Category Archives: Art & antiques

The case of the McGuire furniture

There is a time and a buyer for everything: witness the McGuire furniture saga.

You may remember my humongo McGuire desk, the logjam in my early efforts to downsize during the summer. It took up an acre of physical space but was way too valuable just to chuck. Or so I thought.

I listed it several times on Craigslist, each time significantly reducing the price. Not one nibble until I PAID two boys to move it down to the garage for me and listed it for free. Then a couple from the coast drove 2 hours each way to fetch it.

Meanwhile, I’d kept the leather, cane and wicker McGuire desk chair that went with it, because… well, because.

Last minute I realized that of the THREE desk chairs I had, it was my least favorite. It had to go.

I listed the chair on Craigslist for $60. Very quickly a woman called from Seattle to say “Hold it for me. I’ll be there in three hours.” She gave me the $60 without a moment’s haggle.

Then she asked about The Desk.

Turns out she loves McGuire furniture. She had seen the desk listing and would have happily paid $500 for it, but to her chagrin she had just gotten a new desk.

Moral of this story: if you want to get rid of unique items of value, be patient. Start early and list often.  Otherwise, figure on giving it away.

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Filed under Art & antiques, Downsizing, Envisioning a simpler life, Furniture, Selling stuff

Auction results. Feh!

The auction house sent me a preliminary statement from last week’s sale.

My art deco sideboard sold for $650. The six place settings of lovely thoroughly modern looking 100-year-old china? $150. The antique clock? $350. Then the auction company takes 20% of that for commission.  Some stuff didn’t even sell.

I guess the good news is that if I ever want to re-stock on furnishings, the auction house is the place to start for incredible bargains on lovely things.

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What’s your stuff worth? (Hint: not much…)

Lenox plates

I delivered a couple of antiques, some lovely old china and several nice paintings to a local auction house today. The guy had come out a few days ago to eyeball my holdings and estimate what they might bring at auction next month.

It was really depressing.

P1000048This 2,400 year-old ceramic water jug from Greece, for example, was brought here from Europe by my grandfather in the 1930s. It was appraised four years ago at $1000. But the auction guy said cheap copies of such antiquities are now readily available, so no one wants to pay for the real thing. Besides, who wants to worry about the real thing breaking?  (!)  “Well, fine,” I said (suppressing harsher words), “I’m keeping it then.”

Then there is my Grandmother’s gold-rimmed Lenox china (see above). It’s 100 years old, and yet very modern and simple in design. 6 place settings plus platters, serving bowls, etc. all in perfect condition.  “Maybe we’ll get $200,” he said. I muttered something crude under my breath.

Becker clockA lovely Austrian clock from 1880 (which cost $600 at an antique store in 1976 – $2278 in today’s dollars – and is still in perfect working condition)? “I estimate $300 to $400…” This was something that should have APpreciated over time, not DEpreciated.

OK. I can deal with the indignity of being told my Preciouses are worth shit today. They’re just things, I tell myself.

And mostly I’m all right with the financial loss, knowing that someone will be happy to snap them up at a bargain price, and might even come to love them.

But then I had to deliver my art deco oak sideboard, which the auctioneer expected to sell for about what I paid for it back in 1975. It was one of my first major purchases for the house I bought after my first husband died (very young, of cancer). It anchored the dining room as a place where our little family could begin to come together in a new way. I kept our silver, placemats, napkins, and fancy glasses in it – and out of its capaciousness I set the table for many many family meals, holiday celebrations and convivial evenings with friends. (Not shown here is a lovely leaded glass cabinet above the mirrored back.)

P1000016

As we loaded it into the van I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears. Surprised because so far I’ve been pretty sanguine about the whole downsizing process. OK, I am indignant over the lowball prices, but this wasn’t about money. It was about meaning.

The auctioneer sees antique furniture and other family heirlooms like mine every day – to him it’s chopped liver. But to those of us who’ve lived for decades with the piece and imbued it with our energy and memories, it’s amputation. I walk by the place in the dining room where it’s always been and nothing is left but dust bunnies and a mark on the molding.

I suspect that as the house gets increasingly empty I’m going to want to speed up the process of getting out so I don’t have to feel the phantom pain any longer than necessary.

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Filed under Art & antiques, Attachment - Vairagya, Downsizing, Emotional issues, Furniture, Selling stuff

The $ound of $ilence

New front door in proce$$

New front door in proce$$ - not yet painted or reshingled

It’s one thing to blog about downsizing; it’s something else to slog through it.

The current plan is to put the house on the market in two weeks.  So my silence is all about the mad da$h to get the place ready to show – in$talling a new front door, repairing some cracked $iding, pre$$ure wa$hing all my $idewalks and patio, cleaning carpet$, wa$hing oriental rug$, moving furniture.

The outflow is offset by a little income from Craigslist sales. A grand total of $703, so far. (For goods probably worth ten times that, in earlier times). For example someone bought this Victorian curio cabinet I’ve had for decades, stuffed with “curios”, better known as tschotchkes (how DO you spell that??). Curios now cover the dining table.  It’s like that. Sell one thing, displace 500 others that spill all over.

"Curios" without a home

"Curios" without a home

A lot of stuff has gone for free – donated or given away. The baby grand piano leaves Friday for a long vacation at the spacious home of a friend who is a fabulous classical pianist and looks forward to doing two-piano pieces with another friend.

The humongo McGuire desk went to live in Astoria with a young couple who are opening a real estate law practice and needed a formal desk for the kinds of  signing rituals real estate loves. Mazeltov! Its credenza friend awaits an eager adopter in the garage.

Meanwhile, I’ve gone from TWO huge desks to one tiny one plus a lateral file. And a shitpile of paper and office supplies on the floor, seeking a home. Here’s just part of one pile…

Heap o' crap

Heap o' crap

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Craigslist observations (so far)

Bye-bye oak dresser and table

Bye-bye oak dresser and table

I listed 8 items on Craigslist Thursday night. Five were instant hits – lotsa calls, the other three….total silence.  Of course you always hope for the serendipitous possibility that your listing of the stuffed armadillo and the one stuffed armadillo collector in the universe happen on Craigslist at the same moment, but most transactions are very mass-market-ordinary.

Here’s what I’m learning so far.

1. What’s hot is hot, and what’s not is not. Combine the word “antique” with “furniture” and add a cheap price – that’s hot.  Describe an item that’s large, unique and (relatively) expensive – that’s not.

2. “Free” is hot. Whether folks NEED the thing or not. So my next strategy with the !@#$ humongo McGuire desk is to offer it free. (I’m very close to taking that experimental plunge.)

3. Cheap is hot. People love a bargain and will travel great distances for it. The folks who hauled off my two antique oak dressers drove about 40 miles each way.

4. Selling on Craigslist is time-consuming and not terribly profitable. So far I’ve netted $398. Better than a stick in the eye, but at some point I will consider my friend Gretchen’s suggestion: have a big party (friends) and invite people to take what they want, leaving some money if they wish, or not.

Until that time, enjoy this song about Craigslist by Weird Al Yankovic, who is still going strong.

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Baby steps…

chandelier1

I’ve had this antique ceiling fixture in my garage for 15 years, waiting to find the someone who wanted it enough to pay for it. It’s survived a couple of yard sales and a stay at a consignment shop without a taker. It graced my older home in Berkeley for 30 years so I didn’t want to just junk it.

This week I posted it on Craigslist for $60 and four people called about it – and last night the first caller came by with his wife (and the $60).  They were a darling young couple who were renovating their little Victorian cottage and they fell in love with the fixture despite its broken petal (which I had disclosed).  Rejuvenation Hardware had told me they could probably sell it for about $250, but so what.  I preferred seeing how happy these folks were and imagining the light shining on their home.

It’s ust $60, but it’s another baby step in getting rid of excess stuff.

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Filed under Art & antiques, Baby steps, Downsizing, Selling stuff, Uncategorized

“Antiques aren’t drawing the prices they were a couple of years ago”

Today I called a local furniture consignment store to inquire about their selling a Victorian ladies chair that was my mother’s, as well as the aforementioned humongous McGuire executive desk.

Here’s the chair:

Victorian chair

Victorian chair

The gal said they’d have their appraiser give me a rough price, but not to expect a lot, because the market for antiques has plunged. “Antiques aren’t drawing the prices they did a couple of years ago… you might want to wait to sell,” she said.

Right. But I want to sell it now.

I understand fashion cycles – things go in and out of vogue. Currently the 1950’s are hot (whodathunkit??).  Victoriana is cold. But my question is – will big old heavy stuff ever come back into fashion?

Everyone is wanting to live lighter, smaller, cheaper. Ikea – screw it together yourself is all the rage. If it breaks in a few years, so be it; we’ll get a new more trendy one when that happens.

Perhaps another golden age of well-crafted American-made antiques will return, but not until the economy is standing firmly back on its feet – and no doubt long after I’ve moved into my shoebox.

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