Victorian Tea Service

10 Things You Should Know about Selling your Antiques on Consignment

There comes a time in every one’s life that it is necessary to sell belongings – your own or someone else’s. Garage sales are one way but what if your stuff is of a better quality? You can sell direct to a dealer or you could might choose to consign your goods. Selling your antiques, or for that matter anything on a consignment  basis, has both pros and cons.

Victorian Tea Service
Victorian Tea Service

Let’s look at the benefits of consignment:

  • Consignment protects the price you want for the object – at least to start.
  • The dealer is more likely to accept items that they may not otherwise buy because there is no financial risk in taking them.  This is especially good when you have a variety of goods that may not generally appeal to a particular dealer.
  • You get the items you are selling out of the house quickly which is a benefit when time is of the essence.
  • Because the dealer works on a percentage basis (often 40-50%) it benefits them to get as good a price as they can for the item.
  • You can arrange to take back things if they are not selling for the price you like. (Do this no more than once or twice however or you may find yourself with all your goods returned.)
Antiques & Collectibles
Antiques and Collectibles often need new homes

Many  dealers won’t even consider consignment because of the amount of paperwork involved. A reputable dealer will have a contract for you to sign explaining the responsibilities of both parties. They will have a complete list of your items and the prices they will be asking for your goods. They will keep track of the price realized for each item and the date it was sold and they will have a structured payment plan.

Some cons: Many sellers won’t use consignment because it takes a lot of trust to leave all of your goods with someone who has not paid any money for them. I could tell you a scary story or two… It is important that the dealer be a reputable one, and someone who has been in business for years. A storefront also means that the owner may not as easily walk away from his business and leave you in the lurch.

Late 19th century porcelain chocolate set
Hand painted and gilt Victorian chocolate set by Nippon

So how do you protect yourself? Here are some things you need to find out:

  1. How long have they been in business? How long at this address?
  2. How long have they been doing consignment? Can they provide a referral from another consignment client?
  3. How long is the contract for? (Three months is the norm as most things sell in the first two weeks)
  4. What happens to items that don’t sell? How long do you have to pick up the items before incurring storage costs? (Important to know if you won’t be around at the end of the contract)
  5. Does the dealer negotiate a lower price in order to make a sale? How much lower? Is there a standard percentage? (Some dealers have a standard 10% for negotiations and this is often built into the price).
  6. Is there a cost for researching the value of items?
  7. Can I change my mind if I decide I don’t want to sell an item? Is there a penalty for doing this?
  8. Is there a cost associated with getting the items ready for sale (cleaning, repair). How much per hour?
  9. How often do you pay out money owed to a consignor? Just at the end of the contract (risky) or some time in the middle of the contract?
  10. When can you expect to get a copy of the complete file?
Fancy antique Victorian milk jug
Fancy antique Victorian milk jug

A reputable dealer will be able to answer all these questions and explain other things you should know before consigning your goods.

Don’t abuse the dealer. I had some clients that brought in items to consign and would “change their mind” after they found out what the value of the object was. It did not take long to realize that what they wanted was a free appraisal.

It’s also a good idea to visit the store once in a while to see how your items have been displayed and how they have been selling. Vigilance keeps everyone honest and a reputable dealer will not mind at all. As long as both the seller and consignor respect each other, consignment can be a win-win situation.

8 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know about Selling your Antiques on Consignment

    1. Consignment protects the price in the first month but if the price is unrealistic and it’s still for sale in the second month the dealer will bring down the price. Make sure you read the consignment contract carefully so you know what to expect.

  1. My wife and I have some old antiques we inherited from her parents, so we are looking into selling them soon. I like your point about asking the seller how long they have been in business. This would give us a better idea of how likely our items are to sell, so we’ll be sure to ask about this.

    1. Yes, generally, someone who has been in business for a while already has a steady stream of customers who come on a regular basis to see what’s new – and that bodes well for people selling things on consignment for sure.

  2. I didn’t realize that a consignment shop would be more likely to take on different pieces because they take on no financial risk. I have been trying to sell an antique for a few weeks. I would imagine that getting a professional antique appraisal would be very important in knowing what price range you would want to set your pieces at before submitting them for sale. I’ll be sure to check out a consignment for my antiques in the future.

    1. There is no financial risk because the dealer does not pay outright for the object but that does not mean there is no cost. A dealer needs to have a good understanding of what his or her customers want and have bought in the past. Having an item on your floor that does not sell costs money in the sense that the slow-selling item is taking up space that a better-selling item might. So, the dealer will only accept what they know will sell – however they would be more inclined to take some extra items to test the market – especially smaller items that don’t take up a lot of room. Make sure that you check their contract. You absolutely want a detailed listing of the items you brought in – and their condition. Read the clauses carefully. Most dealers will ask for some wiggle room in the price while others will automatically lower the price after one month. Find out when you get paid once a sale happens. Only sign the document if you are comfortable with the conditions.

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