EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2320 - June 30, 2010     3 of 3

Terry Kovel Shares Five Lessons on Collecting and Selling

By Greg Holden

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When you and I first got interested in antiques and collectibles, we had a head start. I, for one, went with my parents to garage sales and flea markets. And all of us had price guides to tell us what brands were considered "rare," and that provided estimated prices or many brands and models. Whether it was baseball cards or fountain pens, I remember scanning such books for hours, learning about different varieties and makers.

When Terry Kovel and her husband Ralph started collecting, they didn't have any reference books. They went on to write nearly 100 such guides, including the bestselling Kovel's Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide, which has been published each year since 1968. But at first, they followed their own interests and what they discovered close at hand.

"We started out with English porcelain, when we first got married," she recalls. "Like every other well-mannered college girl of the day, I got Williamsburg reproductions. Since then I've morphed into American art pottery. Since I live in Ohio, I'm in the perfect spot for it. I discovered those vases sitting in my mother's garage were Rookwood, for instance. When I went to summer camp, as a girl, I worked in a shop were I made silver jewelry. I didn't know at the time that I was making art deco jewelry; that's what everybody made. Today I collect that same silver modernist jewelry from the 1950s."

Hearing about how Terry Kovel became one of the nation's foremost authorities on antiques and collectibles is interesting for those who are already in the field. But for anyone who buys and sells online, many lessons can be learned from the development of her business with her husband.

Lesson 1: Collect what you love.
Collecting should be fun, and it certainly was for the Kovels in the early days. "My husband was in the food business for many years," says Kovel. "He owned a company that made salad dressing, and he was an officer at Sara Lee for many years. He made a fully outfitted grocery store in the basement just for fun. He collected labels and food products of all sorts."

Lesson 2: Collect what fits your lifestyle and your house.
That's how the Kovels started in Cleveland, Ohio. "It was an advantage that we were not in New England, which is entirely different market than the rest of the country. In the 1950s you were seeing furniture that came down through five generations, and at that time, no one wanted grandpa's old stuff. That was the view: old was only for the poor. We went to the house sales because they were everywhere. At the time you could find an 18th-century figurine for $5. We did house sales to start with, then some fundraising shows, then a few really good shows. We were never interested in New York antique shows and high end things. That didn't fit in my lifestyle. Everybody buys what goes in their house."

Lesson 3: Do what you love.
When the Kovels started writing in 1950, Ralph's father asked them why they were wasting their time doing a book on antique marks and shapes. But they weren't discouraged. "I never took an art course or a math course," says Kovel. "But I think like a mathematician. I can categorize things. That seemed to work for us." They sent their first book to a local book dealer, who sent it to a friend in New York, who send it to a publisher who bought the book. "We've never been rejected on a book," says Kovel.

Lesson 4: You're never too old to learn to sell online.
It might surprise you to know that one of America's best-known antiques authorities doesn't know much about eBay. In fact, she didn't sell a thing on eBay until her husband Ralph died in 2008. Afterwards, she turned to the online marketplace to sell off some of Ralph's belongings. "When I looked behind a set of shelves in his office, the first thing I found was some World War I posters. I had to sell a lot of his things to which I had no emotional attachment."

Lesson 5: Even the experts can't tell when it comes to selling on eBay.
Later this summer, Kovel plans to publish a special report on her website detailing her eBay experience. "I'll report on what I sold, when I sold it, and what kinds of problems I got into," she says. "I lost my shirt on one item, and I got more than I expected on another. I never was an antiques dealer. I am an appraiser. That was the first time I ever sold antiques."

These days, Terry Kovel still goes hunting for antiques at the group of shops 10 minutes away from her home. She sees a bright future for the collectibles business.

"You can't kill it," she declares. "We're like squirrels looking for the best nuts. The ones who collect the best nuts are the ones who will survive. Collecting is a great lifestyle. It's family oriented. We used to take our kids to all the shows. You are supposed to use your brain when you get old, and that's what I do with research and doing books. If you go to a flea market, you get a lot of exercise, you meet a lot of nice people, and it's a great event - except for the food."

See Part 1 of Greg Holden's interview with Terry Kovel in this June 6th feature article, and visit the Kovels website here.

About the Author
Greg Holden is AuctionBytes 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.


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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