Full Circle Fool
When I first bought into the store, I was totally in over my head. I had no business experience and a very limited knowledge of collectibles and antiques. As the old adage goes; mistakes are the fountainhead of knowledge. This is the story of one such mistake and its repercussions. One Friday morning I got up, got the newspaper classifieds, and saw an estate sale on the Northside. I got there about 8:15 a.m. which is early for a guitar player, but terribly late for a junk dealer. Despite this, I immediately spotted a funny looking but very colorful vase. I took it to the checkout stand and asked what they wanted for it. The woman looked at me and said, “If you want that ugly thing you can just have it.”
“Score!” I thought. Later that day I took it back to the store, looked it over for identifying marks (there were none), and marked it $14.95.
A couple days went by and my senior partner, Ray, came in one morning to drink coffee and shoot the bull, as he often did in those days. After a while, a young hippie girl came in, looked around, and brought that very same vase up to the counter. “Oh boy!” I thought. I turned nothing into $14.95 in less than a week. What a boon! She brought it up to Ray, who turned it over to see the price. Ray turned to me and gave me a dirty look. Really dirty, knives, daggers, and swords were his eyes. He asked the girl if she knew what the vase was.
“No” she said, “It’s just funky looking and I need something to put flowers in.”
“Oh” said Ray. More dirty looks came my way, bullets and bombs this time, and maybe even a 50 mm shell left over from his time on Guadalcanal. “That will be $ 14.95 then,” he said. It felt like it took about an hour and half for the girl to walk from the counter to the front door. When the door closed, it came.
“You fool! Do you know what that was?”
“Of course not,” I thought, but said nothing.
“That was a piece of Roseville pottery. That was worth at least 150 bucks, maybe more.”
“But there was no mark on it,” I said. “I didn’t know.”
“You need to know” he said.
Fortunately a bunch of people came in the store, right then, and that was that. Later that summer while reading a book entitled The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Roseville Pottery, I found that little vase again, value: $250. I began buying more price guides on McCoy, Shawnee, Fire-King, cookie jars, ashtrays etc. It turns out there was a lot I need to “Just know.” eBay and the internet, in general, eventually made these books obsolete, and unwieldy, but I learned a lot with them.
Years later after Ray died and I bought out all my partners, I hired a friend’s wife to help at the store for a while. She had previously worked selling stuff on eBay but was tired of it, and was intrigued by the store. She immediately saw my little library of price guides and went first to the Roseville book. “I know this,” she said. “You should look for this one vase. I sold one last year for $950. She found a picture of the vase and said, “You have to be careful though, it doesn’t have a mark on it.” Mercifully, it wasn’t the vase I’d sold all those years before but was a much larger and more intricate vase.
A week later (no, I’m not making this up: if I was making it up, I’d set it a few months later or a year later but it was really the next week), a gentlemen called the store. His mother was moving from her house into assisted living and had to get rid of some stuff. We made an appointment and soon I was going through their basement.
It was a comical scene, because although everything had to be approved by the mother she didn’t talk to me directly. She sat in her chair in a room just off the basement watching TV. I made a pile of stuff and offered 30 dollars for it, which she accepted via her son. Another side room off the basement held other items he said were not for sale. In this room I spotted that very Roseville vase I’d been told to look out for. I asked if she might sell that one vase on the bottom shelf. He left me to ask his mother. What was comical about this situation was that even though they were in a separate room, I could hear every word they said.
“Well what would he pay for it?” replied the matron.
He came back and I said “I’ll give you $30 just for that one vase.”
The messenger goes back and reports to the general and I hear her immediately say “Take the fools money.” It was a bit of a risk to buy it without examining it first but a risk that panned out. No chips, no cracks, no crazing, all of which can bring the value down to almost nothing. Two weeks later it sold on eBay for $849.00 and we shipped it off to a lady in Illinois.
Oh, I almost forgot, there was one condition issue, and it was probably what kept it from bringing the full $950. On the bottom in Ray’s unmistakable handwriting was written in sharpie, “$7.95”. Full circle fool.