Sunday, September 30, 2007
A lot of forums are talking about value and what does "price" mean.
In "domain king meet oak king" I've told you that I learned my biggest lesson in value during my early days as a wholesale antique dealer.
The story of the #6 Larkin chair is a case in point. You might see these two chairs in the garbage or at a flea market. You'd pass them right by without a hint of value. In this recent instance, a $50 purchase at the Lincon Rd flea market that had $7800 in end-user resale value as PARTS. But the seller would never know that.
At the turn of the century, these were given away free with detergent purchases from the larkin Soap company. The Larkin Soap Company had been the biggest mail-order company in the world in the first half of the 20th century. John Larkin has been referred to as the "Bill Gates" of his time. At its pinnacle, the Larkin Soap Company was a highly innovative and successful marketing and manufacturing firm. By the early 1900s, the company encompassed more than 500 acres of floor space for manufacturing and distribution. The company's heyday came inthe 1920s, when 1.5 million customers bought domestic necessities through the mail and the company grossed $21 million annually while employing 4,000 workers and publishing bi-annual product catalogs.
But, in a world of reproductions, with the ability to even find, let alone buy a set of these rare original qaurter-sawn oak chairs gone today (here's one for $2700 but without the right pattern on the back).... anyone needing another to add to their growing family or a part to replace a chair burned or broken will pay dearly.
That's what I predicted in the late 70s when the last million Larkin chairs were mined from New England and Pennsylvania farmhouse and exported west to be refinished and sold to restaurants and Hollywood royalty. So when I couldn't make money reselling the chairs wholesale any more, rather than compete with other dealers paying $35-65 each, I found singles, painted chairs, even broken chairs at a $1 or less each and stashed them in a barn for this day. But in1984 I would leave NY for California so I cut a deal $3.50 for each of my 15,000 mixed and matched, painted, broken chairs for a stake in the property where they'd be stored.
Today, thanks to the Internet, my mentor in the Antique biz to whom I traded the chairs, has enjoyed a cash-enriched, tax-advantaged retirement with each of the 26 pieces that comprise a Larkin chair going for an average of $150 a part on eBay or one of the Internet exchanges.
While dealers in the 70s battled each other to make a few dollars at $65 a chair, and some dealers now get $2700 for a set of six chairs, my friend is getting $3900 for the parts of ONE chair I paid less than $1 for- that everyone else had passed as damaged goods.
So what's a dollar worth in 35 years?
polaroids of me buying some of my Larkin chair collection at the 1978Brimfield Fea Market