So, there I was chatting with my friend Melanie, who runs a local no-kill animal rescue center, and sipping coffee in her office. Melanie had invited me to swing by the rescue center as she was curious as to whether Dogbotz Boneyard could make a charitable gift of product for the center’s silent auction at its upcoming annual fundraising gala, Furry Friendships. While discussing whether certain 19th-century chromolithographs of dogs and cats might attract the event-goers and whether nature-themed games might appeal to their children or grandchildren, Melanie turned to me and asked, “Patrick, however do you know what antique or vintage items to collect and buy?”
“For myself personally, or for the business?” I inquired.
“Either,” responded Melanie.
I was about to say, I just do, when it dawned on me that such a response could seem dismissive to Melanie. “My inherent sense of what piece to acquire today is actually based on 40-plus years of experience,” I told Melanie. “When I first started, I was relatively clueless.” So, I shared with her these basic guidelines that I had learned as a collector and seller of vintage goods.
1.) Collect what you love. For example, my dual heritage exposed me at an early age to the beauty of art glass, ceramics, paintings and sculptures (my French mom’s gift to me) as well as the marvels of tribal artifacts such as Native American baskets, beadwork and quillwork, clothing and jewelry (my Ojibwa dad’s influence). Such family treasures — heirlooms, if you will — were proudly displayed around our home, so I came to appreciate, value and cherish them. And, as a teenager, I began looking for small, affordable pieces that I could collect to add to our family’s treasure trove.
In addition, as part of our creative pastime, my older brother Michael and I loved to create science-fiction games based on then-popular films and television shows. So, in 1966, when I was ten years old, we created our first board game based on Fantastic Voyage, in which we had little submarines floating inside a human body to repair a variety physiological problems. In later years, this creative urge influenced both Michael and I to join the game company TSR, Inc., which manufactured the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. From there, fascinated with game mechanics and the stunning graphics used in games, I began collecting card and board games from different decades and nations.
My love of fine art, tribal artifacts, and games continues to influence my acquisition of antiques and collectibles to this vary day. But what I love is different from what my partner Dan loves to collect, which includes as Shaker baskets, early 20th-century earthenware jugs and crocks, and Depression-era workmen’s tools. Hence, we have quite a variety of vintage items available on Dogbotz Boneyard.
2.) Research what you aim to collect. As I was setting up my first apartment with my college buddy Frank, he noted that I had some “funky” glass items. Yup, I did: a Paden City pony, a Murano snail figurine, a Kanawha amberina elephant, and even a St. Clair perfume bottle. Having been a fine arts major in college, Frank was fascinated as to how I had acquired such unique objets d’art.
Well, the St. Clair perfume bottle had been given to me by my French grandmother prior to her death in 1973. Since I had brought it along to my college dorm room as a memento of home, I told Frank that I decided to see if the perfume bottle had any value other than sentimental. So, one Saturday afternoon, I visited an antique shop about ten miles away from the college and met a distinguished gentleman with white hair and beard named Joseph, the proprietor of the antique store. His establishment contained a vast array of fascinating vintage goods all decoratively displayed throughout the shop. Joseph asked me how he could help me and so I showed him the St. Clair perfume bottle.
I wanted to know whether the bottle was authentic and if it had any value. Joseph carefully examined the bottle, informing me that it was indeed an original St. Clair piece and showing me the characteristics of what constituted a genuine piece of St. Clair glass. As to it value, it was worth about $45, but that was 1975.
Joseph looked at me curiously and asked me if I was a collector of art glass. I said no, though I was fascinated by the color and shape of my grandmother’s perfume bottle and wanted to learn more. Joseph then led me to any area of his store that had what seemed like innumerable art glass pieces. He showed me the technical and stylistic differences between the Murano studio artists and those of Tiffany, between Paden City and Kanawha art glass.
I was bitten then and there by the art glass collector’s bug, and I would visit Joseph and his shop numerous times throughout my college years, learning and researching what I could about art glass. He taught me how to identify the genuine thing from a repro or knock-off. His knowledge of antiques and how to research them for authenticity and value was phenomenal, and his willingness to share that knowledge would prove invaluable to me in the years to come.
To this day, I always tap into the knowledge Joseph shared with me and also research a piece before I acquire it.
3.) Check for condition issues. This is a critical point: always review the condition of a vintage or collectible item prior to purchasing it, especially if you ever plan to resell it or, if it has great value, leave it in your estate trust for your heirs. That small hairline crack in a 1930s Hausser-Elastolin composition toy tiger may not affect the overall value of the toy; however, a crack in a Murano glass turtle figurine may decrease its value appreciably. Condition issues — and even the year of production — will impact the value (and the purchase price) of an item. How much so will be dependent on the type of item being valued or sold.
As I am a longtime collector of antique and vintage games — and, on rare, even contemporary ones — I’d like to warn other game collectors to be sure that all game components are present. These elements can include cards, board, dice, player pawns, set of instructions and the box. If any component is missing, ask yourself whether you can either find that original piece or replace it. This issue will matter if you ever plan to resell the game, as a missing component will affect value.
Also, check the box. For many games and toys, the original box in which the game came is missing or has damage such as compression, split edges, or shelf wear. If you plan to collect the game, you may not care; however, if you plan ever resell it, such conditions issues may affect the value at time of the sale. So, just remember to check for all condition issues.
4.) At time of purchase, learn to become comfortable negotiating the price. Haggling over the price of antique, vintage or collectible item is a time-honored tradition in this field. A vendor may want to sell that Hattie Carnegie rhinestone ladybug brooch for $100, but if you’ve taken the time to research the overall value of Hattie Carnegie costume jewelry (which can be quickly done, if needs be, on your cell phone by seeking a comparable item on Etsy or eBay) and if you have examined the condition of the piece in question, you may determine that the piece warrants a lower value. At which point, know the highest price you’re willing to pay (say, $85) and start your negotiations at a lower yet reasonable point (say, $65). Then, let the haggling begin, but do not exceed your top price.
Be aware, especially at flea markets, that items are sometimes sold by unknowledgeable vendors who are just out to get the highest price they can. If they haven’t adequately researched an item’s value, they can deceive themselves. For example, the $100 Hattie Carnegie brooch mentioned above might actually be worth $175, but the vendor doesn’t know that. In this instance, haggling over the price of the brooch may not be worth your time and effort. Just pay the asked-for price.
“Wow! Just those four simple steps!” Melanie exclaimed.
“Well, that’s just the basics. You learn the fine art of collecting as you experience the process,” I stated.
Nevertheless, remember these fundamental guidelines if you plan to become a collector, and then go out and have some fun collecting what you love.
All the best,
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC