What sells well at auction?

One question I am often asked is what kind of items sells well at auctions. Of course, anything will sell, but things do go through cycles. For instance, I recently bought an item at an auction for $5.00 that five years ago probably would have brought $50.00. Perhaps in another five years it will be back up to $50.00.

In this post I want to list some of the things that seem to be soft and some things that are hotter right now. You need to realize that at any given auction, with the right buyers in attendance, anything can sell well. Here I am just speaking in general terms.

What usually doesn’t sell at all? There are some items I will not even take for an auction, and many auctioneers normally will not accept them as well. This would include pianos, organs, old style TVs, clothing (except in unusual situations), dirty or broken furniture, and what I call “yard sale leftovers.” I’ve never seen a piano bring more than $15.00, and often auctioneers cannot even get a bid on them. That’s too much work hauling and setting up for a no-sale. Of course, I’m not talking about a Steinway or some other expensive piano. I once did an estate sale for a family that had 16 old-style TVs which I refused to take. They simply won’t sell, and in my area it now costs $16.00 each to take these to the recycling center.

What is soft right now at auctions? Most modern collectibles do not bring much today. I’m talking about such things as Beanie Babies, Boyd’s Bears, sports cards, NASCAR items, Avon, Longaberger baskets, collector’s plates, and those types of items. Most furniture is not selling well right now. Even antique furniture in my area is soft. Small pieces of furniture will often bring more than larger pieces. I attended an auction recently where the auctioneer sold two couches, two end tables, and an entertainment center all for $5.00. I used to buy a table and four chairs for around $50.00 and resell them in a booth I had for 100-125. That same table and four will be lucky to bring $25.00, and I gave up my booth because I often had to mark them down to that to sell them. As I tell people, if you need furniture now is the time to buy it because you can buy good quality furniture at auction for a lot less than the cheap stuff you find in some furniture stores.

I’ve really been surprised at how crystal has nosedived in recent years. Good quality crystal still commands a big price in department stores, but at auction it has become very soft. I don’t understand it, but it has certainly been the reality in our area. We’ve also seen a fairly recent drop-off in prices for pottery such as Roseville, McCoy, Weller, and others. The same is true for carnival and depression glass.

What is still selling well? Of course, gold, silver, guns, quality jewelry, coins, and real estate would top the list. Quality stoneware still commands good prices. Primitives and antiques often bring good prices as does some sporting equipment. Quality glassware can often bring good prices, but it depends on the crowd at a particular auction. Old toys will usually sell well.

Every sale is different, and what I’ve listed here as soft might bring a good price at the right auction. At the same time, items that normally sell well might not bring as much at a specific auction due to the people in attendance. Focusing on individual items is often a mistake. It’s usually better to look at the total sale, and in most cases people are going to be pleased.

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