Dear Lee,

I have attended many auctions in all parts of the country. I read magazines, papers and websites that follow sales, prices and trends in the collectors’ world. But I still had the worries of a novice when deciding to sell some of my 40-year collection of artists’ enamels. Although I’m an antiques “expert,” the sale of my large collection was filled with surprises. And good and bad choices. If you are considering selling a personal collection, do your research. Your collection must have items in good condition and be marketable, that is, similar to items that have been featured in other auctions (that research will help on the how-to steps I am about to share). Selling a collection takes about six months from the beginning of the process to the date of the auction. If you need to sell your house or settle an estate, the auction house can store the items for you.

  • My first step was to ask my children, some local museums and a few friends which enamels I should save for them.
  • The next important step for me was to hire an auction house with experts who understood my collection of fired, ground glass on metal enamels. I found a well-known auction gallery that had recently sold about 20 vintage enamels in a sale that included other high-priced antiques. There were more than the usual bidders and prices were often over-estimate. It was the perfect gallery for me. If you have an unusual collection, whether pottery or comics, make sure to find an auction house with experience selling similar items.
  • Call the auction house, or houses if you are considering a few. Explain what you have and send pictures. Have questions ready for them, like what is the process and timing. Get everything in writing about processes and charges. Request, fill out and return all the legal papers. Get a signed copy from the auction house. Be clear on the financial responsibility of the auction house in case of damage, theft, omission, problems with storage and shipping, etc.
  • Ask about what will happen if bids are questioned and be clear on charges and payment amounts and responsibilities (taxes and buyers’ premiums are the most confusing).
  • An auction house may not want to sell your items. They must get enough money from the commission charges to cover expenses and make a profit. It must also be something they think will sell to their clients.
  • How does your collection get to the gallery? If you are nearby, you might take some yourself. Larger pieces are shipped to the gallery usually at no cost to the seller. I was surprised when three people came to pick up my enamels.

I didn’t sell my entire collection. In addition to ones saved for friends and relatives, I kept some for when I was ready to part with the rest. The auction house took care of all the publicity, reaching out to museums (some of whom successfully bid on items in the sale), collectibles magazines and newspapers.

These are just some of the lessons I learned. Next month, look for my explanation on bidding and other auction rules. Auctions might be the perfect solution if you are downsizing or taking care of an estates. A bonus of now dominant online auctions is that the reach is international. Which is good for sellers like you and me!

enamel wall hanging, John Puskas, Cleveland

“Lower Euclid Avenue” enamel on copper wall hanging by Cleveland artist John Puskas (1917-2011)


enamel plate, mildred watkins

Enamel on copper footed vessel by Cleveland artist Mildred Watkins (1883-1968)

Photos: Treadway



2 responses to “Tips on Selling a Personal Collection”

  1. Invaluable says:

    Thank you so much for bringing this detailed information. It is educational material for me and I will implement as I downsize. The material you provide your collectors is truly “invaluable!”

  2. Lee Ann Pretzman says:

    Thank you for the information you shared. I had no ideal how long it could take to sell items at an auction and all the other parts you shared.

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