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Dealers: Tighter times for antiques, but sellers aren’t desperate

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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While stocks and homes have fallen out of favor with many American investors, antiques continue to hold a different place in people’s portfolios. And hearts, for that matter. Dealers and buyers at this past weekend’s Twin Bridges Antique Show and Sale in Auburn were generally upbeat about the business of selling everything from estate jewelry to antique dolls to fine old furniture. But within that optimism were hints that antiques aren’t entirely recession-proof. That has been borne out by the recent fourth quarter earnings report by online auctioneer eBay Inc. While total number of active buyers and sellers grew during that span by 4 percent to 86.3 million, its earnings dropped 31 percent. Perhaps more ominous as the slide continues in the economy, the total amount of money changing hands — excluding vehicle sales — freefell 12 percent for eBay. Maureen Heller, a Sacramento silverware seller, said people are watching their budgets enough to offer to trade rather than buy. “They’re being picky about buying,” she said. At the Twin Bridges show at the Gold Country Fairgrounds, promoter Carole Berry said that attendance — which on the first day was more than 500 — mirrored what she had observed at other shows in the region. “We’re seeing strong attendance and amazingly strong sales,” Berry said. “They’re not just window shoppers and they’re not just buying small items but high ticket ones.” Some dealers have gone so far as to theorize that people are so chagrined by the investment potential of stocks that they’re putting their money into antiques instead, she said. Antique lovers were lined up before the show’s start Saturday. Berry said she’s seen more people liquidating their collections but hasn’t seen them doing so out of financial desperation. Barbara Singer, a San Mateo antique dealer who has been in the business since 1978, said she had one woman approach her to sell a broach but that she was also a dealer who was getting out of the business. “I don’t think she was desperate,” Singer said. Cool’s Joe and Gloria Bilotta provided shoppers with a range of Western memorabilia and art. They said that it’s a little too soon in the cycle to see people unloading their prized collectibles to drum up some cash. “Antiques are the last to go,” Joe Bilotta said. “They’ll get rid of their kids — when they’re old enough — first. For some people, selling something is like pulling teeth.” Auburn’s Al Travelstaad said that he’s noticed that people are spending their money more wisely than they have in the past. “I’ve done quite well in the past six months,” he said. “Particularly with the higher priced merchandise. There are still a lot of buyers spending.” Kathleen Howell, a Cameron Park resident selling costume jewelry, said her experience at recent sales has indicated people are avoiding some of the more costly items. “They’re looking for things that are pretty and under $25,” she said. “They want to treat themselves but they don’t want to break the bank.” Anita Bunch, a Lincoln-Sun City resident, said that from a shopper’s point of view, the past few months have seen a buyer’s marketplace. “Dealers are absolutely willing to deal,” Bunch said. “Especially with higher priced items.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.