As any collector knows, your wish list is larger than your budget. You thus need to make your money go as far as possible. Many collectors are shy of haggling but you can save a lot of money this way, if you know how to do it. Firstly, remain polite and ensure you don't annoy the seller. Once he is annoyed, you will never succeed in getting a decent discount.
The second rule is to mentally put yourself in the other person's position. Think carefully about how what you say would sound if it was said to you. Don't ever ask "what's your best price?" This is the weakest and worst haggling method. The seller obviously wants the maximum, and he doesn't know how far he has to go. He will drop his price for a token amount and you're hard put to go any lower. He knows that most weak hagglers will accept this price and be happy.
Elkington, Mason & Co showroom, Birmingham, c.1860
Remember that pricing is an inexact science. All dealers tend to deal in objects outside their core competence, and they don't really know the correct price of every item they're selling. Take advantage of this weakness and say, "Your price is way too/a bit too high, this object is worth around X", offering perhaps 20 or 30% less. If you had said "I can offer X", the dealer will just assume that another client can offer a bit more. By saying that "it's only worth X," you cast a doubt in his mind. Having cash with you is obviously an advantage, and if you're prepared to accept no invoice or an invoice for a lower sum, that can help too. Tell him this.
If the dealer responds with a counter-offer a bit higher than yours, put yourself in his place. Does he really need to have this extra sum, or is he just trying to squeeze out a bit more? It's most likely the second case, in which case you should just politely refuse, repeat your offer, mention that you'll pay cash and that the object is only worth that. It's important to remember that the dealer probably has a long experience in sales, and knows that he has to play a little hard to get to reassure the client that he got the best deal. If a dealer has an object marked at $1000 and you offer $500 and he immediately accepts it, would you feel good about the deal? Or would you worry that either there is something wrong with the object or that perhaps the $500 you offered was still too high and you could have offered even less? Obviously it's better psychology for the dealer to protest and suggest $750, all the while being prepared to accept $500 after a respectable struggle.
Interior of the Tiffany & Co Building, New York, c.1906
In many cases, you haven't not properly negotiated until you've walked out. Walking out is a great technique. If you stay in the shop or remain sitting down while you're negotiating, you are showing that you are still interested. If you get up and make to leave, the seller realises that he's going to lose you as a buyer unless he makes a decision quickly. You can always come back if necessary, but if you've been polite and your offer is reasonable, when the dealer sees you get up to leave he will often accept your price.
Never enthuse over the piece, try and find some fault in it to make the dealer uncomfortable about his pricing, remain courteous, pay cash and you will get your way.
It's important to understand how the antiques trade works. It's like a pyramid, with a few dealers at the top and a multitude at the bottom. The source of many antiques that are new on the market is the secondhand dealer who buys deceased estates and sometimes buys at the auctions where deceased estates and collections are sold. Finer items are difficult for him to sell, he doesn't have the buyers so he sells on to the next tier of dealer or jobbers who hawk the items around town. He may also sell to other dealers at the monthly trade only sales where hundreds of vans congregate to buy and sell. The next tier of seller can receive visits from pricier dealers looking for stock and they may participate in the average antique shows. The highest tier dealers buy from other dealers, confirmed collectors and auctions and sell in lovely galleries and top end antique shows. The price of an item can increase greatly as it moves up the pyramid. The dealers with the most splendid stock also have the highest prices because they've paid a lot to get it and also intend to make their customers pay for their high rents, advertising and participation in expensive antique shows.
If you have plenty of money, you can buy from the top tier dealers. They generally have superior knowledge of antiques and their guarantee is valuable. They have an excellent range, and if your time is valuable, it can be worth "subcontracting" the searching to them. If you have more time for searching and less cash, concentrate on the lower tier dealers or auctions. They will more rarely have what you dream of, but when they have it, the price will be much lower and it will sell very quickly.
The choice is yours. Be tough! Happy collecting!
Marc Faygen is co-owner of Osprey Paris, antique jewellers in Paris
- 2018 -