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Art of the Deal

  When 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 stationary'.

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 and difficulties.

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.
Susan 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.


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