Quarantine Series: Collectables

Well, we are already a week into our second lockdown and we’ve been busy fixing up The Barn, and bringing in lots of new pieces. We will start to update new arrivals soon. The three attached photos are of pieces that just arrived. But for now, back to the quarantine series as we are quarantining again.

In a previous post I wrote about the collapse of the antique market, but I only touched on collectables or collectibles. I looked it up and both spellings are correct. Isn’t English a crazy language? Many antique stores used to be called antique and collectible shops. This post will delve a little deeper into the collectibles market.

A collectible by definition is obviously anything of which you form a collection. Many antique stores used to specialize in collectibles above everything else. That used to be a big part of the fun of antiquing. Antique hunters would go on trips in search of treasures to add to their collections. The internet has made collecting a lot less fun. It used to be a thrill to search high and low for a specific porcelain doll, or railroad lantern, or cow bell to add to your collection. These days you can just type whatever you collect into a search engine and you will see whatever you are looking for, aside from the rarest of items. The internet is certainly more convenient, but it has taken the romance out of the hunt. Most antique stores that specialized in collectibles went out of business many years ago, or have gone completely online.

The Barn used to be much more focused on antique furniture. Antique furniture is still our biggest seller, however these days we actually sell more collectables than we ever have. How do we do it? Simple, we buy in volume so we can undersell the internet. Check for yourselves, the next time you are in The Barn, look up a particular cup and saucer, or an oil lamp. You will quickly notice that our prices for collectables are lower than what you find online. In fact, we often sell pieces to customers who turn around and sell them online for a profit. This begs the question: Why don’t we sell our products online? The simple answer is, it’s just not what we do, or want to do. We don’t want to spend the majority of our day in front of a computer screen, and deal with all of the hassles associated with selling online. We prefer the hassles we already have. Plus we like being a brick and mortar store. Or in our case a wood and nails store.

Many antique stores used to specialize in collectables for two main reasons. One, you need a much smaller space than if you sell primarily antique furniture. And two, there is a lot less physical labour involved. Many of our best purchases over the years have come about because other antique dealers didn’t want to do all the physical labour and work involved in moving large furniture. Every estate is different, however speaking as someone who has emptied many houses of their contents, I can attest that it is a lot of work.

Most collectables like most antiques have dropped in value significantly from their highs of decades past. But some items have increased in value. If you collect comic books your collection has appreciated over time significantly. We get people in The Barn every week searching for old advertising signs, when we are not in lockdown that is. The prices for vintage or antique advertising just keep going up.

On the other hand if you collected porcelain dolls or wicker prams the prices have collapsed. Tastes have changed over the years. There was a time when you couldn’t buy a wicker pram for under $500 and most sold for significantly more. I can’t remember the last time a customer even asked for a wicker pram, I’m sure it has been years. And yes, people used to collect prams. We used to carry porcelain dolls and they sold like hotcakes, not anymore. Now we don’t even carry them.

These days the most popular collectable items we sell are cups and saucers. We always have at least two china cabinets full. We have a dozen or more hard core cup and saucers junkies who come in at least a couple of times a month to see the latest arrivals. They rarely leave empty handed. One of the interesting things about cups and saucers, that is common to most collectables, is that the more expensive ones sell faster than the cheaper ones. The more expensive collectables are generally rare and collectors snap them up right away. The average more common pieces tend to sit around longer.

Here are some examples of our customers collections that we have heard about recently: mustache cups, miniature tea sets, bells of all types, anything owl related, gramophones, matchboxes, egg coddlers, oil lamps, CN Railway items, anything with a picture of a beaver on it, Tiffany lamps, wool winders, mason jars, sock stretchers, butter dishes, and sap buckets. Those are all collectables that customers have asked about recently. We even have a customer who collects four poster canopy beds. Seriously, he has an entire barn full.

If you feel like starting a collection, miniatures is a good way to go. They are inexpensive and don’t take up a lot of room. We always have a china cabinet dedicated to miniatures at the Barn. I could write a list of all the items we have in stock that are collectible. But that would be pointless, you can collect just about anything. Collectors usually have a great appreciation for the things they collect. And you can see the passion they have for their collections when you talk with them. Some of our customers are so knowledgeable about their collections that they teach us about the items they are buying. Who knows, maybe you are reading this and have never collected anything. One day you could be coming to The Barn to get your fix and add to your collection. But I would recommend something smaller that canopy beds.