AuctionBytes Feature Profile: Antiques Expert Terry Kovel of Kovels.com
By Greg Holden
I inherited my love of antiquing and scouring flea markets and garage sales from my mother. She learned all she knew about antiques from books such as the Kovel's Price Guides. In fact, she asked for a new Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide every Christmas.
She was hardly alone. Since 1953, when Ralph and Terry Kovel published their first book Dictionary of Marks: Pottery & Porcelain, several generations of collectors, dealers, and hobbyists have enjoyed learning about antiques and collectibles from the husband and wife team. Until Ralph's death in 2008, the couple published 97 books in all.
Today, at age 81, Terry Kovel just laughs at the word "retired." She's quite busy on many fronts. When I spoke with her, she had just returned from an appearance on a television show hosted by comedian Tim Conway. Two years after Ralph's death, she is not only coping but thriving.
"We've always had lots of "getting used to things," she chuckles. "Now, we're getting more and more into the world of the Internet, which is changing all the time. I've never seen my publisher face-to-face. My daughter, Kim, is now my partner; she has an MBA and is computer-savvy. We're just getting ready to release a new website. We've remodeled everything. It'll have lots and lots of free information; we feel the website really is an information source, and with the Web, everything is free."
The new website features a dictionary of marks on pottery and porcelain as well as silver and other items. There's also a discussion board where collectors can post questions about objects they've found or other items of interest. That's what Kovels is all about: providing an accurate, up-to-date information resource for dealers, collectors, and anyone interested in prices and identification of antiques and collectibles. It doesn't host auctions or sell items itself, like the best-known player in the industry.
"We must get a letter once a week about eBay," says Kovel. "The one sure way to get people to respond to my blog is to mention eBay. That always seems to result in complaints and discussion."
On the whole, eBay has been a help rather than a hindrance, says Kovel. "When eBay came along, nobody thought it would make much difference. But it was a huge plus for us. Our books had sold well before. But between Antiques Roadshow and eBay, things really took off. Before those two shows, no one had thought about us the way they do now. To this day, people say to me, "I saw you on the Roadshow," and the fact is, I've never been on the Roadshow. They ask me about eBay, and in fact I know very little about it."
She acknowledges that eBay isn't the powerhouse it once was. She has also seen a change in the marketplace, though that may be due as much to the economic downturn rather than changes at eBay. "eBay used to invite us to meetings, and they were clear in that they liked the collectibles because it brought them the cars. When you have a lot of something to sell instead of one of a kind, it's easier."
The state of collecting is "funny right now," Kovel comments. "As far as I can tell, if you own the best mechanical bank in the world, you will get a record price. There is always a collector with money. The bottom of the market is busy with people buying things to furnish their homes inexpensively. But the middle is lagging." Lately the antiques and collectibles market has been showing clear signs of improvement, she adds.
eBay figures prominently in a special report Kovel is expecting to finish later this summer - a report on what she sold on eBay and other venues when she tried to get rid of some of her husband's possessions. She may be an antiques expert, but that doesn't make her an expert in actually selling those antiques. "The report will describe what I sold and when I sold it, and describe what kinds of problems I got into. I lost my shirt on one item, and got more than I expected on another. I never was a dealer. I am an appraiser. This was the first time I ever sold antiques."
She discovered, for instance, from trying to sell off her husband's wardrobe that men's used clothes don't sell well. Age 81, it turns out, is hardly too old to learn something new. "It would have been better to give those clothes to charity," she says. "It's a learning experience, like anything."
You can keep up with Terry Kovel on the Kovels.com website, where you'll find a wealth of resources including the Collector's Price Guide.
In the second part of this profile, Terry Kovel will look back at her early years with her husband Ralph as an antiques and collectibles appraiser, and how they built their career writing price guides and other books.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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