Picking with Reyne

Picking with Reyne Vol. 24 – Another amazing find…

November 2nd, 2010 by

I never get tired of telling a good story, and this one certainly makes that list.

Two of my favorite pickers – let’s just call them Frick and Frack, tend to find some amazing stuff.  I have bought things from them purely for aesthetic reasons over the years, and have never been disappointed.

They have a great eye.  It’s so important when being a picker because you may not know what you are buying, but if you can tell it’s “Something” you’re a step ahead of most of the pack.  And these guys have had some pretty amazing scores just buying on a hunch.

This week’s story is just one of the many….

Apparently several years ago they were at an estate sale buying a few things when a pair of what looked like cameo’s caught their eye.

They noticed the items had a Sotheby’s auction tag on the back.  This would generally indicate they are somewhat special. The tags dated all the way back to 1903!

Once they got them home, they contacted Sotheby’s.   Unfortunately they were not much help. They told them they were 18th century and that was all they knew.  Hrmph!

The guys thought they were made of marble, but after asking around were told they were porcelain and numismatic related (huh?)

They placed them on eBay with the little information they had, and needless to say, not much happened. (Imagine that, a low period on eBay)

Come to find out, these pieces were from the very well documented John Gormley Murdoch coin and medal collection.  The auction was 8 sessions – running from March 31, 1903 to December 13, 1904 at Sotheby’s & Co., London.

The back of each framed piece is notated with the identity of the subject, which happens to be Edward II and Edward III; along with their date of birth, coronation and death.

Now comes the fun part of the story.  It just happens that while these didn’t sell, the guys hung them in the restroom for decoration.  Recently a friend came by, asked to use the restroom, and noticed the items hanging on the wall.  The friend just happened to recognize the work as that of James Tassie (1735-1799).  They are made from enamel/glass and not porcelain.  You can read more about Tassie by visiting this website:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tassie

But you may already be somewhat familiar with his work if you have visited the V&A Museum.

So how does the story end?  Will Frick and Frack keep them or will they head off to a big auction and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars?  You’ll just have to tune in here to see….

Happy Hunting!

Picking with Reyne Vol. 23 – An Interview with Martin Willis – Part II

October 22nd, 2010 by

So, last week I left you hanging when I asked Martin the question:

What strategies to buy at auction would you give to the novice?

Here is Part II of my interview….

Martin: It is a tough question, but I will try and answer the best I can.
First of all, the novice should know most of us, if not all in the business have learned from our mistakes. I have a few mistakes kicking around in my house as a matter of fact. The best advice is not to look at buying at auction in an adversarial mode. I always hear this gem told to the novice: “find out who the antique dealers are and bid one bid higher than them.” That has to do with retail mark-up and what you can buy it for. However, this is not fool proof. There are many ways to make mistakes here. First of all, there is no way of telling if the dealer has a desperate client willing to pay too much for something, or if the dealer is buying for their own collection. I have seen dealers pay extraordinary prices for something they collect.

The best strategy I can think of for a novice is again, use patience coupled with perseverance. Go to auctions, watch what happens, and get yourself familiar with what things sell for. Watch how people bid, and what they bid on. Make notes if you have to. If you only spend $100, then the most you can lose is $100.

My suggestions for the “Do’s & Don’ts” for the novice at auction are:

1.     Again, do not bid on something you have not inspected. Auctioneers do not want to take items back and often will not take them back (unless accidently misrepresented)

2.     Try not to be the first bidder on an item.

3.     Do not keep your card up while bidding (known as the Statue of Liberty Bid). Along those lines, when bidding, don’t look too excited about bidding and use your best poker face.

4.     Do not buy something just because it is a deal. You may be buying something no one else is too excited about. If you may have to live with it, make sure you like it.

5.     If you see a particular piece at an auction that you think you would like to own and time permitting, research it. Take the catalog description home with you and explore the piece on the Internet. Or, ask advice from a dealer, often times, they will help you.

6.     Do not ask other people not to bid on something you want, people often take offense to you asking them. Also, it could be considered collusive. Along those lines, do not tell other people at the auction what you are interested in.

7.     Don’t be afraid of the auctioneer. Ask questions at the preview on what he or she and or the staff may know about a particular piece you may be interested in.

All great tips Martin!
Reyne:  So would these tips apply to online bidders? Or would you have any strategies for the online bidder?

Martin: Another tough question. It is always best to be there in person for
a dozen reasons. However, online bidding has come a long way.

Here is what I suggest:

1.     Buy at an auction house with a good reputation.

2.     Make sure the condition report is thorough and it is cataloged correctly.

3.     Make sure you understand the conditions of sale, buyer’s premium and shipping, etc.

4.     Know that bidding online is not infallible. It has come a long way, but it is always possible your bid will not go through or the auctioneer will move too fast to catch your bid. When I bid online, I just leave an absentee bid of my maximum amount. It is safe way to go and no one knows the amount you leave or who you are. You can just leave your bid and go play golf or something.

Reyne: I can’t help but ask… any big hush hush trade secrets we should know?

Martin:   Because I am an auctioneer, I am reluctant to share this, but will anyway. As auctioneers we want to see everything sell at an auction. However, that is fantasy and sometimes 15% of an auction or more may pass for some reason or another. There are a number of people out there that contact an auction house after a sale and ask about the unsold lots. Often, there is a lot of negotiation, as consignors have generally wanted the pieces out of their life. I have heard of many stories of wonderful buys as “after sales”.

So you mean to tell me that my first auction in November is not going to have 100% sales ratio?
Thanks so much Martin for sharing your knowledge of auctions, bidding, and the strategies to go along with them.   You rock!

Picking with Reyne Vol. 22: A little picking strategy at auction… Part I

October 18th, 2010 by

Who says you can only pick door to door?  There are plenty of picking opportunities that arise at auction.   I know I’ve bought tons of box lots over the years – gave away the dreck and sold the diamonds!

Recently I spoke with my good friend, Martin Willis.  Martin is a second generation auctioneer, with 35 years of auction and antique experience under his belt.  And he just happens to be a  bit of a picker as well.   We had a great conversation about one’s ability to make some serious cash picking at auction and it went a little something like this…

Reyne: Martin, you’ve worked for auctions and also had your own auction – is there really money to be made there or does stuff always sell for a retail price?

Martin: First of all, I want to say that I truly believe that there is at least one or many more bargains at every single auction, no exception. I had a client that used to sit in all the New York “big house” auctions back in the 1990s.  The focus at these sales were the big-ticket items and he would often buy mid range paintings for a good  deal and put them in my auctions and make a very good profit. I would spotlight them versus less attention in the previous sale it was in. For instance, he bought a Polish painting for $500, which I sold for $12,000.

Actually, I have done the same thing. Bid on mid to low tier paintings at Sotheby’s and Christie’s only to sell them at Butterfields for a nice profit.   Most people think deals are never found at the big New York houses but that is so not true.

Reyne: What are some strategies you can share that would make my experience a good one?

Martin:  The number one rule in buying well at auction is patience coupled with perseverance. Attending in person is the safest way to find a deal. First of all, if you have knowledge in a particular item and have an interest in buying, look around and see if you can find it. For example, say I collect art pottery. Now I will scour the auction for the pottery, catalog in hand. If I find a piece, I make sure it is described and estimated properly. I should say that it usually does not matter how something is estimated, if enough people are aware of the piece, it will seek the correct price. On the other hand, if it is misidentified, you have a chance. There are mistakes in all auction houses; it simply cannot be avoided with the vast amount of property handled.

Good points. You can’t know it all and even with catalogs now hosted online for all the world to see, plenty of things slip through the cracks.

Martin: Next, check out group lots, they are a great way to buy. A piece placed in a group, generally means the cataloger did not think it could stand on its own. If you can find that nice piece of pottery in a group lot, you have a great chance of getting a good deal.

If it is a long auction and your item is coming up toward the end, wait it out. The crowd will trickle down and there will be less competition. When I mentioned before that there is always a deal at an auction, while you wait for your item(s) to come up, you are liable to see a bargain, so be on the lookout. A word of caution, speaking from experience, do not bid on something unless you have looked at it. I have owned a lot of white elephants that looked good from 50 feet away.

I have certainly done that a time or two.  You know the artist, you know it’s right but you didn’t personally inspect it to see the 5” crack running down the side….

Reyne: What are other strategies that work?

Martin: My close friend and former partner was hired to bid at an auction house in Illinois on a major period American secretary. Once he carefully inspected it and gave his client a condition report, he had the authority to bid as high as $350,000 on it. Before the auction, he spoke with the auctioneer and said he wanted to bid on the piece, but did not want anyone to know he was bidding. Often people will bid higher on something when a noted expert such as him bids on a piece. He told the auctioneer to look at him when the piece comes up and if his arms are folded, to take his bid. Once he was to drop his arms to his side, he was out. The bidding started at $50,000 and went slowly up to $220,000; my friend was the winning bidder. He said it caused a bit of a stir as everyone else bidding was watching him and wondering who was bidding. They also wondered how whoever it was could be bidding, as they saw nothing going on in the direction the auctioneer was looking in. When the auctioneer said sold, my friend held up his bidder number and there was a bit of grumbling. Now, I am not sure if he got it for less then if he was openly bidding, but I assume he probably did.

I have experienced this too.  That’s why I sit at the back of the room, or I leave an absentee bid on things I really want. Then if it goes for more than the bid I left, I can still jump back in and bid more.

Reyne: What is the best strategy you have seen people using at an auction?

Martin: This one may be hard to swallow for a lot of people, but I have seen it work many times. I will just use an example: You are a Tiffany lamp collector and you attend an auction where there is an acorn shade Tiffany lamp. Your maximum bid will be $9,000. When you get there you see everyone you know that will buy the lamp for the same price. Auctioneers generally start something for around half the low estimate, sometimes lower, sometimes higher. Let’s say the auction estimate is $8,000 to high $12,000. The auctioneer asks for an opening bid of $4,000. This is when you hold your card up and shout $7,000! Everyone turns and looks and the auctioneer may stumble and ask for the next increment of $7,250. At this point, often times no one will bid because it throws the whole thing off. If someone bids the $7,250 the auctioneer turns to you asking $7,500 you shout, $8,000! Often times it will be yours at this bid. By doing this, people will know you are serious, and often may think you are a bit nuts, so they will not bid again. I have seen this done with success dozens of times over the years.

Hahaha, I’ve seen people do this and I too thought they were nuts, or the auctioneer was just moving a bit slow and they wanted to hurry up and get to a “real” price.

Reyne: Do you think this negatively affects the sale?

Martin: I don’t think so in my opinion. It would not happen enough at any given sale to cause a problem. However, I did watch quite a phenomenon happen at one time. Back in the day when I used own Seaboard Auction Gallery in Maine, I rented it out to specialty auctioneers when I was not having a sale. There was an auction of painted country antique collectibles such as baskets, Shaker pieces and the like. Attending the auction was the foremost dealer in country pieces sitting in the front row. Right off the bat she bid on the first 30 or so lots of the auction. She just held her card up until she owned each and every item, no matter how high it would go for. I watched dealer after dealer exit the sale in frustration. I don’t know if it was her intention, but she cleared out most of the dealers at the auction and bought a large portion for a very good price. This is a case where I would say the auction was hurt.

Another phenomenon to note: Bargains at auctions often stem from a physiological situation. For instance, a nice piece may come up, well worth all the money and for some unknown reason, no one bids right away; this makes people wonder why no one is bidding, so no one will bid on it at all. If you are sure about the piece, don’t second guess it; throw in a bid just before you think it may pass. You may start everyone bidding, or you may get a great buy.

Reyne: What strategies to buy at auction would you give to the novice?

WAIT WAIT WAIT right there….tune in next week when I post the answers to this question, and several more I had for Martin!

Before you go, make sure to check out Martin’s podcast online:


Martin brings you the skinny on some of the most important people in the world of antiques each week!

Picking with Reyne – Vol. 21 – Time to Sell

October 12th, 2010 by

One of my pet peeves about this business is how dealers will keep merchandise for the longest period of time, waiting to sell for the ultimate dollar.

You buy something, and perhaps you get it for a song, and all you want is to get full retail for it.  Depending on the item, perhaps you can.  But if it’s a common item, chances are – you won’t.  And even if it’s not a common item, after taking it to a few shows and it doesn’t sell means it’s time to cut bait.

There is nothing worse than seeing the same tired merchandise show after show.  Buyers stop coming into your shop or show booth and dealers who are often your customers take their business elsewhere.

I know it is getting harder to find merchandise, and when you do find great stuff, it usually goes fast.  The key to being a successful seller is to constantly have new merchandise.   So if that means selling something for what you paid for it once you’ve carried it around a while, then that’s what you need to do. You are tying up your money that could potentially be invested in another item that will sell faster and perhaps for a greater profit, and you are certainly losing the interest of your regular buyers.

With the holidays upon us, shoppers will be out in full force looking for that special something.  Take a few moments to consider the following:

1)      Offer a little holiday theme to your booth.   If you are selling fine china and stemware, bring in a dining room table and dress it up to show people how great your items could look in their home.

2)      If you have a variety of vintage Christmas bulbs and ornaments, perhaps bring in a vintage Christmas tree and decorate it.

3)      Merchandise that you’ve had for a while place on one side of your booth with a sign offering a pre-holiday shopping special with a nice discount %  = that always motivates people to buy and it will generate additional cash for you to buy more items for the holiday shoppers.

Another suggestion you might consider during the holidays is to go into your booth once a week and move things around.  It gives the appearance of having new merchandise and people that shop your store often might see something they didn’t see the time before.

I’d love to hear your marketing tips on how to move merchandise.  Drop me a line!

Happy Hunting!


The Art of Picking – Episode 7 HD

October 5th, 2010 by

Reyne Haines stops by to talk to stylist Suzy Smith about repurposing antiques. Repurposing is the reinvention of an antique used for one purpose into something used in a different way. Suzy has examples of beautifully repurposed objects and some tips for beginners interested in repurposing fabulous finds for themselves.

Picking With Reyne – Vol. 20

September 28th, 2010 by

On Friday I ventured down to Round Top, Texas to tape another video segment for my “Art of Picking” series here on Antiques.com

It was a setup day for many of the fields; however there were a few open for business.

I’m not sure when antique dealers became interior decorators, or if this is more a sign of the times, but I was amazed at some of the things I saw.

I’ve been attending antique shows for the past 20 years.  Some were indoors, some outdoors, some high brow, and some just an over-rate thrift shop.

Back in the day, it seemed only the high brow shows had dealers setting up booths as “interiors”.  What I mean by that is they were more like a room setting out of a magazine than a dealer setting up a weekend booth to sell their wares.  There were walls, with colorful paper hiding the pegholes of the board that held the fine art hanging on it.  Sideboards with candlesticks and antique frames with vintage images inserted.  Dining room tables and chairs with a fantastic chandelier hanging over the center of it and an array of Meissen plates and vintage Steuben stemware used as place settings.

The middle of the road to lower end antique shows offered booths filled with tables, risers, and display cases filled to the brim with “stuff”.  The people were friendly enough (well most of them) and they were there to make a deal.

When I first started selling at shows back in I think it was 1992, my friend Rosemary and I used to comment all the time about how people had no vision, and you really needed to show them how something would look in their home.  Your booth display was half the sale.  I know some people like digging through stuff to find the gem, but most people enjoy looking at beautiful things, displayed with like items, or in a way that makes sense.

Anyhow, back to my story…dealers at the Round Top show, one after another, had been setting up their tents with interior type scenes.    Many of the booths looked like a photo straight out of Country Living magazine.

The sheer volume of repurposing was mind blowing.  It was as if everything in the world had a second life again.  I loved it! (Can’t ya tell?)

Who needs Martha Stewart to show us how to turn “everyday” items into something spectacular??

All I know is these guys are teaching you “Decorating 101” while selling you a piece of history, and they have certainly got “Marketing 101” down pat!

Happy Hunting!


Picking with Reyne – Vol. 19 – Hot new picking trend

September 20th, 2010 by

Yesterday I spent the day at the Houston Antique Dealers Associations (HADA) show and sale.  It was a lovely Saturday, and the crowds were pretty good.

Some of the dealers said they had done well, and that the number of people who turned out for the opening preview party (this was the first year for preview parties) had brought out a good crowd.  It seemed like a somewhat positive start to this three day show.

Other dealers said the show had been quiet.  They were wondering if the buyers come out on Sunday’s looking for deals or if this was as good as it gets.

The HADA show is in its 46th year.  This is certainly an established show that has a long standing, well- to- do Houston crowd.  There is over 150 dealers from all over the country that setup at this show, and most of them carry a very traditional line of antiques such as high brow 18-19th century furniture, grandfather clocks, expensive English porcelain, silver, and 19th Century paintings.

To me, the market for this style of antique collecting has become very quiet.  The “buyer” has changed to the 30-40s crowds that do not appreciate “grandma’s” antiques.

When speaking with several dealers about what collecting trends they are seeing, the answer was often the same. The hot ticket in collecting:  Chinese antiques.

Not just porcelain, but art, sculpture, furniture, etc.  It would seem that the Chinese have become greatly interested in acquiring all things Chinese and have loads of money to do so.

Numerous dealers commented on seeing Chinese buyers at the local shows, shopping at local malls and even in line at estate sales looking to acquire things to bring back home.  One dealer mentioned knowing numerous American dealers that were acquiring items for buyers in China.  They would fill containers and ship them overseas.

The interest in Chinese antiques is not limited to a certain time period. They are apparently buying everything from 17th century to 20th.  However, I was told the items of strongest interest are items that were made for the domestic market, not the export market.

I can’t say I know much about the Asian antiques market. I can barely tell Japanese porcelain from Chinese porcelain.  I also don’t know new from old, but I would greatly recommend anyone looking for a hot collectible to scoop up to grab some reference books and keep your eyes open in your picking adventures.

Happy Hunting!


Picking with Reyne – Vol 19 – Packing for Pickers

September 14th, 2010 by

Yesterday I was on an adventure with a friend of mine.  Destination?  A packing supply store.   I know what you’re thinking.  She really buys packing supplies at a retail store?  The answer to that is yes, and no.

Normally, I recycle.  I have numerous things coming in, therefore, I store the peanuts, the bubble wrap and most importantly, the boxes all this stuff comes in to use when shipping things out.  It keeps my overhead down, and saves a tree all at the same time.

Every now and then I have an overstock of boxes, and while I stack them one inside another, the pile of boxes can start to add up.

So think back to when I scored that pair of Louis Vuitton suitcases a few months ago.  The box that the trunk came in was “put together” if you will by my picker.  By the time I got the trunk out, the box was totaled.  I figured no big deal. I planned to sell the big trunk locally.

As luck would have it, I couldn’t find a buyer for the trunk locally.  So after several failed attempts I reached out to my client base in New York.  SCORE!

Fast forward to Friday where I spend the day driving around Houston looking for a box that will fit a trunk 32” x 21” x 11”.

One of my favorite places to buy packing materials when I do have the right size is Half Price Boxes.  I’ll never understand how this company turns a profit.  Walk in, walk out with 20 brand new cardboard boxes for $20 or less (not each, for all of them!)

So of course, this is the first place I look.  Denied!

Next..FedEx Kinkos. They have a packing department so I thought for sure…NOPE – try again.

I ended up at UHaul buying a small (optimum word) garment box. You know the kind with the metal pole inside to hang your shirts on when you move?  That’s the one.

Sadly, it almost didn’t fit in the back of my car, and I hadn’t even unfolded the box to build it.

Once I got the beast errr I mean the box home and unfolded it, I realized there would be no way this was going back into my car.  I’d have to think of a backup plan when it comes time to take it to UPS.

It was really the perfect size once I got the trunk inside. It had about 3 inches on each side, enough for me to pad the sides with cushion in case it gets tossed around.  Who am I kidding?  No one will be tossing around a 36” tall, 30 lb box.

Bubble wrap is lightweight right?  Well, the trunk weighed 24 lbs, and by the time I had the sides cushioned in-between the sides and the trunk itself, it weighed 30.

I can’t wait to see what the ground shipping cost is going to be.  I’m sure the $45 I charged will be nowhere near enough!

Lessons learned from this experience:

1.       Keep all packing material, not just some of it. You never know when you are going to need to ship a trunk.

2.       Own a truck, SUV or vintage Lincoln Towncar that has lots of room for packages for times like these.

3.       Only buy small items.  Easy packing and cheap shipping!

I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for cost effective shipping, packing materials, or unique ways to ship collectibles worldwide!

Happy Hunting!


Picking with Reyne Vol 18 – The Finds are Still Out There

September 7th, 2010 by

I always love a good find, especially when it’s me doing the finding. Not the case for this story, but a good one none the less.

Recently, the California auction house, Harvey Clars, reported the sale of a vintage trunk made by Fracois Goyard recently sold for $5,629. This was against a pre-sale estimate of $1,500 – $2,500.

Ok so that’s not so special. Seems these days more than ever auction houses and getting a premium for a vast array of things consigned to them.

The great part of the story was how the trunk was acquired.

The consignors bought the trunk years ago at a yard sale for $20.  It was sold to them as just that; a charming old trunk – nothing more, nothing less.

It wasn’t until they were downsizing did they decide to sell it off and they chose Clars as the auction house to find a buyer.

The decorative arts specialist at Harvey Clars thought the trunk might be special, and quickly saw the period piece to be more than just nice luggage.  The latches were signed Goyard Aine, Monte Carlo, Biarritz Paris.  Also, the initials GNF, SF, No 4 were painted on the outside.

Francois Goyard was a luxury luggage maker in France at the turn of the century.  The trunk also offered travel decals from places such as France, Italy and England.

The hammer price is a new record for a trunk of this style by Goyard.

Did I mention I acquired 2 Louis Vuitton trunks recently?  Ok I didn’t – but a picker friend of mine did. A large trunk and a small makeup case.   He sold them to me, and I was thrilled to acquire them.  Truth be told, the large trunk weighs almost as much as I do, so I probably won’t keep it – but you can bet my makeup has never traveled in a fancier manner!

Happy Hunting!


Picking with Reyne – Vol 17

August 28th, 2010 by

It’s no mystery that antiques are the biggest “green” thing going. It’s not like antique enthusiasts are jumping on the “green” wagon either. We were “green” long before it was the cool thing to be.

But the latest hip trend I see is antiquer’s taking what we call “findings” which are pieces of antique or vintage items (not the entire thing) and resourcing them. In short, we are recycling recycled items!

How does one do that? I’ll give you a few examples:

Rice grain bags – currently very hot in the Southern market. What does one do with them? Covering antique chairs, or making pillows for the couch with them. They are so popular, that Restoration Hardware has caught on and is selling reproduction pillows.

Jewelry – I’ve seen jewelry artists taking lone earrings, single shoe clips, buttons, etc and adorning jackets with them, or creating necklaces with the older pieces as pendants or parts.

Photographers are taking cool old painting frames and using them to showcase great black and white photography.

I remember the first time I saw something like this was several years back when I saw typewriter keys being used to create names on a necklace.

Then it was mahjong tiles incorporated into bracelets; vintage bottle caps used to embellish purses…

I have also met dealers that specialize in “found” objects. Interior decorators have been recycling antiques for years. Take a look at how interior designer Kelly Giesen works with vintage doors, hardware and mixes vintage lighting with traditional:

I’d love to hear your suggestions on making old new again. Tell us about it here!