Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mid century atomic clock plus the art and science of pricing

I've said it here before. Sometimes you visit four thrift stores in one day and find nothing. Other days you find nothing...except something like this. It's a mid century atomic style clock, like the George Nelson ones that everyone so loves. This one is by Seth Thomas, so a period knock-off of sorts. It's still quite a nice thing and I paid very little for it since even the reproduction Nelson clocks go for several hundred to a thousand dollars each.


I debate sometimes whether I ought to share pricing; what I paid for things I mean. On the one hand, I don't want people who visit my little shop to be offended by my marking up items I find in thrift stores and consignment stores. On the other hand, I do spend quite a lot of time and gas thrifting. I visit stores around 50 miles away on a fairly routine basis looking for mid century pieces. And then I spend even more time looking in books and at auction results and at other websites to identify the things I find. Then I spend time and effort and supplies cleaning up the things I find. They are almost always dirty. Wood is dry. Silver is tarnished. All that is worth something.


When I first started looking at vintage items, I started with the DC Big Flea. At the time, I was more into Art Deco objects than Mid Century, but there was a nice older gentleman (and I don't use that term lightly) who consistently had such interesting objects at such very reasonable prices. And over the years, I bought many things from him. 


I asked him once why his prices were so reasonable. And what he told me has stuck with me all these years. What he said was that 1) he felt he should pass along whatever bargains he was able to find and 2) that if the objects were affordable, he might inspire a love of them in all sorts of people, letting them own a little piece of good design and of history. It might sound very romantic, but the concept appealed to me. As a result, the way I price my items owes much to him.

Forgive the south side of the north facing elephants. I didn't notice until I'd dismantled the staging.
This clock, for example, was priced at $21 at a consignment shop in Middleburg. If I decide to sell it (and that is by no means certain at this point), it will be priced at $87. I will need to buy a battery and a specially-sized box. I'll use a dozen or so feet of bubble wrap to protect it during shipping. There is a scuff or two on the wooden spokes that I'll need to take some steel wool to, probably using a mixture of mineral oil and mineral spirits. It takes about an hour to get to Middleburg. I hit five stores that day and came up with three other small, rather more unremarkable though still nice items.

My typical markup is four times whatever I paid plus $2-3 to cover the cost of specially sized boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, paper and ink, plus insurance on those items that are fragile. I do sometimes add or subtract a few dollars here and there beyond that so that pricing within my shop stays relatively consistent or if I find similar items for sale for less elsewhere.

I share this because I can't be everywhere or thrift everywhere, even at nearby stores. So folks can see what amazing pieces are to be had at what amazing prices if one visits regularly and develops a good eye. And if people don't want to visit thrift stores multiple times a week and spend time cleaning up their finds, they can visit places like Etsy to see what they can uncover there for just a bit more.

So there you are. I hope this inspires some people to go visit their local thrift and consignment stores. Of course one can buy new, but isn't the thrill of the hunt so much more fun?
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