Flipping Antiques – Buying Low to Sell High

It’s been twelve months now, since I started selling antiques online as a hobby and a small sideline to make myself some money. The image of the struggling artist or writer might look very romantic, but it’s not very practical! Fed up with not having any serious money coming in, I embarked on this as a way to keep myself busy and make something on the side at the same time. So how did I get into this? And how can you? And what sort of things do you need to be mindful of when buying things to resell, and selling antiques and vintage things online?

I’ve already done an article on the actual process of listing and selling items, so if you’re looking for that, click here.

if not, then read on, and hopefully you’ll pick up something from the insights gained after a year of flogging antiques and bric-a-brac.

Buying Low to Sell High

Buying low to sell high (or higher, at least) is how people have been making money on almost anything and everything since the dawn of civilisation. So, where and how do you, as a picker and flipper of antiques, get in on all this?

In order to be at least moderately successful in flipping antiques, you need to be able to spot a bargain. You need to be aware of what prices items usually sell for, and how much you can reasonably expect to make from something. You also need to be able to gauge what sorts of things people will be chasing after online, and how to market your things towards this group of people.

Visit places like flea-markets, garage sales, charity or thrift-shops, and similar places to find good bargains. Search online, visit antiques shops and websites like eBay, to gauge prices and see how much something might generally sell for, and the prices that people ask for their items. This will give you a good idea of what prices are considered bargains, what you might reasonably expect to sell something for, and what prices might be considered a ripoff!

What & What Not to Buy

When trying to flip antiques and make money on them, it’s extremely important to know what, and what not to buy. This will be determined by factors such as price, rarity, condition, size, age and various other things. You need to be aware of what things are selling, and what aren’t, why, and why not.

It’s my experience that the successful sale of antiques works best if you confine yourself to three or four broad areas of interest, and that venturing out of these areas is done at your own risk! So, what are these areas?

When selling antiques, you should look for items which are usefulunusual or interesting, or cheap. Anything outside of these categories can be risky to sell, and you purchase these items for resale at your own risk!

So, what am I talking about? Let’s go through them in detail.

Selling Things Which are Useful

When selling antiques, it’s best to sell antiques which people are likely to find useful. It’s no use selling something which a person can only stare at, and appreciate from afar, or from behind a glass panel. Some people might like stuff like this, and yes you can sell stuff like that, but the fact that you can’t use an item limits who you can sell it to. Most items are expensive enough without also having to pay for them to be serviced. This is one reason why things like antique pocket watches are often huge money-pits.

Antiques which are useful and which can be used on a regular basis are ones which are likely to sell, because people can see them, appreciate them, and also put them to good use. They’re not just cute decorative objects which do nothing but take up space and collect dust. Antique clocks, sewing machine, cigarette lighters, and various types of metalware generally fall into this category. Hard-wearing objects designed to look nice, but also take a significant daily beating.

Selling Things which are Unusual or Interesting

Along with antiques which are useful or functional, another broad area where antiques tend to sell well, are ones which are either unusual, odd or interesting. People like owning something which is out-of-the-ordinary, whacky, weird, or otherwise unusual. These thhings draw attention, and are also great conversation-pieces! That said, these things will only sell if people can appreciate their unusual nature, or if the seller (you!) knows what the item is, what its purpose is, and how it works.

Weird and unusual things either sell pretty quickly, because people love how whacky they are, or they can sit for ages, because nobody knows what they are! It’s sort of a double-edged sword, so approach this area of buying for resale with caution. You might end up with loads of extremely interesting things which nobody is interested in!

Selling Things which are Cheap!

This one is tricky. What is ‘cheap’ from one person to another is highly relative, and one person’s ‘cheap’ could be another person’s ‘expensive’. Buying things cheaply to sell them at a healthy profit requires a lot of knowledge and experience, though. You need to be able to spot a bargain and know that something being sold for a low price could, if you play your cards right, be flipped for a high price. It’s not always easy, but it can be done. Just don’t get too greedy!

For example, if you buy something for $5.00 and you know it’s probably worth $150, then instead of trying to reach that high, try $100, or $70, or $50 instead. This will allow the potential buyer to get something which might be extremely expensive, at a relatively cheap price, while also giving you a healthy profit. It’s when you get too greedy and try to milk more out of the cow than it can give, that you’re liable to get stuck with merchandise you can’t move!

To Restore or Not to Restore?

Whether or not you restore something before you sell it can be a highly contentious issue in the antiques world. My gut-feeling is that one should follow what the experts do, and most antiques flippers and dealers who do this for more than a hobby tend to restore their antiques (if necessary or possible), prior to selling them.

“Doesn’t restoring antiques destroy their value?” I hear you ask.

Well yeah. If you have no idea what you’re doing, and you completely screw it up! But, if you’re a competent, careful and sympathetic restorer, then an antique in working condition can fetch a lot of money! And people will be more willing to pay a higher price on an antique if they know that it not only works, but that it’s been carefully cleaned, repaired, tested and put back together. Some people like buying things knowing that all the hard work has already been done for them. I flipped a $20 antique fire extinguisher for $100 all because I cleaned it and got it working again! Such things can happen if you know how to spot a bargain, and have a knack for fixing things.

Selling ‘Luxury’ Stuff

One of the hardest things to try and sell are ‘luxury antiques’. The really fancy, pretty, rare, fragile, old or expensive stuff. The problem with that is that most people don’t have buckets of money to blow on things that they don’t need. And if they are going to spend their money on antiques, then it has to be something useful, really weird or interesting, or it has to be pretty damn cheap!

There’s nothing wrong in getting a few luxury things like silver or jewelry or clocks or watches and trying to sell them, but don’t expect them to move fast, or make large profits – not unless you’re really lucky! Silver can move slowly depending on what it is, and watches and clocks can take ages! If you have a background or make a hobby of watch or clock-repair, you might be able to make a decent profit by fixing the timepiece yourself and selling it on, but if you have to pay someone else to do it – there goes all your profit!

Things like watches…even pocket watches…are extremely common. They might sell fast, but most people will not want to spend a great deal of money on them. One reason is the cost of repairs. The other reason is that because watches are so common, unless there’s something really special about them (a gold or silver case, a rare model, a really high-end piece, etc), there really isn’t the scarcity to make them worth more. Even in the antiques world, supply-and-demand still rules supreme!

Turning a Profit in Antiques

Flipping antiques for a profit can be a fun, if tricky game to play, for a number of reasons.

When you do decide to flip antiques for a profit, the important thing to consider is how you’re going to do it, what you can reasonably expect in return. As I’ve already explained, antiques can be hard to flip, for any number of reasons. Because of this, you need to be very careful in what you buy, how much you buy it for, and what you try and sell it for. Unless the price you’re asking is pretty darn cheap, more often than not, you won’t get what you actually asked for, since people will want to haggle and bargain with you.

If you’re comfortable with this (and it’s better if you are) then you can get a line of happy, satisfied, repeat customers. Being overly rigid on your prices and negotiations can and will make your stock sit…for weeks, and months, and sometimes even years!

Bought this three-piece silver condiment set at a local auction house and flipped it for five times what I paid for it. If you're a savvy flipper, you can make pretty decent profits on your antiques.

Bought this three-piece silver condiment set at a local auction house and flipped it for five times what I paid for it. If you’re a savvy flipper, you can make pretty decent profits on your antiques.

Because of this, you should never waste the opportunity to make a good sale, but at the same time, don’t pester people to buy your stuff. Let them make their own decisions. The only time this might be a problem, however, is when you have more than one person interested in a particular item.

It can be extremely frustrating watching two people umm-and-aah over something, trying to make up their mind, and then trying to figure out who has first-dibs on it! In instances like this, I really encourage people to either make up their mind really fast, ask me to officially reserve it for them while they make up their mind, or pass. Because leaving things hanging can lead to ugly confrontations later on. Unless it’s on eBay or something, a lot of online sales are done on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement, and if the other party doesn’t like acting like one…then you’ve got real problems!

Pricing Your Antiques

One of the harder things to do with selling antiques is knowing what to price them at. This can be pretty tricky since the values and the prices on antiques vary WILDLY depending on age, condition, manufacture, condition, geographical location, condition, materials, condition, rarity and of course…condition!

The longer you shop around, visit antiques shops, bargain, haggle and stick your nose in all over the place, the sooner you’ll learn what a bargain is, and what a reasonable price might be to charge for your antiques. Part of it is up to you, and part of it is determined by what other people sell their items for. The more you look around, the more you’ll learn what a reasonable price is.

That’s not to say that what other people sell their antiques for is the correct price, and that’s not to say that what you sell your antiques for is correct, either. It’s a matter of each seller’s personal circumstances, and the nature of the item being sold.

The most important thing with flipping your antiques is making sure you can do it for a decent percentage of the purchase-price. Anywhere from 125-200% thereof. Anything less really isn’t worth it, unless the item is really hard to sell, or if you’ve had it for ages and just want to have a fire-sale to get rid of everything!

Making a Sale

I’ve already written a post about selling antiques online in general, so I won’t cover too much here in my last segment, except to say that when you do make a sale online, you should always try and tempt the buyer with whatever other stock you have for sale. Don’t just close the deal, take the money and run – take a few minutes to find out what your customer likes, what he or she collects, what they find interesting – and tempt them with similar items that you might have. For all you know, you might land two or three sales for the price of one, move loads of stock and get fat profits in the process!

Knowing how to sell and how to tempt and interest your customers is part of being able to move your things fast and make healthy profits on the things you buy. Being stubborn and pernickity will cause sales to stall, for people to lose interest, and for you to start losing money! So be patient when you have to be, and fast-thinking when you need to be, to find good bargains and make good sales.





Sterling Silver Geo. V pillbox by Deakin & Francis (1913).

I picked this up today after attending an appointment across town this morning. I had some time to kill and I found it in one of the local charity shops.

It’s an adorable little sterling silver pillbox, made in Birmingham in 1913 (or at least it was assayed in Birmingham in 1913). I think it’s just adorable. The bordering on the lid, the engraving, and the curly ‘R.W’ initials on the lid just scream the Edwardian era – a truly stylish and glamorous period of history!

Dent-Removal on Antique Silverware

The box was rather badly damaged when I got it – there were two or three nasty dings on the edge of the lid, and one very sharp dent on the side, near the bottom of the box. Fortunately, careful pressing, rolling and a modicum of hammering with a suitably-shaped, suitably-sized object managed to beat out the worst of the dents, so that it looks almost as good as new! There are a couple of microscopic dimples still there, but the end result I achieved is good enough!

Removing dents on antique silverware can be challenging, and for a number of reasons. How easily a dent can be removed generally depends on where the dent is located, and how bad it is. Generally speaking, dents on edges, corners and bases are tricky – and anything which is overly angled or curved is a real pickle!

The good news about removing dents on antique silver is that silver is a soft metal.

The bad news about removing dents on antique silver is that silver is a soft metal.

That means that dents – provided you can get a tool in there and work on it properly – are usually easy to remove, pop out and smooth over. The problem is that because silver is a soft metal, deforming it, over-pressing, cracking, or even ripping a hole right through the silver, is a real danger! Especially if the silver used is of an especially thin gauge!

I’ve removed the dents on a fair few pieces of antique silver in my time, and I’ve generally been successful. I’ve never destroyed a piece, but removing dents is something which is relative. Unless you’re a professional, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever remove the dent entirely – but it is possible to greatly lessen the impression of a dent, almost to the point of invisibility, if you work on it with patience and care.

Generally speaking, to remove dents in silver it’s not actually necessary to ‘hammer out’ a dent. More often than not, the generally accepted procedure is to ‘press out’ a dent – put something hard and of the right size and shape on the underside of the dent – and using ordinary pressure – simply smooth and force the dent out by hand. In most cases, this is sufficient to pop or smooth the dent out and improve the appearance of a piece of silverware significantly.

Only apply actual hammering or whacking if simple pressing really really doesn’t work! At any rate, the end result is extremely pleasing, and it’s the perfect little place to put my peppermints in!

Who Made It?

The maker’s mark of (D)&(F) (Deakin & Francis) was clear and easily read. Apparently they were quite prolific silversmiths, and appear to have made a wide range of items, dating back to the 1780s. According to this website, they’re still around today! All I can say is, they seem to make beautiful things, if this little pillbox is anything to go by!