Selling Antiques to an Antique Shop

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Several times per week, people bring things into Shady Lawn Antiques to see if we are interested in purchasing them. When these interactions are complete, I don’t give them another thought.  

The bottom line is: If I like an item, I buy it. If I don’t like it, then I don’t buy it. It recently occurred to me that it might not be that simple, especially from the individual seller’s point of view.

It is often hard for people to even decide to sell their things, especially family pieces. Then, when shop owners/dealers say they are not interested, it might even be mentally harder for them. It is as if something that an individual thought was good (and memories and emotions are often involved) is of no value.

This may be true in some cases. However, most items have value, but they are just not of interest to a shop owner who may already have enough of those pieces in inventory. So it is a matter of individual sellers finding a shop that would like their items and understanding that no two antique shops are the same.

Antique shops have unique looks and feels and their inventories are also different. In fact, the definition of antique is probably different at each shop, reflecting the owner’s interests, passions and personality. Therefore, all shop owners have different visions of the inventory that they would like to purchase.

That being said, there are a few ways to improve your chances of selling your things to an antique shop. Briefly stated, just try to minimize the reasons for the shop owner to say no.

Shop owners are most likely to say that they are not interested if they are busy, if it takes too long to look at the items or if the items are dirty. So it is best to approach the shop owner on a slower day or time, such as weekday mornings. Weekends are always the busiest and customer service is our number one priority. Rather than being distracted, I will often give individual sellers’ items a cursory glance or just say that we are not buying at the current time.

Further, I have found it helpful when someone calls ahead to talk about bringing something in. It helps me schedule a time that is best for both of us. It also gives me an opportunity to think about the item(s) that they are bringing in, especially if they are unusual.

The more time that a dealer thinks that it will take to look at items, especially smaller items, they are more likely to say that they are not interested. Fragile items are a particular problem because they need to be wrapped up to be safely transported. It is then hard for the dealer to get a quick sense of what the items are. Few shops have the space to unwrap and look at several boxes of items.

One solution is to pack items loosely, with bubble wrap, one layer deep in a box. The dealer can see through the plastic wrap well enough to see if the items deserve a closer look. It is also good to pack similar items together, especially pairs of items.

Perhaps the best solution to this problem was presented by a woman with four boxes of fine 1880-90s Victorian era silver and glassware. She took a picture of each item before she wrapped and packed it. She was then able to show me pictures of each piece. I essentially “bought” everything before she even brought the boxes into the shop.  

Clean items also sell better than dirty items for several reasons. Shop owners can never tell how well dirty pieces will clean up and it is easier to assess clean items for damage. Clean items can also be made ready for sale more quickly and that could be the factor that encourages the shop owner to purchase them.

All of this also applies to selling smaller pieces of furniture (that can be taken to a shop). When the pieces are too large to easily move, take some pictures to show to the shop owners. They will want to see an overall view, a couple of interesting details, and any flaws or damage. Don’t expect a firm offer until the dealer can see the furniture in person.

Furniture falls into a wide variety of different sizes, styles and design eras. Some shop owners are total generalists—meaning that they don’t specialize in specific styles or eras. Others, such as Shady Lawn, have more specific furniture characteristics in mind. For example, we prefer oak furniture that is about one hundred years old.

Size matters, too. While we have room for large cabinets and pieces of furniture, other shops may have more limited space. On the other end of the size spectrum, small, fragile rocking chairs have extremely limited appeal so we don’t purchase them. It might seem that antique furniture would be the easiest thing to sell. However, you will likely have to contact several shops before you find one that is interested in yours.

Keep in mind that some of your antique items may have limited retail potential. Unfortunately, there is nothing that you or the shop owner can do about that.

Sadly, you may apply all of the suggestions outlined above and still not be able to sell your item(s). But at least you know that you gave it your best effort. 

Dave Emigh and his wife Jill are the owners of Shady Lawn Antiques in Walla Walla, WA, perfectly located in the 1870s wood frame creamery buildings that Dave’s great-grandfather purchased in 1897. A professionally trained woodworker, Dave, along with his son Nick, specializes in the restoration of oak furniture. In its 25th year, Shady Lawn has become a regional destination for oak furniture and is also known for its well-curated displays of country, rustic and rare and unique “small” antiques. Glimpses of the ever-changing Shady Lawn inventory can be seen on Facebook and at

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