How does one go about selling antique/vintage furniture to a dealer?
February 14, 2015 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I have a mid-century modern coffee table that I need to sell. I was going to put it on Craigslist for a few hundred bucks, but in my research, I saw an identical table listed for $7000, and other (smaller) pieces from the same collection that had sold for $2000-$4000. It looks like I ought to sell it to a dealer or on consignment here in NYC. Do y'all have any suggestions for particular mid-century modern dealers? How should I handle this and what should I expect?

The table is was designed by Michael Taylor for the New World Colleciton by Baker Furniture. It is identical to this one. My table is not in perfect condition; I acquired it from a woman who had used it in her home for 50ish years. It has one ring on the top from a beverage set down without a coaster, and some nicks around the edges.

I'm not necessarily looking to get the maximum possible amount for the table, but I'd be very pleased if I got a few thousand dollars for it rather than a few hundred.
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Selling to a dealer and selling on consignment are two different things:

If the retail price is $2,000, selling to a dealer is going to get you $500-$1000 at the most. That's the tradeoff of quick cash: the dealer is taking the risk of shelling out money for something he might not be able to sell. The process is like what you see on Pawn Stars: bring it in or the dealer comes out to see it, you agree on a price, maybe there's a bill of sale if it's very expensive, cash changes hands, and you're done.

Selling on consigment varies quite a bit; you and the dealer share the risk, so the item gets put out for $2000 and maybe you get $1200, maybe only $500, somewhere in there depending on how the cost sharing works. A few consignment dealers I know have a graduated pricing process -- the objective is to sell, so in the contract the retail price is $2000, but after 6 weeks the price drops to $1500, after another 6 weeks down to $1000 -- because an item needs to sell, that's valuable floorspace being devoted to something that isn't selling. The process, like I said, varies a bit, but pretty much you talk to the consignment shop, work our a contract for the sale of the item, and then the item gets delivered to the showroom somehow.

Consignment is probably going to be more profitable -- if the design is a known name and has a recognizeable history of pricing, a good consignment shop might be able to get you a pretty good price. It all depends on how significant the damage is to a buyer.

Given there's a water ring, you may do better with a dealer: consignment places want things that are guaranteed to sell, and damaged stuff is less likely to attract a buyer. Same with the high-end furniture auction sales: imperfections drop the price really quickly, and a water ring is more than minor scuffs, the dealer that buys it might take it straight to a restorer to refinish it rather than even putting something with a water ring out for sale. You might want to price out refinishing yourself; although many people discourage refinishing, what do you have to lose if the water ring makes it only worth a couple hundred bucks?

So, your first stop might be to track down a furniture appraiser -- they don't have a vested interest in getting the table sold, so you're going to get a more honest answer to the table's value. They're also going to have a better handle on to what extent refinishing improves or damage price. If you're hoping to get $5,000 for it, shelling out even a couple hundred dollars to pay a respected appraiser may be worth the cost. Plus, whatever paperwork the appraiser gives you might help your case when negotiating price with a dealer or consignment shop.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:12 AM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you explored Chairish as an option?
posted by slipthought at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I posted this question a while back.

I called all over town and no one called me back to even set up a time to view it, let alone look at my pictures. I listed it on eBay, got a buyer and then she backed out...what a hassle!

So while you may have visions of ready cash, it's kind of a PITA. So be aware.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:31 PM on February 14, 2015

2nding Ruthless Bunny. I posted this question a few years back and didn't get any responses (or a solid NO) from the antiques people I was trying to contact. Ending up selling my piece through Craigslist for like $150 and I lucked out in that the one guy who was interested actually came through.
posted by jabes at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2015

Thanks for all the good advice, folks!
posted by ocherdraco at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2015

It has one ring on the top from a beverage set down without a coaster, and some nicks around the edges.

I don't want to say never, but you are going to have a really hard time selling this anywhere but craigslist for a few hundred bucks.

A guy i know who i used to live with(stupidly, imo) bought a several thousand dollar couch from one of those midcentury modern furniture dealer places. Later, when he decided to sell it, he struggled to get $400 for it. Every single person who showed up, and any dealer type place, was a huge stickler about the TINIEST imperfections. There weren't any stains, and it was to me at least in like 9.9/10 condition. Dude was seriously obsessive about not messing it up and generally a really obsessively clean guy... but people would go "oh wow, there's this one little pulled thread here... hmm" and he just kept having to drop the price and relist it since they'd offer him even less than what he got.

I have a really cool early 20th century victorian-style couch i'm about to sell... that i bought for cheap from someone who didn't want to deal with that crap. I'll likely sell it the same way, even though it's ostensibly worth a lot more than a few hundred bucks. It's not in perfect shape and i know that will make it a nightmare to sell for any real price.

Any dealer who will buy it outright is likely to offer you peanuts, and most places will likely want to do some consignment type deal. The only advantage of that is essentially free storage. It likely wont sell for ages, if they'll even take it.

Things that are ostensibly worth a lot, but hard to find a buyer for tend to be the kinds of things that are really hard to get anyone else to take on the selling process of. Resellers want stuff they can easily and quickly flip.

Pretty much, it doesn't matter what something is worth if no one will pay it.
posted by emptythought at 1:43 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Emptythought is correct. My parents are antique dealers. Sell it on Craigslist or eBay for whatever you can get. I liquidated a whole apt. full of stuff of NO apparent value for about $1200, not bad, but I grew up in the business. However, I gave away the two or three nice pieces because I couldn't stand to sell them on CL for nothing. Grit your teeth and do it.
posted by 8603 at 6:51 PM on February 14, 2015

I've sold a couple of 1k+ furniture items in nyc on Craigslist, of varying imperfections. It sometimes took some patience, but eventually worked through craigslist, ebay, apartmenttherapy, etc. Don't be greedy. Be prepared for flakes. I never had any weird sticklers, but the furniture was very particular so perhaps the generalists were weeded out. For the stain, maybe some mayo?
posted by homesickness at 7:06 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

After a few unproductive email exchanges with dealers, I've decided to stick it in the storage unit with the rest of my stuff and defer this issue until later.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2015

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