Have you made it out to your local antique or consignment store lately? Here’s why you should.
I’m consistently surprised by the amount of consignment antique stores that still exist. You can always tell if they’re consignment shops by whether or not they have stalls dividing different areas. Each area contains the stuff of a particular person. When that stuff sells, the stall owner/renter/what have you makes most of the money and the shop keeps a worthy chunk.
I’m surprised because they are a terrible business model in the internet age. Almost every single item you look for at a consignment store will be cheaper on eBay or Facebook or Craigslist. It’s for the simple reason that you have two parties trying to make money. There’s a lot of overhead which is why I’ve hypothesized that most of these places are going to be gone in the next twenty years (probably ten). I’ve tried to find other types of deals there, and they simply don’t exist, with the exception of comics.
Paper goods in consignment stores always carry a heavy premium. Books that are old enough to have frayed bindings, but not old enough to be first editions or be written by worthy authors are often stacked in bookshelves. Cheap lithograph copies of famous Art Nouveau or Art Deco prints are aplenty. And every now and then you’ll find a stack of comics in a white wicker basket or a sheet music stand or something else that’s old and flat and displays things upright.
Like the books and prints in the antique store, comics are often overpriced. I’ve seen no-name 60 centers go for $10 a piece. I’ve also seen modern books go for less than 60 cents themselves. And that’s where you can find the treasure.
A Path Less Traveled
If a consignment shop has been around long enough, it’s going to have stuff that hasn’t had a price change in years, or sometimes even decades. This is great for those of us looking for the hottest speculation. You might find mint unread copies of books absolutely nobody cared about one, three, or ten years ago. Now, when the seller initially priced it, it might have been 10 or 20% above value. But things change, and when you’re in the spec game, things can change a lot.
Take something like Avengers Annual #10 for example. Always a decent priced book, but it’s getting legs now. It wouldn’t have been the first pick up a few years back when everyone was sifting through big names like Batman and X-men and Wonder Woman, but now it’s worth something and it’s still in that antique newsstand at the antique store.
There are plenty of times when I sift through tons and tons of books and walk out with nothing. But there are the times when a stall is closing, and the seller does a firesale on enough long boxes to build a house at less than a dollar a piece. That’s when you don’t have much to worry about in terms of risk. Grab a bunch of stuff that’s in good shape and see what happens. Is it unlikely that Hellstorm #1 is going to jump when the new Son of Satan movie comes out? Yes. (Just to clarify, there is no Son of Satan movie coming out.)
But it’s a hell of a lot of fun looking through books you’ve never heard of, enjoying the art, and picking up something that you might go ahead and read. Because that’s why we’re doing it in the end. Let’s leave the big money in the vacuum-sealed cases at home, and let’s enjoy digging for that golden nugget. You’ll weave between the shelves packed with Dostoevsky and Bierce, avoid the odd porcelain dolls hanging from the picket fence stall, and there, on top of the upright piano, will be whatever you were hoping to find. Or not.
But the hunt is all the fun.