Cash in the Attic?

If you follow any type of antiques blogs, groups or discussions on social media, you’ve no doubt come across one article or another titled something like “You could be sitting on a gold mine!” or “If you have these things, you could be rich!” These types of articles are called clickbait. Clickbait exists for one reason and one reason only, to drive traffic to the site where the content is located. Those clicks add up to money for the site owners. That’s why the titles are so enticing; they want as many clicks as possible to boost their revenue. Clickbait runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the emotional and all points in between. It’s designed to get to click the link, hence the name clickbait.

Back to the claims that many of us could unwittingly be sitting on huge financial windfall. Most of the time, this claim is bogus. We’ve recently read articles which claim that certain Disney VHS tapes are worth an obscene amount of money. These supposed “Black Diamond” edition tapes, the articles claim, are selling right now for 10’s of thousands of dollars. That claim is false. On the whole, VHS tapes are worth very little. Most were mass produced and readily available a short time ago. Black Diamond VHS tapes are no exception. Many were made and many are still collecting dust on shelves both in the home and at your local thrift store or charity shop.

The same article goes on to say that Beanie Babies are worth a small fortune. Again, pure hogwash. There’s a word that isn’t used nearly enough, hogwash, it’s a good word. Beanie Babies were made by the millions. There may be one or two that may be worth a bit due to mistakes on the tags or scarcity of the piece itself, but most were mass produced. TY just had a really good marketing strategy and an excellent ability to create a sense of urgency. Now, I was a collector of Beanie Babies. I had hundreds of little creatures at one time. I collected purely for pleasure rather than as investment. When I ended up donating most of my collection to various charities, I didn’t feel I had lost anything. I just liked them. Many people actually invested in them. This is a terrible financial strategy. There is a short documentary on the subject available on YouTube. It is called “Bankrupted by Beanie Babies.” I highly recommend it. I mentioned scarcity a bit further up. I can think of one Beanie Baby off the top of my head that may be worth more than garage sale prices. TY briefly produced a red bull named Tabasco. Apparently, the makers of the popular condiment were not flattered nor were they amused. As is often the case, a cease and desist letter went out and Tabasco’s name was changed. The original red bull may be worth a bit, but not retirement villa in Spain money.

We see Cabbage Patch Kids brought up quite a bit in articles such as these. The truth is; that unless you own a pristine pre 1983 Cabbage Patch Kid in the original box with all paperwork, your doll is worth garage sale prices. Millions upon millions of the squishy faced little orphans were produced. There were so many variations and styles to choose from when the dolls were at their height of popularity; just about every little girl had several if not dozens. When I say a pre 1983 Cabbage Patch Kid doll, I’m talking about a very specific style that was made prior to the dolls being mass produced. These ones had cloth faces rather than vinyl faces. They are rarer because they were handmade and not called Cabbage Patch Kids. They were called “Little People” at the time. On a side note, did you know that those squishy vinyl faces get a whole lot squishier when they are left in the back seat of a Reliant K in the middle of summer? Now you do. My cousin has probably never recovered from that mishap.

 

The next item we’ll discuss is one that irritates and downright angers us. Collector plates or just about anything made by Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint or any company with “Mint” in the name. The reason these anger us is their deceptive use of language in advertising. You no doubt remember the advertisements where the announcer in his best Guy Smiley TV voice would say “Limited to 30 firing days.” OK, but what they don’t tell you is how many they fire during a 30 day period. If they fire one a day, then yes, you may have a rare piece. It’s more likely that they fire millions in that 30 day period. Their production lines aren’t exactly mom and pop ceramic studios. They are heavy volume operations. They also use phrase like “Almost sure to go up in value.” Almost is the key word there. They never say guaranteed or certainly or any word which would imply a guarantee. If they used words like that, they would be making a claim they can’t guarantee and that would open them up to legal actions. At the very least, their legal team knows this. That’s why they use ambiguous wording. The hard truth is that most of what these companies put out is mass produced and low quality. Take a good look around any thrift store and you will see dozens of collector’s plates. Most times, these items sell for pennies on the dollar if they sell at all. They are not investment pieces.

Celebrity memorabilia is always a hot topic issue. Any time a famous or notable person dies, millions of commemorative pieces are produced. Everyone from Dale Earnhardt to Princess Diana to Pope John Paul II has been commemorated either on a plate or with a doll or with some other trinket designed to preserve their memory. People buy these things thinking they will be worth a fortune some day. Again, they are mass produced. The only people making a fortune off of commemorative plates or coins or dolls are the manufacturers. The buyers are usually stuck with a trinket they can’t sell for a fraction of what they paid. That said, there are celebrity artifacts that can be worth some money. Autographs are always popular; however, they must be authenticated. They also vary in value based on whether or not the celebrity was known for freely signing things. Some people are known for being very selective about autographs while others will sign just about anything. Obviously, the rarer the authentic signature, the more value it holds. Items that can be linked to a famous person can hold value. John Lennon’s blood spattered glasses spring to mind. However, provenance is key when considering value. Travel through any small town in Tennessee and stop at a truck stop or road side stand. You will find countless Elvis “artifacts” with no provenance. All of those vials of “Genuine Elvis Sweat” are at best tap water from the back room. At worst, they’re actual sweat, just not from Elvis. If it can’t be authenticated, then there is no provenance. Someone’s cousin’s brother’s nephew’s hairdresser’s tailor is not a reliable source of provenance.

We’ve been approached many times by people with collections of vinyl albums. This was a once hot market with garden variety LPs selling for way more than retail. That market has cooled considerably. As with most antiques and collectibles; rarity, scarcity, subject and condition play a huge role in value. Your pristine copy of Englebert Humperdink sings live is probably not worth much. There just isn’t a high demand for old Englebert. Now, if you have a pristine copy of the Lynyrd Skynard album “Street Survivors” with the first cover (the one with the band in flames), you’ve got something special. If said copy was left in a mud puddle and then scratched with a porcupine, you don’t. Many times, people think that old equals valuable in terms of anything, this is not always true. Albums show signs of wear over time. Often, there is a clear outline of the album itself on the outside sleeve. The album may be scratched or marked due to play. The inside booklets may have been lost. All of these things impact value. Condition impacts value of everything. It especially impacts things like albums and books.

Let’s talk a moment about rarity and scarcity. If you take a look at most antiques or collectibles listings on EBay, you will find items listed as “rare” or “hard to find.” These are subjective terms. I especially love it when I come across 50 listings for the same item all by different sellers. Half of them are usually titled “rare.” This is also the half that is asking the most money for their item. If there are 50 other listings, the item is not rare. EBay doesn’t authenticate these claims. I could very well list my favorite Chilly Willy pajama bottoms on EBay tomorrow as “rare” pajamas. I bought them at Wal-Mart and there were many others just like them. My calling them rare doesn’t make them so. Always, always apply a bit of critical thinking when reading EBay or Craigslist listings. People write descriptions to sell an item. If they listed that set of salt and pepper shakers made to look like outhouses as “Run of the mill” or “Garden variety” or “We’ve seen dozens of these,” they won’t fetch the same price as if they are marketed as “rare” or “unique.”

I decided to write this piece after seeing the same article shared a multitude of times on Facebook. When articles like the one we’ve all probably seen several times start making the rounds, people begin to believe that the things they were going to throw out or donate are actually worth a small fortune. This makes things very difficult on auctioneers and consignment shop owners. We get inundated with calls about Beanie Babies, Disney VHS tapes, Collector’s plates and the like. We then have to tell countless people that the article they read on the internet is misleading. Sometimes, this leads to potential customers being angry with us. They feel we are the ones who are being dishonest. They think that perhaps we are trying to get their items for pennies so we can sell them ourselves for huge profits. I assure you this is not the case. We don’t mislead our customers. We pride ourselves on that. Things are published on the internet all of the time with very little basis in fact. Things are printed all of the time with very little basis in fact as well. Remember the exploits of Bat Boy courtesy of Weekly World News? Yes, I do recognize the irony in my using the internet to tell you not to believe everything you read on the internet. I’ll not ask you to trust me, take a look for yourself. It’s as easy as searching sold listings on EBay. The sold listings paint a clearer picture as to what a person is willing to pay for an item. The unsold or “open” listings merely show what a person is asking for an item.

If you take nothing else away from this post, please take away that a bit of research and some critical thinking will serve you well as a collector. I mean; you could take away the fact that I’m witty and write long sentence with big words, but that’s not the point of this entry. We sincerely dislike articles which are designed to mislead or outright lie to people. Clickbait pieces are quickly becoming the scourge of social media. They make the rounds quickly and become harder and harder to disprove with each share. Because, people think if an article has been shared 2,000,000 times it must be accurate. To that, I again say hogwash. Actually, I’ll leave with a much wittier quote by a much more talented writer. “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Mark Twain. Or possibly Winston Churchill, even the aforementioned quote can’t be verified for veracity.

Posted in Blog

Inaugural Blog Post

Welcome to the inaugural blog post of Doran Auctions! If you’ve ever read any of our descriptions, you know by now that we have a lot to say. Today, we’re going to start at the beginning. Many people have asked us just what made us open an auction business in the first place. It’s an excellent question that we felt should be expanded upon at some point. No better time than the present.

Neither of us grew up in auction families. We didn’t attend them as children and we weren’t related to any auctioneers that we’re aware of. In fact, both of probably had the same incorrect thought as to what buying at auction was. Lee’s family tells a story about his grandfather buying a city parking meter for $50 back in the 1950’s when he scratched his head and accidentally bid. My cousin, the consummate animal lover once purchased a baby got at a farm auction. Maurice was an intentional bid and he was a beloved member of the ever growing menagerie of farm critters my cousin owned. He was also a fantastic play mate.

Fast forward many years to a time when a friend of Lee’s invited him to his first auction. He went and decided that not only were auctions something he enjoyed; they were something he wanted to be involved in. Auctions had changes since that long ago day when his grandfather accidentally bought a parking meter. No goats were sold that evening to the best of anyone’s recollection. As for me, I was a social worker. Ask me another day how that factors in to being involved in the auction business. Surprisingly, it really does factor in. I came along for the ride. That is essentially it. I came along to help make a dream come true.

Becoming an auctioneer in the State of Pennsylvania isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are only two ways to do so. One way is to apprentice under a licensed auctioneer for a period of two years. The other way is by attending an accredited auction course. These courses are offered at only three institutions of higher learning in the entirety of Pennsylvania. Lee chose education. There is an apprenticeship component to the course work as well.

Despite what people probably perceive as an average course of study in the auction business, it’s not all standing around and talking fast. The courses work covers things such as appraisal techniques, the types of appraisals which can be performed, property law, real estate law and contract preparation. Of course, auctioneers do practice the talking fast part as well. That’s called the chant for those of you who were wondering. There is a fairly comprehensive exam at the end of the course of study. This exam is conducted by the state board. It’s not dissimilar to a cosmetologist taking their licensure exam.

Once all of that is completed, it’s really a waiting game. An auctioneer can complete the course and take the exam and still not jump right in to conducting his own auctions. He must wait for his license to arrive. Then there’s the bond. You simply can’t operate as an auctioneer without a bond. It takes a great investment of time and money to become licensed in this state.

So, all of those things finally came to pass. The right numbers of checks were written to the right agencies. The proper forms were filled out, signed and dated and mailed away. The correct bonds and insurances were in place and a license finally arrived. Now what?

Now comes the hardest part. Now consignors with items to sell and customers with a desire to bid must be found. All of the education, bonding and insurance really don’t serve you well when you’re trying to actually do the business of selling items. They give you a good foundation in the law and the knowledge of how to operate legally and soundly, but when it comes to finding consignors you’re on your own, kid. As we’ve mentioned, neither of us came from auction families. That little tidbit makes it a great deal harder to find consignors and customers. We simply didn’t have the connections to fill an auction house with items and the seats with bidders. Through some hard work and endless hours of promoting, networking and more promoting, we did find those consignors. We found bidders too.

This is the point in the story where we talk about what it truly means to start a business from the ground up. It’s fairly easy to come in to an established business and take the reins, it is much harder to first find the reins and then scramble to hold on to them. This is true in any business. Whether you are a second, third or 12th generation mechanic, veterinarian or auctioneer, people just assume that you are more knowledgeable because you’re one of a long line. We had to essentially prove that we were knowledgeable and trustworthy over and over because there was no name recognition. It’s something we still find ourselves doing four years later.

Our first few auctions taught us that space is our friend. Most people aren’t familiar with daily operations of a business that deals primarily with larger objects. Since technology is not what we were promised it would be in films like “Back to the Future,” we can’t shrink things down and then make them bigger again. Space was important. Space was limited. Too much stuff in not enough space and you end up with damage, loss, hazards which are many and possibly a phone call from the production company at “Hoarders.” Space being at a premium is what prompted us to buy a beautiful old bank building in Beaver Falls. Now, keep in mind that we still didn’t have our “wings” yet. We had a dream and some goals and we went for it. Go big or go home.

Thus began long hours of lifting, moving, photographing, cataloging and uploading. Running a fledgling business is much like caring for a newborn. You stay up with it, you nurture it, you guide it along and you pray that it will sleep for a half hour so you can take a shower. When you’re two people doing your best to run everything, you pass exhaustion on the way to another form of tired science has yet to name. We spent several anguished days worried that our first online estate auction would be a flop. Being that we had both embraced technology, we took to digital means to get the word out. Craigslist, Facebook and various online flea market pages became our best friends. That auction, by the way, was a large success. We’ve had many hits and misses since then. We’ve had many “what in the world are we doing?” moments. We’ve met some really interesting people with some really interesting stories.

I don’t know that either of us imagined four years ago that we would be where we are now. We sometimes lament that we don’t feel we’ve come far enough. But one look back at the sheer volume of what we’ve sold normally puts those issues to rest. In four years, we’ve sold thousands of items. We’ve had the pleasure of hearing some amazing stories from some wonderful people. We’ve gone from “stuff peddlers” to curators. Yes, I used the word curator. We curate peoples’ memories as we catalog their items. We curate a time long ago when this piece or that was brand new and the first piece of “good furniture” a newly wedded couple bought. We don’t just sell items, we sell history.

 

If you’re still with me, first congratulations; I like words. We hope this first post entertained you. We hope it shed some light on why we do what we do. But most of all, we hope it inspired you. We hope that whatever it is you wish you were doing but aren’t, you take a gamble and do it. We did. It isn’t always easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. We hope the spirit of going out and taking that first tiny step even if you stumble a bit has been instilled upon you while reading this. That is what we did and what we continue to do to this day. Each day, each auction is another tiny step. Those tiny steps make up an amazing journey.

Posted in Blog