Saturday, 19 January 2013

Pricing your treasures....

Pricing new stock is something of a dark art - there are no strict rules or easy formulas to share.  Some popular collectables, such as Beswick or Royal Doulton figurines can be priced in line with the relevant price guides. But putting a price on something unusual, a one-off or something that is showing a bit of wear and tear but retains a faded beauty and charm is far harder, as it is often down to the arbitrary matter of taste.  As you become more experienced, you will automatically start to think about what you can sell items for as you buy them.  There is no point paying too much and then being stuck with an expensive white elephant. And once the trading bug bites, you will never want to pay the asking price for anything again - bargaining will become second nature.  I even negotiate when I buy things like TVs or white goods - I haven't tried haggling in supermarkets yet though, but give it time!

If you are going to trade on a regular basis, I am assuming that you are doing it as a money-making venture.  Ideally, you will be recouping your outlay on each stock item and making a profit margin on top.  Your return can then be reinvested in new stock and possibly provide a small income.  Everyone has different reasons for trading but in this current recession, many people need extra ways to generate money.

To clarify, the profit margin is the difference beween what you pay for and then sell an item.  Don't forget though, that your total sales at any event is not your profit, but your turnover.  Your net profit is the turnover,  minus the purchase price of sold stock and any expenses incurred ie stall fee, travel costs, refreshments, materials for repairs and car parking.  Most people don't cost in their time - I suspect if we did, most of us would be working at a loss. 

Pricing is often subjective and based on what you think someone might be willing to pay for an piece that is stylish, unusual or or has the "look".  You might be able to gauge a sale price by comparing similar items on other stalls, magazines or on-line.    "On trend" items at will achieve higher prices - interior and fashion design has a big influence on what is desirable.     A few years ago, French enamel ware was popular and sets of kitchen canisters sold for very high prices to fans of shabby French chic - then enamel fell out of favour partly because the prices soared. Mid-century (C20) furniture is now in vogue with buyers in their 20s to 30s, and there are even specialist fairs that just focus on this period.  Yet 25 years ago, most people turned their noses up at 60s style preferring the chintzy, faux-Victorian style popularised by Laura Ashley.  You might find you hit the trends on the button and get great prices for your things for a while; then the fashion changes and you may be stuck with things or have to reduce prices.

Pricing based on fashion and trends is quite tricky, because it is not based on a definitive price guide.  You can take a bit of a chance and price boldy if you feel you have a special piece.  After all, it takes time to source these show-stoppers, so don't let these go for a song. 

Pricing can be flexible, and you can always start high and then reduce your asking price, if you want to do a deal and move something on.  Stock does become stale and ties up your cash, so it is good to shift those items that are sticking and sometimes a price drop is the answer. That's why many dealers at trade fairs don't label their stock, preferring to offer a price verbally and then negotiate. All traders end up with "old friends" - those pieces that hang around and come out at every fair.  Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and just let them go at little more than you paid.  But at least you have released the cash to invest more wisely in other stock.

Whatever you buy, do some basic research on your items or by mistake you might sell something good at a giveaway price.  After a while, pricing becomes easier as you learn more about what you are selling and about your customers interests and requirements. Research has become incredibly easy with access to millions of references on the Internet.  Before the Internet was widely available, most traders gleaned their knowledge from books, particularly annual price guides such as Millers and also collectors' clubs and specialist magazines like Collect it!.  There are also collectors' clubs for pretty much everything from egg cups to cruet sets, Sylvac to Moorcroft pottery.  Collectors' clubs can be a great source of information particularly on rare or unusual pieces and be a ready market for buying such items. 

Nowadays, the Internet is an incredible resource to research the background and history of items, as well as their value.  Hard copy annual price guides usually take/highest a high price achieved at auction in the preceding year or two on each illustrated item.  So, it is not real time information and from my experience, the given price is rarely achieved at fairs and markets. But it is a starting point and an upper guideline on price.

Online auctions give you real time information on recently traded items, giving you a really good insight into potential price.  If something interests you but you don't want to buy it, you can "watch" the item and see its selling price.  Of course, selling in your local vintage market does not give you access to a global audience,  so the online price might be a lot higher than you can achieve at your stall.  Do consider when using the internet auction sites or price guides that the item's condition, backstamp or maker's mark, colourway or pattern can make big differences to price.  Your item might look the same, but even a small difference in design or colour can affect its value to a collector.

Other seller's sites on the Internet will give you a feel for style and pricing - Facebook features a plethora of amazing vintage and antiques businesses here in the UK.  I follow a number and if they have a website, take a look at those as well.  Some of my favourite pages are Goose Home and Garden (  and Winter's Moon (

There are numerous specialist books and guides out there covering silver, pottery, glass, costume and precious jewellery, toys, books, furniture and textiles.  Start to build up your own reference library of books which will help you identify and value your stock. Many books focus on the history, design and production of items - pricing is not always mentioned.  Background reading gives richness and depth to your knowledge and develops your eye for beautiful pieces.  Anyone who loves vintage and antiques is sure to be interested in the history and provenance of your best pieces.   Some sellers give a flavour of this by putting some description and history on their price labels - this is a great idea, if you have the time to do it.  If there is any original paperwork or packaging with any piece on your stall, do keep this with the item - such as the original box for a toy or the original sales receipt with a vintage dress.  This is valuable social history and adds to the value of the piece.

There are some simple ways of working out pricing if you want to take a more systemised approach. I have a simple rule of thumb and try to at least double the asking price on what I paid for something. But often the multiples are much higher - even an item purchased for a £1 and sold for £10 is a great return on investment.  Bigger items can bring you great profit margins - an old table bought for £20 and then painted and waxed might sell for £120.  There is scope to do very well on furniture, if you are able to restore and update old pieces. With the current trend for painted furniture, I know several traders who buy up very ordinary looking brown furniture and work magic with paint and wax to create a very desirable interior piece.   For inspiration take a look at Harriet's Attic (

You will need a large vehicle to transport furniture, storage and a workshop space to make the transformations - not ideal, if you live in a flat!  Bear in mind the costs incurred for materials and time involved in doing any work on pieces.  This will cut into your profits - sometimes it is easier to leave something unrestored and let someone else have the fun of doing it up. 

Some traders are quite happy to sell a lot of items with a small profit margin - this relies on two things.  Firstly, being able to buy a stream of items at a good price that will sell quickly; secondly, to trade at enough events to generate the sales and to keep trading costs such as stall fees low. This involves a lot of leg-work  to keep stock replenished,  but it is a lower risk strategy than having all your money tied up in a few expensive pieces if you are just starting out.    I try to have a range of stock across a wide price range to appeal to all pockets.  In the current economic climate, even affluent people are thinking twice about what they spend and many people limit themselves to a budget when they go to fairs.  If you do have very expensive pieces, be prepared to have them for a while.  If you can afford to do this and wait to get your price, then no problem.  Upgrading to better pieces that command higher prices is a good aim to have, as you learn more and find the fairs attracting the specialist or high-spending customers. 

You will begin to develop a gut feel for pricing - this will come from a combination of seeing other traders' prices, Internet and offline research, price guides and information in magazines such as BBC Homes and Antiques Homes and Antiques is a fantastic magazine - great for highlighting trends and fashions in interiors and with useful price guide, collectors features, places to visit and buy antiques,  reviews of fairs, even a Sale and Wanted column. (  

Other inspirational magazines and where you can get a feel for prices are Country Living ( and Country Homes and Interiors ( interiors).  Both have superbly-photographed features about decorating with vintage and antique items - good for getting your eye in on current trends and pricing information.  I have stacks of these magazines and constantly use them for reference and inspiration.  There are a lot of new magazines picking up on the vintage trend including Pretty Nostalgic (, Vintage Life ( and several others. 

Auction houses are another source of intelligence on pricing.  Auction houses have valuation desks where you can take in items to get an idea of auction value. If this is for insurance purposes, auction houses will charge for this service.  But if you are considering selling the item at auction, you may be able to get a free valuation and some basic background information.  Bear in mind that the auction is the equivalent of buying wholesale so the auction price may not be what you sell the item on for.  Normally, you would hope to achieve a better price.  The BBC TV show, Bargain Hunt, is rather confusing on this aspect.  Here people buy items at fairs and sell at auction, with the aim of generating a profit.  This rarely happens, proving the point that auctions tend to generate lower priced items than fairs.  There are exceptions, but watch the show and see how it works.

Pricing is often about trial and error.  We all make mistakes - the item that flew off your stall with dealers competing to buy it, is quite possibly an example of something that was priced too cheap.  A while back I sold a beautiful pressed glass dish with sea creatures on it for a few pounds at a little local fair - the same dish turned up in a local antiques shop for £90.  Ultimately, it might not have sold for that price, but they got a great buy from me, all the same.

If you sell to the trade, you have to accept that they will sell on and make a further profit.  This is the antiques and vintage "circle of life".  Many traders are happy to make their profit on something, knowing that the trader who bought it will also make a profit.  Some will even buy at a fair from you and then put the item on their stall at a higher price straight away.  On Ebay this is known as "flipping" - and can bring a nice quick return.  I have friends who regularly buy at a boot sale and by the time they go home, have "flipped" most of their bargain purchases!    Traders love to sell to each other - hence the old joke about two traders on a desert island selling the same thing back and forth between them.  Things can pass through many hands before ending up in a private home.  Most fairs bring a mixture of trade and private customers - you will soon learn the difference. 

Like most things in the antique and vintage business, pricing is trial and error and you will learn by experience and making a few mistakes.  In the next chapter, I will talk about selling and about "knowing your customer".

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