How to Deal or Don’t Deal with “Shady” Characters

I’ve ordered a copy of  Killer stuff and Tons of Money, Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America, by Maureen Stanton, a new paperback from Quality Book Club.  I suppose I could go to but I think they only have hardcovers of this one and since I’m ordering other books from QPB it’s easier to just add this one to it.  Besides, it’s buy two get one free at the moment.   The book is supposed to cover the subculture of antiques (sort of like Dog Show did for the sport of dog showing).  I’m a little bit disturbed about their description of the book as revealing the “cutthroat field” and a “contact and blood sport”.  Sounds like the normal description of antique dealers as “crooks”, “cheaters”, and “scam artists”.  And,  in my dealings with other dealers the ones that stand out are the “bad” dealers and not the “good” dealers because it’s the “bad” dealers that I TRY to remember so that I don’t get taken again.

I don’t think that it is just antique dealers that are thought of in such bad terms.  I think it is Sellers in general.  Think of the reputations of car dealers, horse sellers, real estate agents, carnival barkers, etc. and you will realize that the professionals that sell things that are usually non-returnable, if something is wrong with them.  However, if you know that a profession has a reputation of being “shady” then you also should know the meaning of “buyer beware”.  No one likes to realize that they have just purchased something with a hairline crack, for instance, running up the side because then they have to admit that they just made a mistake by not examining it close enough.  All you saw was that lower price and didn’t listen to yourself saying “buyer beware” and were excited about taking advantage of that “shady” dealer who has such a silly low price on the item.

Far be it for me to say that these professionals are all honest.  However, I DO know that, like you, they are trying to make some money and if you don’t look closely at the goods or read the contract then it’s your fault.  The “shady” dealers actually are the ones that try to pass off something damaged or worthless as something whole and worth a lot of money.  But, even if the goods are misrepresented, it is “Buyer beware”.  If you are going to spend lots of money on something; DO YOUR HOMEWORK or pay someone to come with you that knows what they are doing.  And, don’t expect that person to do it for free either.  If someone has spent years learning about furniture (for example), attending events so that they can examine furniture, purchasing books so that they can read about furniture and listening to other furniture experts then you should expect that they will want payment just like Doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs do.  And, nowadays, GET A CONTRACT from that person that fully explains what happens when and if you find that person made a mistake.

Now I am a gullible person and the advice I just gave you sounds really reasonable.  And I’m even trying to follow it because I have this big “sucker” printed on my forehead.  I’ve also signed contracts that wouldn’t hold water, much less money.  I initially started selling antiques in a mall situation starting with one booth then getting another and several display cabinets.  Across the aisle from me was a very nice elderly woman who explained that she had heart problems who I will now call EL.  I was there for three years and decided to move my items into my barn because the mall was getting much more for the rent than I was from the sales.  I left regretfully because I had made many “dealer” friends and I knew that I would miss not having to be tied down to a store.  The items from my booths covered about 1/3 of the space in the barn after the shelves and cabinets were purchased and put into place.  About 4 months after putting my things into the barn (they were winter months so I was basically closed) my friend, EL, called me and said that she, too, had pulled out of the mall.  She said her sons had boxed and moved all her things into the small shop building that she owned.  She also said that she had linens, antiques, kitchen ware, etc. on both floors of her house.  She said that her health was not at all good and offered to sell the entire lot to me for $5,000.  I replied that at that time it would be hard to come up with that amount but that I would check with my husband and would look into our savings.

About three days later I called her and asked to see the merchandise that she had.  When I walked into the enclosed front porch there were many glass vases, some small antiques such as rugs and a lot of folksy item such as candles and wind chimes.  She explained that the Wicker Chair was not included because it had been left to her by a relative and that she would appreciate it if I didn’t take any of the display shelves.  Going into the hall she pointed to a glass case filled with glass items, waved her arm around and said “all this” which might have meant the smaller glass case and bookshelves across from it and the filled built in closset of material next to it.  Going up the curved stairway to the second floor she waved her arm at the walls and said “all pictures”.  Upstairs there was a hallway filled with linens and vintage clothes, and a few pictures on the walls.  A room to the right was filled with some antiques such as small furniture items and glass ware on shelves, a few lamps and on the other side of the entry door there were about three built-in shelves with old books in them.  Through an arch there was a smaller room filled with Christmas items.  Most were new but there were Russian dolls and glass ornaments and all sorts of new decorations on a tree.  Returning to the hallway there was a room on the left that had a lovely set of bedroom furniture, quilts, two indigo coverlets on the bed, rugs and a few reproduction items and pictures on the wall.  She explained that the bedroom set was not for sale. back to the hallway straight ahead was a kitchen filled with 30’s , 40’s and 50’s kitchen Klutter.  So, we went back downstairs and proceeded to make a deal.  I love Kitchen Klutter and linens and books and those two indigo coverlets were to die for.  I thought that $5,000 was a reasonable price.  I told her that if I scraped my savings account I could come up with $4,000.  Could I purchase everything but the Christmas items?  She said yes and don’t hurry about coming and getting things as she was in no rush.  Yahoo!  My store was all ready to be stocked by opening time in May and I didn’t have to bother with auctions and sales.

This was the end of February and my older Sister was at the moment, unemployed and loving every minute of it.  She wanted to help me and was excited about arranging the stuff and setting up a little part to sell her handcrafts.  The weather was on/off.  It would be freezing to the point of seeing our breaths and snowing to warming up with the snow melting and turning to mud.  We started right away.  I’m a go-getter when I want some material item because I’m always afraid it will disappear.  I call the EL and asked her if it would be all right if we started on the shop where the goods were “still in their boxes from being brought from her booth by her sons”.  She said that she would drive me over this first time and my sister could follow in her SUV.  This would mean that we could only get one load but since it was things from her booth it should be worthwhile.  Warm or not, we still had to shovel ourselves a path for the screen door to open out.   The EL showed us where the lights were and said that she would leave the door unlocked for us to come back.  She took us around and explained that everything in the large half was mine except the display shelves.  In the smaller other half it was the same way but the back room was her grandson’s who lived next door.  Her granddaughter came over so there were three of us packing and filling boxes.  Since I didn’t see and of the goods that were “still in their boxes from being brought from her booth by her sons” we started on the shelves she suggested to start on where the dusty flower vases, ashtrays and basic garage sale items were.  We finished up with half of that wall of shelves quickly because EL was wrapping and the three of us were packing and hauling to the car.  We crammed that car/SUV so much that my sister had to reach into a lampshade to shift the vehicle, then brought it back to my barn and hauled it in and stacked it.  Actually, we got a wee bit more than I expected and I saw I may have bit more off than I could eat so I ordered more boxes and started making arrangements for a portable storage unit to rent.

The next day, my Sister couldn’t help so I took the Forrester over (which holds much more than you would think) and finished up that wall’s items.  Toward the back I started finding some nice crocks and things.  Then I walked around surveying “my” goods and picking out a few more items.  Unfortunately the rest looked pretty much like garage sale items.  I took some old canning jars and a cute little tin duck toy that didn’t have a key, turned off the light and left, hauled it all into the barn and stacked it.  Now my barn,s first room was full but you could still get through the door to the second room.

Luckily my sister could work the next day which is when things started to get interesting.  The shop door was locked.  That was when I started to get this funny feeling in my stomach.  We drove back to the EL house but she wasn’t there.  So, since the porch door was unlocked we cleaned out the porch leaving the wicker chair and display cases.  Again, those things were reproduction folk art and garage sale items.  Peeking behind a display case, I could see that the antiques had been piled up in the corner.  The EL came back home and was really in a bad mood, explaining that she had to wait at least one hour for her doctor.  I told her that we were full up and leaving for the day and said “what about the stuff in the corner?”.  She replied that was just stuff that wasn’t included because it had been back there when I looked at the things.  More funny feelings.  My sister gave her the loaf of banana bread that she had made and it was back to the barn and unloading and stacking (this time behind and around the sales desk corner).  In order to get into our barn basement we now had to walk around the barn to get in the back door and it wasn’t possible at all to get up into the attic.

My sister and I went over the next day and started the upstairs.  EL said that she would pack up the glass items in the china case downstairs because she was an expert on packing things so that they wouldn’t break.  Probably true.   Later, when I opened up the boxes I saw that the packing she had used was stuffed animals and that there were about three pieces of glass to four large stuffed animals.  My sister and I scouted out as to where we would start.  The indigo coverlets were gone and the kitchen had been robbed of the nesting bowls that I had loved.  Those were the things I noticed right away.  I looked at my sister and said “pack”, “start with any antiques that you can see and forget about the stuffed animals and repos”.  Of course, my sister loves stuffed animals and repos so that when I was unpacking I was glaring at her.  Well, at least they made the boxes lighter.  I got all the linens, the throw rugs, the vintage clothing and the few pictures that were on the walls).  EL’s grandson helped to haul the boxes down the stairs.   The SUVs were packed again as usual so I sent her back to the barn and went in to EL to talk.  I remembered she only gave me a slip of paper stating “received from D. Miller $4,000 for household goods”.  I sat down and told her that one of the reasons that I had agreed to the deal was that there were things that I could see right off that would go a lot to cover my money’s worth.  One of those had been the two indigo coverlets and the nesting bowls which were missing now).  She replied that probably when her daughter was up there she had taken the coverlets home and that she was going to rent out the upstairs apartment to her granddaughter and she needed bowls.  However, the coverlets had been new so I shouldn’t want them.  I said that “no”, I had a coverlet just like them and they were old and “fine, since your granddaughter wanted nesting bowls she could have those as a gift from me”.  EL said that she would get the coverlets and provide proof with receipts that they were new.  OK, so I returned home and by then my sister had her car unloaded and helped me do mine.  Whoopee!  However she couldn’t help the next day.  That was the day that I realized that EL had not intended to sell me everything but since I hurried so fast I was taking stuff that she didn’t have time to get out and I knew I had to hurry even faster.  The next day I finished the bedroom, did half of the kitchen, (unpacking found that I had half of several items, such as mixing bowls and beaters but no mixer and cake tops with no bottoms) finished what my sister didn’t get of the other room, got the books in the built-in shelves and the boxes that EL had packed from the glass fronted china cabinet.  Meanwhile EL came upstairs while I was doing this and “reminded” me that she was renting out the upstairs so I couldn’t take any furniture, including the little tables, the kitchen chairs or table, lamps and rugs.  I bit my tongue and didn’t say a word because I knew that she wouldn’t let me back in the house the next day if I told her what I thought.

My sister was able to come and help the next day and EL told us that we couldn’t have any of the jewelry in the upstairs and by the way, did I take her coatrack?  I said “no, the coatrack wouldn’t fit into my car even if I sawed it in two”.  She brought the two indigo coverlets in folded up and said (of course) she couldn’t find the receipts but she KNEW that they were new.  Then she said since I didn’t believe her she would give me one and she would take the other.  I told her that I thought I should have both of them because what difference was it if they were new or old?  I was told that I could have everything in the upstairs except the bedroom set and the display shelves.  She gave me one and I started packing again.  Later when I unfolded the coverlet I saw a huge patch on that “new” item.  I noticed that she had pulled a wardrobe over the door of the Christmas room which I thought was a good idea.  She should have stuck everything that she wanted to keep in there before she gave me the tour.  This was when my sister was attacking the stuffed animals and repro cloth dolls and new baskets in the boxes which took up a lot of room.  One time I saw her going down the stairs with a basket backpack on her back stuffed with things and a beaded necklace hanging through the weave.  I hoped that EL was not looking but it really was hysterical.  I also think this was the day that it was so muddy that I slid down the embankment to the car on my butt.  Very cold and dirty!  We finished, hauled the stuff back and I called the rental units to ask how much they were and whether they delivered.

Luckily, I didn’t rent one then because the next thing that happened was that EL called me and told me that she had changed her mind.  That I was to return everything and she would give me my money back.  I said I didn’t think so and gave her an estimate of how many hours we had spent and costs for gas and boxes, etc.  I told her that since I didn’t get everything upstairs or in the glass cabinet or any furniture or rugs or the things on the porch and almost nothing in her shop that I figured that I got about 1/4 of the goods that she had promised me.  So, she could give me back $3,000 and we would be all set even though I needed the rest of the things to start my store.  She explained that I would regret that decision.

I next wrote her a letter with the above in it and gave her a week before I went to see my attorney.  I went to my attorney and we went to small claims and I won (that’s another story) but somehow the court lost the paperwork so no judgment has been filed since the court date in august.  Meanwhile I’ve paid my attorney his $1,000, I’ve sold about $500 of her things so I’m still in the hole for $3,500.

The lesson of this long-winded story is GET A CONTRACT.  But as much as people tell me I should have done this, just what kind of contract would that be?  Would I have gone around after EL taking pictures of everything that was there?  My Mentor GPS says that I should have divided the $4,000 into how many carloads it took and paid as I took each carload which makes sence except that how was I to know how many carloads it was?  So, it just ends up “buyer beware”…Do NOT purchase things from little old ladies even if you have known them for years!


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