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Wholesale vs. Retail
Wholesale vs Retail

There has been a lot of talk lately about the decline in carnival glass pricing due to the internet and the internet auction sites. My personal belief is that this is a misconception.  If you look at the prices  “good glass” brings at live auctions, antique shops and private sales where people can handle and inspect the glass they are purchasing, the price of carnival glass is as strong as ever.

The purchases made online through the various auction and antique sites are typically 30% less than book values which is understandable as you can not touch the piece and evaluate it for yourself.  You are relying on someone else to tell you about the piece and most of the time you do not have return privileges.

A large percentage of the glass purchased online ends up being resold in antique shops or through private sales and sometimes right back at the same auction sites where it was purchased.  This happens when a buyer receives a piece and it was not the quality they had hoped it would be.   Another factor that has to be added in is the shipping and insurance cost for a piece.  Typically when a seller offers a return privilege, you will pay shipping and insurance both ways.

For me, the internet has been a good place to buy glass but I have the time, money and willingness to deal with the turn over of a large volume of glass.  I buy a great deal of glass on the internet and I can tell you 95% of what I buy ends up being resold.   For various reasons the glass does not meet the standard of the pieces I want in my collection.  I spend an average of $ 40,000 per year buying glass on the internet most of which is resold.  When I evaluate my cost for the pieces I keep and factor in the losses from the pieces I have to resell, plus all the shipping and insurance charges, my collection has cost me book value, maybe a little more.

The great thing about the internet is the volume of glass for sale.  I would guess there is over 1000 pieces of carnival glass listed for sale on the internet daily.  That is more glass than most people would have seen in their lifetime prior to the internet.  Most of what is listed for sale is contemporary or the common older pieces with average iridization.  When the really spectacular pieces of glass show up for sale, complete with good pictures and return privileges, these pieces sell for well over book values.   I personally believe they would bring even more at a live auction where everyone can see the piece first hand.

Within the last year I have seen a price guide that has started to reflect internet pricing in their calculations. Any price guide that uses internet values should state that they are using internet values.  Internet values should be viewed differently than live price guide values where we have the opportunity to touch and personally evaluate the glass.      

There is NO comparison between online purchases and live purchases, which is why I consider online carnival glass purchases wholesale and live purchases retail.   All of our prices guides have been based on live auction and person to person sales and the price guides reflect the average prices for a piece of glass  They do not adequately reflect the prices for the spectacular pieces that are sold.  That is information that you learn from going to the numerous live auctions held every year.  I have included a couple of pictures to show you the wide variation of quality and pricing from internet purchases.

Emerald Green Good Luck Plate
Aqua Opal Three Fruits Medallion
Emerald Green Good Luck Plate
Aqua Opal Three Fruits Medallion
This emerald green good luck plate sold on Ebay 02/04/04 for $3799.00.
Book value for this $3100.00.
This Aqua Opal Three Fruits Medallion sold on Ebay
02/13/04 for $402.00.
Book value for this is $450 - $600 with exceptional pieces bringing over $1000.00.

These are just two examples of the variation in price on the internet.

I think a true test of internet vs. in person pricing would be to purchase a good piece of glass online and send this same piece to a live auction to be sold and document the price difference.  I know this happens already as several of the auction houses buy online and resell pieces in their auctions. Unfortunately to date, I have not been able to obtain the ebay vs. live sale prices.

The fact that this practice is common reinforces the fact that the internet is wholesale and person to person is retail.  If there were no difference in price, these auctioneers would not buy glass online. I am not in anyway questioning this practice as this glass is available for anyone to buy.   These auctioneers are taking the same risks we are when we purchase carnival glass online.  They are buying sight unseen and may possibly receive glass that is not as described and/or has undisclosed damage, etc.   But when the auctioneer resells at a live auction, the collector will examine the piece and bid accordingly or not bid at all.
Live examination is the only way to determine a fair value for glass.

These are just my thoughts on this subject and I am willing to hear other opinions.  For now our hobby is doing well and if we keep the questionable price guides out of the mainstream, our hobby will continue to grow and prices will maintain and escalate as more people discover carnival glass.

Neal Smith

Thoughts, opinions or comments concerning this article can be emailed to:

Neal Smith

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A Few Words on Vaseline Glass   ·   A Lesson in Toxic Issues   ·   A Personal Reflection into Fenton Past   ·   America the Beautiful   ·   Beginners Journey   ·   Brocaded Roses by Central Glass   ·   Don Grizzle and His NW Jardiniere   ·   Famous Last Words   ·   Fenton Dragon & Lotus   ·   Fishscale & Beads   ·   Frank M. Fenton   ·   Grapevine Lattice   ·   In Memory Of George Loescher   ·   Lattice & Points/Vining Twigs   ·   My First True Love ~aka~ Cosmos & Cane   ·   My First Days of Carnival Glass Collecting   ·   Popularity  VS.  Actual Rarity   ·   The Different Millersburg Peacock Molds   ·   The Myths and Mysteries of Straw Marks   ·   The Stuff We Prize is Just on Loan   ·   Thoughts From Fay   ·   What A Message   ·   Wholesale vs. Retail

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