Some novice dealers have a standard percentage that they mark up items they've purchased. They may simply double or triple the amount they paid, resulting in inconsistent pricing of similar items. More experienced dealers know that the price they pay for an item is not the only factor in determining what to ask for it. Rather, value is based on the balance of four things: the quality of a piece, the condition it is in, how rare it is and the demand for the item.
Quality has to do with the talent of the designer, the type of materials used to produce the piece and the level of craftsmanship that went into making it. No matter how beautiful the design, the use of inferior raw materials lowers the quality of a piece. Likewise, no matter how brilliantly a piece is designed or how good the materials used, shoddy workmanship keeps the piece from being valuable, just as no amount of high quality materials and workmanship can make up for poor design.
While quality is determined at the time of design and production, condition has to do with how well a piece has been taken care of since then. Even the best design, manufactured from the best materials by the most exacting craftsmen, loses value if the piece has been mistreated over the years. Sometimes a piece has been so severely damaged that it has lost all its value. On the other hand, if a piece was of low quality to begin with, such as the borax furniture discussed in a recent post, keeping it in mint condition over the years does not increase its value.
A piece can be expertly designed and produced, and it can even be in pristine condition, but if it was produced in great numbers, then it is not rare. Therefore, it is not valuable as it would be if it were less common. Recently we were offered a desk by Sven Aage Madsen that had been produced in teak by the thousands. As a result, many still exist, and many dealers have it for sale. As a matter of fact, a quick search of 1stdibs turned up 18 items by Madsen, 8 of which were that same desk in teak. We declined to buy, politely explaining to the seller that we would have been happy to buy the desk if it had been the rarer rosewood version of the same design.
Finally, even if a piece is of high quality, is in good condition and is quite rare, it is obviously of no value if no one wants it, so demand is another aspect to be considered in pricing an item. Perhaps the economy is depressed, so there are no buyers. It might also be possible that the designer or the material used to produce the piece has developed a social or political stigma, making it less in demand in certain segments of the market, such as the use of some woods, leathers and ivory. There is also the possibility that a dealer has priced an item so high that there is no demand for it at that price, in which case, lowering the price might stimulate demand.
The more a dealer gets to know his product...the designers and the materials they used, the hallmarks of carefully crafted items, the number of similar items still available, the price point his market can support...the more accurately he can price his inventory. And the better buyers research vintage furniture, the more they will understand how experienced dealers arrive at the numbers on their price tags.
|Madsen desk in teak, selling for approximately $2,500|
|Madsen desk in rosewood, selling for approximately $6,000|