Dealing with antique stores – a rant

Let me begin by saying that I love antique stores and I spend a considerable amount of time in them. While I don’t always buy, if I  see something I try to get a fair price. Browsing through the aisles looking for that unique, one of a kind item can be a very satisfying experience.

I was in a local antique shop the other day and I was impressed at the number of antique clocks offered for sale but the prices were, in my view, way out of line.

For example, a Gilbert Admiral time-only wall clock, that I bought in the fall of 2019 for a fraction of the $300 the store wanted was missing its decorative pendulum and was not running. $150 is a fair price with the original pendulum but at $300 it will stay on the wall of this shop for a long time. So, naturally, I passed on it.

My Gilbert Admiral with the calendar feature

I was drawn to another clock, a Japy Frere 4 glass brass-cased time and strike clock that was in running order. Japy Frere is a noted French maker of fine clocks. The price was a reasonable $125.

However, there were at least 3 things that concerned me about its condition and in my view, warranted a lower price. One, a visible chip in the bottom right corner of the front bevelled glass panel; two, the numbers 1 and 2 on the porcelain dial and that area of the chapter ring were smeared and unreadable (bad cleaning attempt) and three; the pendulum was a replacement. French 4-glass clocks generally have mercury-filled vials for the pendulum, not a plain American style pendulum.

As nice as it is to have a mercury pendulum they can be extremely hazardous. Go to this site for an explanation as to the purpose of a mercury pendulum. Most French clocks come with mercury filled glass vials while American crystal regulators most always come with nickle slug vial (or equivalent) pendulums

After pointing out the issues I said, how about $100 to which the proprietor replied, no! I countered with $115 and he still not budge on the price. I should have taken a photo of the clock but it looked very much like my Ansonia crystal regulator which cost more but it works, is in flawless condition and looks stunning.

Ansonia crystal regulator with open escapement

My wife replied that we might be back later but we did not return.

I have been in a lot of antique stores over the past 10 years and I would say my experiences have been largely positive. Just a day or two before that I bought a Wittner metronome for $15 from another store. The asking price was $29.95 but I negotiated a lower price after pointing out several deficiencies. I walked away happy and the proprietor likely still made a profit.

In 95% of the antique stores I have been in, including large antique malls, I generally have good success negotiating a price, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. I also know when to walk away if the price is not right (in my view). But, no matter how good a deal if a seller does not want to move on a price even a little bit, I am frustrated and walk away. As far as I am concerned the clock can stay on his/her shelf.

So here is my advice to antique shop proprietors.

  • Price aggressively and turn your inventory over frequently. Volume always wins over profit per item (there are always exceptions, of course).
  • Listen to the customers’ explanations as to why the price should be lower especially if they appear knowledgeable about the item and be prepared to give a little.
  • The item you are selling is not going anywhere unless you let it go. A bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush.
  • If your intent is to build regular clientele, customers are not going to return if they see the same items on the shelves at each visit.
  • The presentation of merchandise is everything. Often there is a very fine line between a junk shop and an antique store but items placed in a thoughtful setting always draw the eye and become more attractive to potential buyers.
  • Keep yourself educated concerning the values of items and sell accordingly. For example, prices on antique clocks have dropped dramatically in the past 3-5 years. A $330 clock will not sell if it otherwise sells for $150 or less elsewhere.
Antique shop in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia

The store in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) where I bought my Wittner metronome and other prized treasures over the years, embraces these practices. It is no wonder they are a vibrant and profitable antique business.