Articles by Susan Alon
of the Deal
you shop retail, you cannot ask the clerk 'can
you do any better'? The merchandise is 'priced'.
You will pay $89.00 for that Chanel no. 5 perfume,
and due to modern packaging, it will no longer
have a glass stopper-they use plastic ones now.
But, when you shop the antiques marketplace, and
find a vintage Chanel perfume, unopened and still
cellophane-sealed in its original box, (with a
glass stopper), you can ask if they can do any
better on the price. You may be surprised.
Everything is negotiable. You are shopping where
the art of the deal is the engine of the trade.
Antique dealers are masters of the deal, that's
how we earn our living. And there is a protocol,
a diplomacy of negotiation, where you learn that
the bottom line of any deal is that everyone has
to make a living. Grab and greed do not keep you
in business for long.
The antique marketplace is a quick flowing river,
into which you cannot step twice. As the philosopher
Heraclitus observed, 'all is flux, nothing is
You see something you love, the dealer offers
you a better price than is marked, perhaps because
of a rapport you have established (perhaps because
of pressing monetary obligations). You decide
to 'pass' ('to think about it') and wait-- and
when you return, the treasure is not there. The
seller is pleased especially as he got 'the asking
price', without a deal. And to the almost buyer,
it is a lesson. To some collectors such loss is
inconsequential; to some collectors this loss
just once, and if offered a fair price they pay
it, right then and there. End of discussion. And
if a dealer gives you a deal on this day, don't
expect to come back in a few weeks and have the
same consideration extended. The river flows on.
Expect a ten percent courtesy if you ask, but
usually not on merchandise priced under twenty
dollars. At group shops this is the standard and
only discount. A proprietor who owns his inventory
is more open to further negotiation, depending
on the situation. Especially on higher ticket
items, or items that 'have been kicking around'
(or in my case, that are just not my particular
taste and thus easier to part company with), it
is perfectly polite to ask "do you have room to
negotiate the price" -- negotiate not dispute
[sic. haggle]. The operative words here are dispute
The word 'haggle' is a sixteenth century verb
meaning "to cavil, wrangle, dispute as to terms,
to make difficulties in setting a bargain." There
are certain customers who we love to see come
into our shops. They have mastered the art of
the deal, the practiced steps of the dance-so
you don't step on anyone's foot, or put yours
in your mouth.
When you frequent antique shops, remember simple
courtesies. A shop dealer as opposed to a dealer
who does 'shows' or 'fairs' has a large overhead,
a large inventory, and large monetary obligations.
If we 'have room' to negotiate in a purchase price,
we usually will. But don't press. Don't assume
an attitude that the dealer is trying to make
a killing, or put one over on you, we aren't.
Don't point out flaws hoping for a better price,
the reputable dealer knows these faults better
than you, and has priced accordingly. And don't
insult a dealer with an unreasonable offer, (to
which I usually reply with a smile, would you
like me to pay you to take it?). Simple common
courtesies go a long way.
When you are looking for a deal remember the expertise,
enterprise, and capital investment involved in
finding inventory (from our 'deals'). Respect
the enormous responsibility we all share in making
a living off our trade. We don't charge admission
and we probably could.
Summary, remember, you cannot step twice into
the same deal. If you want it, buy it. Retailers
sell, antique dealer's deal, come prepared.
Alon is proprietor of MiRIAMGREEN Antiquarian
Bookshop & Gallery located in the downtown
Clinton Historic district (Rt One). She is a professional
appraiser, former curator and rare book librarian,
and is one dealer that provides as much detail
as possible-for her the research is one of the
most satisfying parts.