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How to Make a Living as an Antiques and Collectibles Picker

Stacie L has been in the antiques and collectibles business most of her life. She learned from her mom, an antique dealer.

How to become an antiques and collectibles picker.

How to become an antiques and collectibles picker.

Pick, Pick, Pick

In this context, pickers have nothing to do with the banjo. They are people that make their living looking for collectibles that others will buy. They spend their time digging through other people's barns, attics, garages, and abandoned buildings looking for particular items.

They are on a mission to locate special pieces that customers may want and be willing to pay good money for. Some pickers work for other people and many work for themselves. The economy has spurred people to start searching for unique items at garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, church sales, and thrift shops in their region.

Many antique and collectibles buyers can help save the past and make some money too. Most of the rusted and forgotten junk sitting in the fields and basements is thought to be worthless, but someone may want it.

Antiques are defined as anything that is 75 years old and older. Anything old is not valuable so more people are interested in collectibles. They do not have to be old, just in high demand.

One good way to find some deals is to be the only one looking at someone's house or barn filled with stuff. Many hoarders are visited by "junkers" that want to look around but not all hoarders will be open to this.

Vintage motorized bike is a great collectible.

Vintage motorized bike is a great collectible.

Vintage Items Sell

Some vintage items such as jewelry, bikes, posters, bicycles, metal signs, motorcycles, and clothing sell for high prices.

Some collectors will pay well for a vintage-era purse from the '60s or an antique dress from the roaring '20s.

Other collectors like to find old Schwinn bikes from the '40s, and old wooden console radios from the '30s. They will restore them and sell them at an antique show or shop. Sometimes items sell online for a good price, but these items do a much better job of selling themselves when seen in person.

I like old rocking chairs and recently bought three at a local auction house. They represent history and look good in the house. Of course, I'll sell them for the right price.

Antique Bakelite silverware set.

Antique Bakelite silverware set.

Reasons to Start an Antiques and Collectibles Business

There have been pickers and estate buyers for generations, but the antique picker is fast becoming a popular way to make a living.

Of course, pawnbrokers are a type of picker as well. They can sit back and wait for people to bring them items but not all are antiques or valuable.

Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Stars, and now Storage Wars have piqued people's interest in making money off collectibles and antiques.

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The downturn in the economy has created new and creative ways to raise cash and make a living, for sure. With the influx of recent reality shows, the “American Pickers” program really stood out.

Most of my family and friends have grown up with a love of antiques and collectibles. They are a good way to preserve history, culture, and interest in a way of life. They are also a great investment if you buy right or hold onto an item until it increases in value. The team of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz drive all over the back roads of America, looking for the most unusual and difficult-to-find antiques and collectibles imaginable.

Their trips are usually planned by the third member of the team, Danielle Dolbey, who sets up meetings in advance. There are times Frank and Mike strike out with a potential seller, so they must freestyle and look for a deal. They scour the streets looking for an old garage, barn, or vacant building, and knock on some doors.

Steps to Starting a Business as a Freelance Antiques and Collectibles Picker

There are definite steps that will help you become successful as an antique and collectibles dealer. You need to take care and follow proven methods or you'll waste a lot of money and time.

Here are some of the best steps I know towards a successful business:

  1. Set up a business name.
  2. Set up a business account.
  3. Get an occupational license.
  4. Get a state sales tax number.
  5. Get business cards, posters, and fliers made up.
  6. Set up a website or blog.
  7. Set up an online store.
  8. Hold information seminars or appraisals to network.
  9. Teach an adult education class.
  10. Read and research religiously.
  11. Visit many, many antique shops, second-hand stores, pawnshops, flea markets, and online auction sites.
  12. Read and comment on forums for collectibles and antiques.
  13. Have a reliable smartphone with a browser.
  14. Make a list of potential buyers.
  15. Pay people to be “bird dogs” or lookouts for potential sellers.
  16. Post classified ads in local papers all over the country looking to buy out barns.
  17. Offer to do a cleanup service.
  18. offer services to realtors who do estate sales.
  19. Get a small pickup truck or van to start out with.
  20. Set up a booth in a consignment shop to start with, and then move into your own shop when you become successful
  21. Never think you know it all. Learn something new every day.

Diplomacy: How to Wheel and Deal

Finding potential deals means you must be tenacious, approachable, and diplomatic.

You'll never be able to find the prize if you're shy, afraid to knock on doors, and take "no" personally. It's like being a door-to-door salesman. Mike and Frank know how to approach most sellers with charm and humor. I like the fact that no matter how dingy and dirty the place is, they never show any judgment in their voices and manners.

People want to be seen and heard, so respect their space and lifestyle, or you'll never get anywhere with them.

Speaking to people about selling their daddy's old motorcycle, rusty bike or metal sign that's been hidden away for decades takes some finesse.

The way you approach them and your tone are equally important. They may not think their junk piled up in the barn is worth anything, but when you start asking how much they want or offer a big price, it may put them off or make them suspicious.

Since most of my deals and collectibles are usually set in a rural location, you'll be dealing with people who don't come in contact with many strangers. Newcomers, and city dwellers especially, will not always be welcomed.

They don't want a repeat of when some fast-talking city slicker cheated granddad out of his land or something like that.

I've run into this situation before so I know you need to warm up to them. Small talk and being genuinely interested will help. Do not pretend to like them or put on an accent because they will know. I've seen people do this, and it's embarrassing and rude, to say the least.

Be upfront and be careful not to show too much interest, or you'll not be able to afford anything.

Finding Bargains

There are several handy sites and books to help you figure out if there is a good deal or not. I check out the eBay auctions and then subscribe to Collectors Weekly to see what is popular

Calling on your list of buyers is one way to figure out a price. Another way is thumbing through general price guides such as Kovels' Price Guide, Schroeder's Price Guide, the Antiques Trader, Warman's Guide, and Millers.

There are many item-specific price guides, too numerous to mention.

When you are out of town, visit the local library or bookstores. Also, go to the local auctions to find a bargain.

Website subscription services such as Price4Antiques charge $12 a year.

An old manual cash register is a good item for pickers to sell.

An old manual cash register is a good item for pickers to sell.

Finally, Why Become an Antiques Picker?

The whole reason for picking and searching through junk is to make money.

Whether you frequent garage sales, estate sales, thrift shops, antique malls, consignment shops, or knock on strangers' doors to pick through their junk, there's a deal waiting for you.

Not everyone will make a large profit or any at all. It takes many hours and years of experience to know what is real and what is a dud.

My best deal was the sale of a '60s character doll by the name of “Blythe.” She had a small body and an oversized head, but when you pulled her cord, the eye colors changed four times. I bought her at a garage sale in the late '70s and sold her in early 2001, when eBay fever was boiling, to a Japanese buyer for $1250. She had been sitting quietly in a china cabinet for many years until I saw how much money people were paying for these dolls. Sorry, Blythe, everyone has a price!

I guess everyone and everything has a price and I couldn't turn that down. Look around and watch some programs about collectibles also. Not all antiques are valuable, just as not all collectibles are. Antique pickers learn from their mistakes and move on.

It's easy to get burnt and hang on to your mistakes. Keep your price guides and cell phones handy. Good luck.

Vintage Blythe dolls are a great selling collectible item that collectors will pay high for.

Vintage Blythe dolls are a great selling collectible item that collectors will pay high for.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have some antiques that were given to me by very special people and I wouldn't dream of selling them unless the profit would be enough to change my life significantly. Is there any company I could call to get estimates on a bunch of different items such as books, brooches, vases, etc.?

Answer: You can call auction companies, estate sales, or high end auctioneers such as Sothebys.

© 2010 Stacie L


Avery Porter on February 28, 2017:

I am young and this will definitely help me in the future. Cant wait to start picking!

Stacie L (author) on April 16, 2016:

Yes, I think half the fun of picking for antique and collectibles buyers is the hunt!Thanks for commenting ;-)

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on April 11, 2016:

Love the treasure hunt in the picking and have been at it for decades. There is a certain satisfaction in finding a treasure from the past.

Stacie L (author) on January 25, 2015:

Thank you for your sharing your experiences about the auctions and flea markets business. it can become addicting to attend and the hunt is very exciting.

You may have the best experience to become someone's collectibles picker.

Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on January 25, 2015:

Great tips here !

I've been going to auctions and flea markets since I was a baby as my Grandpa's helper and then later I worked at booths and even in an auction office registering folks and cashing them out at the end of the day.

Now I have my Mom's gift shop in Hubbard, Ohio.

You sure do learn a bunch about people and we have made many great friends over the years too :)

LisaKeating on June 24, 2014:

Love this article. You have lots of relevant information. I am a picker. Of course today people say we are popping tags! I love it. I sell in an antique mall and on ebay. I have some collecting-related hubs if you want to check those out.

auctionwally from New England on December 03, 2013:

Great article Stacie! I'm an auctioneer and have been a picker for 30+ years, it is a great way to make a living. And with this economy, there's a lot of opportunity out there for people un-employed or under-employed in the picking world. As an auctioneer who still picks, I also encourage others to pick for my auction. It's a never ending cycle of opportunity! For more info on auctions & antiques go to

Phoenix Picker from Phoenix, Arizona on January 10, 2013:

I am living proof that picking does bring in the money. People love to collect vintage items. I just bought a set of old vintage fisher price animals for $3. I sold them for over $25. Do that a few times a day and you have some great profit! Look up Phoenix Picker on Google and watch my videos how to become a better picker! Great article packed full of awesome information. Thank you Stacie for taking the time to write it!

Stacie L (author) on August 03, 2012:

Picking for someone else is more fun when you use their money. Thanks for reading and commenting

Lovelovemeloveme from Cindee's Land on August 03, 2012:

thanks for the hub. interesting read

Stacie L (author) on June 01, 2012:

The Grrl:Yes, I agree that being a picker could have you stuck with lots of stuff. I did write about being a hoarder so people need to be careful. The right way is to keep in contact with your buyers when you are out in the field and now these smartphones and other devices can help tremendously.

Thank you for reading my picker hub and leaving thoughtful comments.

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on May 31, 2012:

The problem with picking for yourself is you take on all the risk and you need to find the right buyers for all your stuff. I think it would be easier to pick for yourself as a hobby and just pick up stuff you know you are going to make use of right away. The more you keep around the more you look like a hoarder rather than a picker/ collector.

jaysin on November 20, 2011:

very good advice. i started picking at 15 before i knew what a picker was. i started with yardsales and cleaning out barns for elderly people and had some low end stuff given to me and as time passed working for these people and getting to know them they opened up and offered to sell better stuff in the basement or attic daddys old shotgun old steam trunks ect one person after working for needed 400 for a new water hearter and called asking if i was intrested in something she had she sold me a near mint loui vatton sp? steamer trunk that i sold to a antuiqe shop for 15,000 and actually gave her half the money such a sweet ol gal she was

Stacie L (author) on April 05, 2011:

@j Sunhawk: it's sounds like you had fun being a picker...yeah some hot collectibles can become cold as ice ,without warning..beanie babies are taboo..sorry ;-)

J Sunhawk from South Carolina on April 05, 2011:

In one of my previous incarnations, I "picked" for a dealer. He'd pay me about 30% of its auction value. So I got "smart" and started picking for myself.

Still have an attic full of junk. Interested in any beanie babies?

Stacie L (author) on April 01, 2011:

@whatzis; thank you for reading and commenting on my hub.

Frank and Mike buy things I would never buy! LOL

whatzis on April 01, 2011:

Very good- and interesting as I have been "pickin" for over 40 years. I don't buy the stuff Mike and Frank do as there are different interests in their part of rural America.

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