Why do you collect? The first question to ask is this: “Why do I collect what I collect?” Perhaps your collection is family-related. Perhaps you enjoy the hunt or the travel associated with collecting. Perhaps you like to barter; perhaps you see your collection as an investment. Whether your collection is big or small, the motivation behind your hobby has great bearing on how you dispose of those items.
The next question to ask is this: “Why do I want to get rid of my collection?” Many people dispose of a collection when they begin to see it as clutter or when they downsize. Those who’ve built a collection as an investment may, at some point, choose to convert collectibles into cash. Some simply lose interest in their collection; others become interested in a new category.
Too often, from my perspective, the collector becomes ill or dies and family members are left to contend with a collection. If family members know your feelings, their job becomes much easier.
It is very important that your family or heirs know about your collection, where it is housed, why you have it and what you want done with it. To a person unfamiliar with collecting in general or with the items you have, the prospect of dealing with a large collection can be overwhelming. If you take nothing else away from this article, understand that one of your responsibilities as a collector is to help your family understand your thoughts on your collection — both the pleasures it brought to you, and the way in which you would dispose of it if you were able.
How do I dispose of a collection?
Collectors should be prepared to dispose of a collection themselves, or leave detailed instructions outlining their wishes. The more work you do toward disposal, the more reward you will recognize. The easiest option, of course, is to do nothing. That option is easy for the collector but creates much work and worry for family members. And you will have almost no control over what happens to your collection.
Alternatively, you could give the collection to interested friends or relatives or donate it to a club or museum. Seek legal counsel to ensure that your intentions are clear to all involved. This can prevent subsequent disputes, although it is almost inevitable that someone will be displeased by your decision.
By gifting your collection, you retain control over who gets it and when. Disposal will take little time and less worry. If you donate the collection to a nonprofit organization, you may be eligible for a tax deduction (again, consult your attorney or accountant).
Online auctions, garage sales & flea markets
You may choose to take a more active role in disposal of your collection by selling pieces in an online auction (such as eBay) or from your own website. You retain control over the items and pricing, you can proceed at your own pace and you stand to make the most profit.
You will of course need to be computer savvy and familiar with online auction processes and fees. You’ll spend a lot of time at your computer, as well as photographing, packaging and shipping items. Be patient! Depending on the size of your collection, disposal could take a year or more.
If your collection is not too large, you might be able to dispose of it at a garage sale. Be prepared for items to sell at lower prices (although good, clean antiques often bring better prices). A garage sale is a good way to dispose of a big inventory of low value items; route higher value items to another venue.
With a garage sale, the revenue is all yours and your expenses are low. It’s a handy way to dispose of low value items, and if you’re willing to bargain, you can sell almost anything. The downside? You’re the one doing all the work.
Perhaps a flea market or collector show is a good venue for your collection. There, your financial rewards will be greater and you’ll control the sale. To some extent you can do this at your convenience — but it will be time consuming and physically taxing.
Don’t sell the heart of your collection — the best items — too quickly. Spread them out; use them to draw buyers to your website, your table at a flea market or your auction.
For members only
If you belong to a collectors club, you may be able to hold a members-only tag sale or auction in conjunction with a club meeting or event. Many members will have like interests, be receptive to such an offering and familiar with current market values.
You may lose some pricing control this way, as reserves are not advisable when selling items at auction. If your collection is large, you may need to hold several auctions in order to dispose of the entire collection and achieve good prices.
If you plan an auction in a club environment, limit your offering to 600-700 “small” items (large items are discussed later in this article) sold in a given day. If you plan multiple auctions, spread the most desirable items across them. Plan on 15 to 30 percent of gross sales going to the auctioneer.
The local auction
Perhaps you’re considering a locally advertised auction. Most of your crowd will be local, but if your auctioneer posts the event online, you may also get online bids, which can boost demand and prices. Ask your auctioneer about his advertising plan and Internet sales.
It is much easier to sell a large collection at a local auction. The auction may be held over the course of two days and may be conducted in one to three rings. If the offering includes large items — tractors, engines, cars and trucks — a local auction also offers flexibility for buyers who need to return with a trailer or make transportation arrangements.
Your role in the auction dictates your reward. The auctioneer is typically prepared to do all of the work (and his or her fee reflects that). The extent to which you are prepared to work increases your bottom line. Local auctions often draw big crowds, which can also create parking and logistical challenges.
Working with dealers
You may decide to hire a dealer knowledgeable in the items you collect. That person then takes charge of disposal of your collection. The dealer will load and transport your collection to his site, catalog the items and advertise a sale to a select group of collectors. Items in a large collection may be spread over several sales, perhaps over several years.
Such an approach is becoming more common, especially in the collectible hand tool market. It can deliver higher prices, the collector is quickly relieved of the burden of the collection and the dealer does most of the work. Your profits will be lower, as the dealer must also make a profit, and income may be spread over a lengthy time period (which can be advantageous from a tax perspective).
The estate buyer provides another option. That individual will buy your entire collection, pack it and remove it. You’ll be paid immediately, the dealer does the work and the disposal proceeds quickly. But you’ll pay a price for convenience: You may get as little as 50 to 60 percent of the true value of your collection.
Disposal of large items
If your collection consists of large items — tractors, engines, cars, trucks, implements or horse-drawn equipment — disposal entails special challenges. The primary one is logistical: Moving those items to a sale site in a short amount of time.
You may choose to sell some items through club contacts, advertising in club publications or by word of mouth. In private sales such as those, you’ll do the work and reap the rewards, and your prized collectibles will go to friends. But there may be fewer buyers for each item, which translates into lower prices.
You may want to consider holding your own auction or including pieces from your collection in a regularly scheduled sale. Select an auctioneer who routinely advertises in print, online and in a large geographic area, and ensure that your items are well-promoted. This should attract a good local crowd but it may be one with fewer buyers and prices may be lower. You may also have to transport items to the sale site yourself.
Consignment sales are another option. Research these online; contact the auctioneer for details. The auctioneer will likely have extensive knowledge of your collectible category and will have a base of motivated buyers. He or she will handle advertising and may handle transportation of items (otherwise, that will be your responsibility). Be prepared to plan ahead: Consignment auctions are held infrequently.
Finally, you may opt to sell individual pieces privately, via ads in collector publications. The potential audience is large, you control promotion and pricing — but despite your best efforts, any given item may not sell the first time around. And advertising costs money and requires lead time.
Just as every collection is unique, disposal of the collection can be handled in unique ways. This article has touched on familiar methods used by many collectors, but countless variations exist. It’s important that you find one that is a comfortable fit for you and your family. The important thing is to plan ahead: That guarantees you the most options and the best outcomes. FC
George Wanamaker is a past president of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and has advised many collectors and their families on collection disposal. He started collecting carpenter’s tools in the mid-1970s. Since then he’s also become a collector of farm and kitchen tools and anything old and unusual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.