Tradio: Bronze Statues and other Collectibles

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[audio:|titles=Bronze Statues and other Collectibles ]

At Westchester Gold and Diamonds we are a little different from most of the stores that you walk into. We are probably the premier jewelry store in this area, and I am not just patting myself on the back. We have been doing it for 37 years.

We have more gold chains than, I am going to say, any 100 stores you walk into. We have ten times more gold chains than they have, at least. We probably have a 1000 chains in stock. Gold bracelets—we have all kinds of stuff in stock. We have some gorgeous sterling silver stuff. We have a lot of vintage jewelry. We have a lot of unusual stuff—turquoise and silver pieces. We have a line of Italian jewelry—it’s called Bernardi’s; that’s the manufacturer. It’s all diamond-cut, and some of the gold is plaited with platinum so it really sparkles really neat. A lot of the pieces we have are tri-colored—they are white, black, and pink. And it’s pretty inexpensive. It gives you some great looks. We have some matching necklaces and bracelets and earrings and stuff—really neat stuff. Diamonds, I don’t care where you go; we have their diamond inventory beat! We have all kinds of large diamonds in stock. This is what we do.

We are a premier jewelry store in this area, and we are not a big fancy-schmantzy store. You walk in; I’m going to wait on you in shorts and a T-shirt. You know, my girls are all there. They look a little better than I do. But we appreciate your business. We are your hometown jeweler and if we can help you, we’d love to have you come in.

But we don’t do just jewelry. We do all kinds of antiques and collectibles and just off-the-wall kind of stuff. Every day we have people come in with unusual items, and I sit there and look at them, and we go through them and feel like the Encyclopedia Britannica a lot of the time because I don’t just say, “I can’t use this thing. It’s nothing,” or, “Yeah, I’ll buy that from you.” We usually like to give the people a little bit of info about what they have, or if they have information that I am not aware of, I always enjoy learning from the items that I see.

And one of the cool things that came in this week was a bronze statue. Bronze statues have been made for centuries. Archeologists have unearthed some that are two or three thousand years old. But a lot of the bronze statues that we talk about now, or that we see, are 1800s to 1900s stuff. A lot of them are more modern.

This piece happened to be a little bit more modern. It was a piece from the 70s.  I really wasn’t familiar with the artist, and yet the fellow who brought it in was telling me that it was a $10,000 piece, and would I be interested in buying it?

Well, I like to buy $10,000 pieces if they are worth it. I said, “Hang on a minute and let me do some research for you, and I’ll find out what we can do.”

What is nice nowadays is when I first started 37 years ago you had to have a heck of a reference library. You looked up everything in books and things like that. We didn’t have the internet. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of my reference books in Hurricane Charlie, and there were a lot of editions that were out of print, and you really can’t look up all the info anymore. But with the internet, it is at your fingertips.

So I looked up the artist, and didn’t find a whole lot of info on him. I mean, he was known as an illustrator, and he did do some bronze works, but his pieces didn’t really bring that much money at auction. And usually you have to turn around and join a bunch of different web sites to give you information on art work. They don’t give the info away; you have to subscribe to them. I subscribe to three or four different art sites as well as auction catalogues that I get from a lot of the major auction houses. I found two examples in five years that this fellow sold.

It seemed to be in the $500-$800 price range that these items would bring. What was unusual about this was it was marked “Artist Copy.” Some people would say it was a copy, so it’s not a real one. Can’t be worth anything.

What “Artist’s Copy” means is that when they made this piece, the artist would usually take one or two of the first examples. They’d be marked “Artist Copy” and he would examine it, or she would examine it, whoever the artist was, and a lot of times they would make different changes on the original. It may have been a feature that they didn’t like, or they might add another feature to it they thought that would help sell the item. And generally these weren’t sold; the artist kept them himself. And this piece was marked as an “Artist Copy.”

We looked at it, and I noticed that there weren’t any real foundry marks on it. Foundry marks tell us basically where that piece was made. A lot of your statues made from the 1800s up into the 1900s–there were a lot of great artists out there—the artist generally made sure that they signed all of their pieces. They didn’t sign them individually. What they did is they signed it in the mold, and then when it was cast you would see their signature in the bronze piece.

Some of them would list the foundry that had made it. Usually the European foundries were almost always on the bronze pieces, but not always. With no foundry marks–and I looked at the patina on the bronze– originally I’d said to him that it was an early piece. “It’s a late piece from the 70s and it’s nothing that I can really help you with.” And then the more that I got into it and the more research I did, I found that it did have some value to it.

I went back out and asked him, “How did you arrive at this piece being worth $10,000?”

He said, “I felt that that’s what it would be worth.”

And I said, “How did you arrive at that?”

He said, “Well, I know that when it was bought back in the 70s that they paid around $5,000 for it.”

I asked, “Where was it bought?”

“It was bought at a gallery.”

And what we have to understand–and I tried to explain to this gentleman–was there is a primary market and there is a secondary market. And we’ve talked about this before in collectibles. The primary market is the artist turning around and making that and farming it out or selling it to a gallery.

Now, the gallery, when you walk in, has nice lighting, beautiful marble tile floors or plush carpet. Everyone is dressed really nicely and everything is on a base or a beautiful stand, and they are well-lit. There are pictures on the wall. There are all kinds of descriptions about the artist, and when you walked in there you are in the “spending mode.”

Now, you may have gone in there and you are on vacation. You have some money burning a hole in your pocket, and you need to prove that you went on a vacation, and you want to take a souvenir home. And now you have encountered this beautiful bronze statue, and you have to have it! The asking price is $12,000.

What did the gallery pay for it originally? Maybe somewhere around $3,000 or $4,000. Now they have it in their gallery for $12,000. And, yes, this is a markup; a considerably large markup, but you have to understand that on a gallery that deals with bronzes or glassware, different items, it’s going to be expensive. They have all their labor charges. They may have bought it, or it may be the foundry that actually did the casting. They are going to sit with that item a long time, so they are going to make their profit.

Well, you are negotiating. You’ve negotiated that price from $12,000 all the way down to $7,000. You give them the credit card and you take it home, and it’s beautiful! You add it to your collection and you love it. It’s like any other collectible; when you look at it, you touch it, you fondle it, and it makes you smile. And that’s what it’s all about.

Now you’ve passed on and the kids have inherited it. Now they decide that they are going to sell it. This is the secondary market, and they have to find somebody that will love it as much as you did, except they don’t have the gallery. They don’t have the marble tile. They don’t have that lighting. They are not dressed to the nines in order to find the person to sell this to. They turn around and put an ad in the paper, or they put it on Tradio, or they put it on Craig’s list, or they put it on e-bay.

And they find that–you know what?—nobody’s really interested in this piece at $5,000 or $6,000. So they give it to an auction house. The auction house says, “Well, you know, we can give you an idea of what we feel it will bring at auction.”

Now, how do they know what it will bring at auction? Because they have sold thousands of these items. Maybe not this particular artist, but they have sold thousands of bronzes. They’ve sold the same particular topic that this bronze is—it could be an animalier type of thing; it could be an American Indian type of thing; it could be a Remington. But generally they have a track record, and they have an idea of what this stuff will bring at auction. They turn around and they say, “We estimate this at $500 to $700.”

Now these people are just flabbergasted that this $5,000 or $7,000 bronze could be worth $500 to $700. Well, this is the secondary market. Now you are out there and these people don’t care if they can buy it, but if they can buy it at a price they like, then they can look at it, and touch it, and fondle it, and it makes them smile, then they are willing to buy it. On the secondary market it is now worth $500 to $700.

And I explained to the gentleman. I said, “You know, the idea that it is worth $10,000 is in your mind.” And I explained to him about the primary and secondary markets. By the time we were done chatting he understood. I took him in my office and showed him a couple of the web sites that had similar items for sale, and he could see that it wasn’t me making up a story and try to buy an item for less money. It was me explaining what the real world is all about. And we did do a transaction, and I wound up buying the bronze from him.

Now, people say, “Steve, how do you know what this stuff is worth?”

You sit there all day long and you look at things from costume jewelry to bronzes, to Dutch tobacco boxes, to picture post cards, to pocket watches to wrist watches. You know, if you do something for enough years, hopefully you get pretty good at it.

We have handled a lot of items at Westchester Gold and Diamonds—everything from a 26-carat diamond that we bought years ago to a 1943 copper penny, of which there are only five known, to some beautiful bronzes to Tiffany art glass and shades and lamps. We are in Port Charlotte, and this certainly isn’t the Mecca of the world for fantastic stuff, but there is a lot of stuff out there. We do deal in these items. We are always looking for this kind of stuff.

How do I arrive at numbers? It’s real easy—I do my research. I have auction catalogues from 20 years back. I have the internet. I’d pick up the phone. I have friends that deal in these items. I have private collectors who say to me, “Steve, if you pick up such-and-such, could you give me a call. I’m always interested.”

And it’s just a matter of making contacts over the years, so a lot of times people will go out of town to sell their items. A lot of times we’ve had hotel buyers come in and advertise. People say, “Well, you know, they are from out of town. They must know a lot more than the people in town here. This is just little, old Port Charlotte.”

Little, old Port Charlotte has some fantastic brains in it. I’ve met some individuals who were inventors and have come up with things that are amazing. We have a listener out there who was an inventor who came up with a lot of interesting inventions. And there a lot of avenues for you to dispose of different particular items. If you have items that you are not quite sure what it is or what you want to do with it, please stop by Westchester Gold and Diamonds. We are always interested in taking a look at those items for you.

Another thing that came in this week was a Dutch tobacco box. It’s a little oval shaped box, probably about 1-1/2 inches wide and about 6 inches long made out of brass and copper, all engraved on the top of it with a fellow with a gun shooting at a deer. And that’s unusual. It’s dated 1883 or 1873, rather. I bought it.

We all looked at it, and the person that brought it in said, “You know, I think this was probably for spectacles. And I think that it was probably off a boat that a captain put his spectacles in.”

I said, “You know, that’s a wonderful story, but what you have here is a tobacco box. Open it up and let’s look on the inside. If you notice, it’s been silvered on the inside. The reason being, that if it was for food or something that you would ingest like tobacco, it had to be silvered because too many oxides would come off the brass and the copper that weren’t good for you to consume in your body or that would react to different kinds of foods or items that you would put in there. So what they did was that if you were going to ingest it in some way, they would silver the inside to prevent and give you a guard against the copper or brass.”

And when I explained this to the people they kind of looked at me like, “Well, that’s your story. We’re sticking with the spectacle thing.”

I went in and got a couple of different catalogues in which I’d seen pieces like this five or six years ago and showed them what it was and that it was a tobacco box. They thanked me and appreciated the info. They sold the box because they had inherited it from a grandmother, and went on their merry way.

So, it’s important to deal with people who are knowledgeable in the collectibles that you have. Make sure that you are not buying a bill of goods from somebody that gives you a song and dance. Take it to someone who really deals in that kind of thing. The same thing goes for a lot of your jewelry pieces. We buy a tremendous amount of estate jewelry. When we say “estate jewelry” that is pre-love jewelry. It could be from this time frame or it could be from, like we talked before, Art Deco or the Art Nouveau periods, but it’s antique; it’s older pieces. And lots of times a lot of these older pieces, besides the diamond and gold value, they have artistic value; they have collector value. It could be worth five, six, seven times the gold or diamond value because of who made it and what it is.

So, again, if you have items like that that you’d like to sell or get appraised, or get some information on it, we’ve been doing it for 37 years now. We are in the Bear Plaza behind ABC Liquors and I’d love to take a look at it. I’d love to give you an offer on it. I’d love to buy it! With that, we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.

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