a good experience to customers," says Mason.

The Future of Buying and Selling Antiques
"I think the Internet gives the collector [and the seller] another option," says Larry Canale, the editor-in-chief of Antiques Roadshow Insider. "The big auction houses are never going to discontinue their live sales. That's really the core of their business. But they use the Internet to let people view the items, check them out, see as much as they can see from photographs and written descriptions....and bid.

"A site like iGavel.com, which is a great site, [provides an] option that we didn't have 15 years ago," he adds. Lark Mason's "doing some things that are very innovative, and it could serve as a good model… and you will see more of it down the road. But that type of business will never eliminate the live auctions at the big auction house, which have been so successful over the years."

Jennifer L. Schiff writes about business and technology and is a regular contributor to Ecommerce-Guide.com.

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