Buying/Collecting/Selling Civil War Artifacts - Profit vs Pleasure

Joined
Dec 13, 2017
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#1
I like collecting for pleasure, but it would also be cool to buy/sell some items to make enough money to buy more stuff! The best of both worlds!

As far as making a profit on buying/selling, it appears to me by what surface browsing I've done on listed and sold items, it looks like the best way a profit is made is by 'buying low' from a reputable dealer [a quality item being sold below market value] and selling high through an auction house.

There seems to be a pretty big gap between what items sell for from dealers and the prices being fetched by auction houses. That gap is the profit margin, and I am assuming this is how investors make a profit in buying and selling CW antiques.

One could also get lucky and find an estate sale but usually an auction house and appraisers are involved so chances of getting a good deal seem slim unless you bought a whole collection at a below market price.
 

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JAGwinn

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#2
That profit margin is to the auction house mostly. They exist on sellers fees and buyers premium. Buying low and selling high is the general rule for all classes of capitalism.
Making a business of selling genuine artifacts that have personal history is somewhat degrading to the participants of the actual events especially if family is still living.
I suggest that you manufacture facsimiles of treasured articles for sale to interested persons as placeholders in their collections until genuine articles are secured.
Speaking of genuine articles, they do become available after being 'filtered' through the ages as family becomes lost or disinterested in what they consider 'unknown heirlooms' or 'attic junk', the buying from a seller in this case is sporadic to say the least but less impacting on the moral issues.
By all means, if having obtained a genuine piece, effort should be made to locate descendants and at least let them know their family history.
After all, that is a part of Civilwartalk.

Mitsubushi Motors and Chrysler built a joint venture assembly plant here in Bloomington. We employed U.S. citizens 3,000 people and also about 800 Japanese technicians. These technicians usually stayed for 6 months and were rotated back to Japan as a new crew came in. Sort of a training facility for Japanese auto industry management in Japan.
A man in my Group, one day brought to work a Japanese silk flag that his mother had at home. It was taken from a dead soldier by her father on some island in the Pacific. It was beautiful, written on front and back in characters I assume was Japanese. This lad told me he was going to have “one of the japs tell him what it said”. I could see he had no compassion about the War nor about the feelings of the Japanese people we were working with.
I asked him not to do so and told him the flag was a religious article signed by the soldier’s family and was very much a personnel thing. To flaunt it in the face of these people would only generate bad feelings, especially if he showed it to a family member.
I don’t know what he did after that. I hope he followed my suggestion to forget about it and take it back home.
 
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Joined
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Messages
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#3
That profit margin is to the auction house mostly. They exist on sellers fees and buyers premium. Buying low and selling high is the general rule for all classes of capitalism.
Making a business of selling genuine artifacts that have personal history is somewhat degrading to the participants of the actual events especially if family is still living.
I suggest that you manufacture facsimiles of treasured articles for sale to interested persons as placeholders in their collections until genuine articles are secured.
Speaking of genuine articles, they do become available after being 'filtered' through the ages as family becomes lost or disinterested in what they consider 'unknown heirlooms' or 'attic junk', the buying from a seller in this case is sporadic to say the least but less impacting on the moral issues.
By all means, if having obtained a genuine piece, effort should be made to locate descendants and at least let them know their family history.
After all, that is a part of Civilwartalk.
Excellent points, all, JAGwinn and well-heeded. :smile:
 

christian soldier

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#4
Correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that investing in civil war items is not a very good investment anymore. A collecting friend of mine told me not to waste my money since the market for such items has bottomed out at this point in time. Is there any truth to this and if it is true would you continue to buy anyway? David.
 
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#5
I would suggest that you talk to a reputable dealer and ask them, all that I know is that a number of dealers that I have dealt with in the past have folded their tents and moved on; and many of the others are finding the going much more difficult than it once was.
 
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#6
Correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that investing in civil war items is not a very good investment anymore. A collecting friend of mine told me not to waste my money since the market for such items has bottomed out at this point in time. Is there any truth to this and if it is true would you continue to buy anyway? David.
I would think for those who have the money that now would be the time to buy nice CW collectables while the market has bottomed out. The market will eventually rise again.
 
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#7
The good dealers are still in business and have learned to adapt to the tastes of the younger collector, who have gravitated to WWII collectables, for the most part. Quality items, still hold their value, but the average and bottom have tanked as the available pool of buyers was drastically decreased. I do not believe that the market will rise much more than it already has due to the graying of the ACW collector. The value of WWII items are increasing much like the ACW item once was.
 
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#8
Timing is everything--10-20 years ago CW ephemera was red hot and there was very good money to be made but that well seems to have dried up, at least for the moment. I'm not sure if that heated market was because of public interest created by Burn's epic or movies like "Gettysburg" but it was real and one could find some niche items on general auction sites like Ebay at a good price, hold them a few years and resell them on specialized sites for very handsome profits. Those days appear to be over--temporarily I think.
I'm not sure the reason for the decline in value of these kinds of items, whether it is because there are so many "fake" items available and folks are afraid to invest or simply because of a lack of interest in the CW.
I would imagine there are a few folks out there that invested in CW collectibles that are holding some really expensive bags of near worthless items but for the most part, if the collectibles are authentic, those prices should eventually increase--how much they grow is anyone's guess.
 
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#9
I don't know about Civil War artifact collecting in particular, but I know about antique artifact collecting more generally, and I know a lot about Civil War timepieces. I have liquidated several major watch collections for other collectors over the years, acting more as a broker than a "dealer," and in the process I have learned a few things that are very likely relevant to this discussion.

In particular, dealer mark-ups and auction house fees make it very difficult for someone buying from professional dealers and selling through auction houses to realize a net profit, especially after inflation is accounted for. Dealer mark-ups vary a great deal, depending on how quickly a dealer thinks he can resell what you are offering him, and what his overhead is like. But if a dealer is really making a living at antique dealing, his mark-up will be considerable and his prices will be retail, not wholesale. Many will pay you only 50 cents or so on the dollar of what they think they can sell a piece for.

Auction house fees vary considerably as well, but most charge an auction fee to the seller as well as a buyer's premium, and both fees, regardless of what they are called, decrease what the consignor realizes on the sale. That's because, unless a mistake is made, buyers figure the buyer's premium into their total cost when deciding how much they are willing to bid. Sales taxes, depending on the state, just make matters worse. (If you'll be buying big-ticket items, get a reseller number.) So if the auction fee is X% of the hammer price, and the buyer's fee is Y% of the hammer price, and if no sales tax or other fees apply (e.g., catalog listing, insurance, shipping, etc.), then the fraction, F, of the total value of the sold item finding its way into the consignor's pocket is:

F = (100 - X)/(100 + Y)

So, for example, if X and Y are both 15%, and I've seen buyer's premiums as high as 25%, then the consignor realizes only 73.9% of the market value of the item.

In any collecting field, there are insiders, who are nearly all experts, and outsiders, who are everyone else. If you're an outsider, you stand little chance of having your collecting pastime be a rewarding "investment." It may well prove very "rewarding" for you, but not necessarily as an investment. This is only one important reason to specialize and to endeavor to be an expert on what you collect. Endeavor to know at least as much about the things you buy and sell as the people with whom you deal. Otherwise the playing field is tilted against you. But expertise doesn't come cheap. Normally it requires paying "tuition" in the form of time, effort, and yes, money. (In this, books are your friends. Books are cheap while mistakes are expensive. But books alone never contain all the information needed to be a successful collector.) And even if you are legitimately an expert in your field of collecting, it is best never to invest more than you can afford to lose.

Bottom Line: The only really good reason to own an historical artifact is that you enjoy owning it more than the money it costed you to own it, or that you could get for it if you sold it.
 

James N.

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#10
As far as making a profit on buying/selling, it appears to me by what surface browsing I've done on listed and sold items, it looks like the best way a profit is made is by 'buying low' from a reputable dealer [a quality item being sold below market value] and selling high through an auction house.

There seems to be a pretty big gap between what items sell for from dealers and the prices being fetched by auction houses. That gap is the profit margin, and I am assuming this is how investors make a profit in buying and selling CW antiques.
That's pretty much what I did with my "best" piece, a pedigreed Confederate foot officer's sword which I subsequently sold at auction a few years back along with another dozen pieces; here's the full story of my consignment experiences:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/my-adventures-consigning-my-sword-collection.114828/

Correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that investing in civil war items is not a very good investment anymore. A collecting friend of mine told me not to waste my money since the market for such items has bottomed out at this point in time. Is there any truth to this and if it is true would you continue to buy anyway? David.
I touch on that in my thread above too - unfortunately, at the time I chose to sell the market had already collapsed and I likely got 1/4 to 1/3 less than I would have only a couple of years earlier. Still, I can't really complain, since I only had $100-200 each in most of the items anyway.
 
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#11
I don't know about Civil War artifact collecting in particular, but I know about antique artifact collecting more generally, and I know a lot about Civil War timepieces. I have liquidated several major watch collections for other collectors over the years, acting more as a broker than a "dealer," and in the process I have learned a few things that are very likely relevant to this discussion.

In particular, dealer mark-ups and auction house fees make it very difficult for someone buying from professional dealers and selling through auction houses to realize a net profit, especially after inflation is accounted for. Dealer mark-ups vary a great deal, depending on how quickly a dealer thinks he can resell what you are offering him, and what his overhead is like. But if a dealer is really making a living at antique dealing, his mark-up will be considerable and his prices will be retail, not wholesale. Many will pay you only 50 cents or so on the dollar of what they think they can sell a piece for.

Auction house fees vary considerably as well, but most charge an auction fee to the seller as well as a buyer's premium, and both fees, regardless of what they are called, decrease what the consignor realizes on the sale. That's because, unless a mistake is made, buyers figure the buyer's premium into their total cost when deciding how much they are willing to bid. Sales taxes, depending on the state, just make matters worse. (If you'll be buying big-ticket items, get a reseller number.) So if the auction fee is X% of the hammer price, and the buyer's fee is Y% of the hammer price, and if no sales tax or other fees apply (e.g., catalog listing, insurance, shipping, etc.), then the fraction, F, of the total value of the sold item finding its way into the consignor's pocket is:

F = (100 - X)/(100 + Y)

So, for example, if X and Y are both 15%, and I've seen buyer's premiums as high as 25%, then the consignor realizes only 73.9% of the market value of the item.

In any collecting field, there are insiders, who are nearly all experts, and outsiders, who are everyone else. If you're an outsider, you stand little chance of having your collecting pastime be a rewarding "investment." It may well prove very "rewarding" for you, but not necessarily as an investment. This is only one important reason to specialize and to endeavor to be an expert on what you collect. Endeavor to know at least as much about the things you buy and sell as the people with whom you deal. Otherwise the playing field is tilted against you. But expertise doesn't come cheap. Normally it requires paying "tuition" in the form of time, effort, and yes, money. (In this, books are your friends. Books are cheap while mistakes are expensive. But books alone never contain all the information needed to be a successful collector.) And even if you are legitimately an expert in your field of collecting, it is best never to invest more than you can afford to lose.

Bottom Line: The only really good reason to own an historical artifact is that you enjoy owning it more than the money it costed you to own it, or that you could get for it if you sold it.
Thank you CW Watch Collector, there is a lot of good info here. I think when the battle smoke clears your line here says it all: "Bottom Line: The only really good reason to own an historical artifact is that you enjoy owning it more than the money it costed you to own it, or that you could get for it if you sold it."
 
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#12
Some very good replies and advice here - keep it coming! The best advice of all comes from CW Watch Collector:

"Bottom Line: The only really good reason to own an historical artifact is that you enjoy owning it more than the money it costed you to own it, or that you could get for it if you sold it."
 

James N.

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#13
... Bottom Line: The only really good reason to own an historical artifact is that you enjoy owning it more than the money it costed you to own it, or that you could get for it if you sold it.
This has been the guiding principle behind all my collecting; the profits I've made - like the occasional losses incurred - have all been incidental to the ownership of the items in question.
 
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#14
I agree. Like most things of value in life, profit comes at a price often higher than one is willing to pay in time, effort, investment. To become an expert in something takes a very long time. There has to be joy in what you do or collect or its not worth doing/collecting. I can honestly say this musket I bought is worth a lot more to me than what I paid for it because it's a piece of history and I can hold it in my hands and imagine what places it might have been.
 
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#16
I buy, sell, collect and trade militaria. I am strictly talking WWI and WWII. I have had a few Civil War items over the years. I do this because I love the items. I am not getting rich at it. That aside I do have some very valuable items. I don't do much foreign. Just not interested in it. I have had doing this, and when it is no longer fun I will sell it all off. If you want to make money buy low, sell it high. I do not get emotionally tied to the objects. I have survived fire and flood. I lost a lot. Someone else will own the items one day. I also know some very big dealers in militaria, I deliberately chose not do this solely for a living. it is a hobby only. You have to love the items and what they are. Never buy any item for the story, it is usually BS. Pickers are all wrong. Stories are usually just that without any documentation or proof and I don't trust COA's.
 

ucvrelics

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#17
Ive been mainly a digger and collector for 45 years, in the past few years I have started to sell and trade off some of my collection. As I have said before "You don't make money when you sell it, You make your money when you buy it" If I knew what I know now I would have bought every single CS Uniform, Flag, sword and plate that I could have gotten my hands on back in the 70's & 80's. Not only because I LOVE all things Confederate but their value today is a LOT more than it was then.

I had a piece I just sold for $455 that I paid $15 for back in 1982 now thats a Return on Investment.
 
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#18
If I may, concerning the use of auction firms to market Civil War collectibles, state that my experience with them has been very good. I used a well known firm to market a few items several years back and am completely satisfied with the results.
I met with the principal of the firm and let him choose the items I wanted to sell and he was very straightforward about what he believed would sell and what wouldn't. I released the items with no minimum bid requirements, in essence, gambling that I would make some profit--the transaction worked out well for me in the end.
I received an advance copy of the auction program and was pleasantly surprised with how the items were described and displayed in the slick promotional piece--thousands of items were up for bid and yet my items were well described as to content and condition. As a matter of fact, a large group of letters from a Union soldier were presented in such a professional manner, so well researched, it was obvious that someone from that auction house had, in a very short period of time, expertly produced a description that revealed the true essence of those letters and the soldier that wrote them. All of the items that I had submitted sold for well over twice the amount that I had paid and the letters went for six times my cost!
As I recall the fees for this sale were moderate and the transaction was very professional from start to finish and I felt the auction house was primarily responsible for maximizing my gain from these items. Thus, based on my positive experience, I would definitely recommend the use of professional auction firms but also would recommend that any seller do some research on those "houses" so as to choose vendor with some care. This was my only experience so I am certainly no expert but in my limited use of such firms, this was a winner.
 
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#19
If I may, concerning the use of auction firms to market Civil War collectibles, state that my experience with them has been very good. I used a well known firm to market a few items several years back and am completely satisfied with the results.
I met with the principal of the firm and let him choose the items I wanted to sell and he was very straightforward about what he believed would sell and what wouldn't. I released the items with no minimum bid requirements, in essence, gambling that I would make some profit--the transaction worked out well for me in the end.
I received an advance copy of the auction program and was pleasantly surprised with how the items were described and displayed in the slick promotional piece--thousands of items were up for bid and yet my items were well described as to content and condition. As a matter of fact, a large group of letters from a Union soldier were presented in such a professional manner, so well researched, it was obvious that someone from that auction house had, in a very short period of time, expertly produced a description that revealed the true essence of those letters and the soldier that wrote them. All of the items that I had submitted sold for well over twice the amount that I had paid and the letters went for six times my cost!
As I recall the fees for this sale were moderate and the transaction was very professional from start to finish and I felt the auction house was primarily responsible for maximizing my gain from these items. Thus, based on my positive experience, I would definitely recommend the use of professional auction firms but also would recommend that any seller do some research on those "houses" so as to choose vendor with some care. This was my only experience so I am certainly no expert but in my limited use of such firms, this was a winner.
Excellent, Chucksr, there is some hope rekindled in buying and reselling!
 
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#20
One just never knows how a market is going to go. While it may hold true a younger generation coming up may not find CW as attractive as WWI and WW2, , resurgences do happen.

I personally believe items with a rich history like American Civil War will appreciate in value over time, so to convert some assets into ACW relics seems not only a wise move, but one that can be fun and enjoyable as well.

As for diminishing demand, I am seeing some pretty high prices being paid recently for items in very good condition, particularly from some of the larger auction house listings, and there are quite a few of them. I'm also not seeing a lot of shops closing up, but I'm new at this, but time will tell.

I think if you start seeing places like Dave Taylors or Horse Soldier or Union Drummer Boy hanging up their spurs, there might be cause for worry the market is going belly up.
 



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