Tips for Great Buys at Antique Swap Meets

Are you looking for that perfect piece of pottery or some vaseline glass? How about an old rocking horse or Disney character figurine? Have you looked at all your local antique stores and drawn a blank? Do online auctions drive you crazy? Try going to an antique swap meet!

Antique swap meets offer a crazy quilt of merchandise. You will find anything from vintage clothing to furniture. Some vendors specialize in, and only offer, one type of merchandise. For example, a dealer might specialize in paper, such as sheet music, postcards, or magazines. Others offer a hodgepodge of merchandise, hoping to appeal to a wide range of potential customers.

What are some tips on getting good deals at swap meets?

Do your homework before you go. If you are interested in Red Wing pottery, know what the identifying marks look like. If you are looking for a specific piece, know what the market value is ahead of time, and know how much money you are willing to spend in advance. If you would like, you can bring reference books to help identify individual pieces.

If you are looking for something specific, get there early. Dealers actually shop from each other before a show opens, so if the venue offers an “early bird” option, you might want to consider spending the extra money. The best way to get something that is hard to find is to find it first.

Go through booths patiently. While dealers usually know a lot about the merchandise that they are selling, they do not always know everything. You might find a gem for $10 that is worth $100. A dealer might be selling something that he or she has not had time to research and subsequently has undervalued it, or the vendor might be tired of a particular piece, and just want to turn it to get some money back.

Vendors will usually deal on pricing. However, do not go overboard with your offers. Some dealers find it offensive if they are offering a piece for $100 and you counter with $25. They might refuse to discuss it any further. Talk to the dealers. They are people, too, and are more likely to cut you a better deal if you appear likeable. Some people take one look at pricing, look cross-eyed at the vendor, and start to argue. The cross-eyed look and the arguing definitely do not pay off, particularly if the dealer knows a lot about the merchandise offered. Asking questions, smiling, and being polite will get you a better deal. Also, do not try to get a better price on product marked at $5 or less unless you are planning on buying quite a few pieces. Some people consider swap meets a variation of garage sales. They are not.

Many shows have appraisers that will give you an idea of the value of your treasures. You can even bring Aunt Mary’s teapot from home to have it appraised. The fees that appraisers charge range from $5-$10. If you do not want to spend the money for an appraisal, be kind to the dealers. They are there to sell, not to provide a free service. If you want an idea about the value of a piece because your mother gave you a similar one ten years ago, tell the dealer up front so he or she knows that you are not really interested in buying. That way, the dealer can either politely respond with a value or send you to the appraiser’s booth. After the tenth time of giving free information in a couple of hours while hoping to close a sale, dealers can get a little testy.

If the show is a multiple day event, find out from the show promoters if buying one ticket will get you into the show every day. If so, ask dealers that you like if they will be putting out new merchandise every day. They may give you a “heads up” on what they are going to be putting out and you may end up walking out with the very item that you wanted without it ever being shown to anyone else.

A true “antiquer” does not let weather get in the way of a good buy. Bad weather should not deter you from going on the prowl even if the show is outdoors. Dealers tend to be a little more desperate to move merchandise if the traffic, or crowds, are thin. Who cares about a little rain or wind? There are bargains out there!

Dealers love return customers. If you have bought something from a dealer before, stop in and say hello. The dealer may have something that you might like that is not yet on display or may refer you to another booth that has something that you might be interested in buying. Being referred by another dealer might also get you a better price.

If you are not interested in anything in particular, you may get a better deal if you shop either as dealers are packing up or right before the end of a show. Vendors do not always want to pack everything, or again, are tired of a particular piece of merchandise that they had hoped to sell. It does not hurt to ask about a “do-not-want-to-pack” deal, but be friendly!

Are you interested in going to an event? For more information, go to your local antique store and look for the free antique trade magazines that many antique stores carry. The magazines will give you the local “when, where, and hows” of the shows. You can also go online and type “antique event” or “antique swap meet” and your state into your favorite search engine. You will find that shows vary from a one-day-7-AM-to-2-PM event to seven-day extravaganzas. Admission fees vary from free to $25 for a high end show. Do not forget to look for discount coupons for admissions in the antique magazines or at a show promoter’s website.

Enjoy visiting your local events. The hunt is almost as fun as scoring a good buy! If you know your “stuff” and treat the dealers like they are nice neighbors, you will more likely catch a break on a price.

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