YOUR MONEY: Online, a worldwide garage sale for cash-strapped AmericansThe sale is an international-flavored byproduct of recession in which consumers overseas are gobbling up such things as vacuum tubes, 1950s jukebox parts and battered guitar amplifiers from Americans anxious to raise cash.
By: Joe Taschler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE - When Salem United Methodist Church in Waukesha, Wis., decided to remove an old organ from the sanctuary, then-Pastor Joel Deaner-Rogers set out to sell a few parts to recoup the $325 cost to dispose of it.
He contacted Mike Boerschinger, a local consignment store co-owner, who told him parts from the speakers that accompanied the 1942 Allen model are hot items overseas and would fetch a bundle.
"The next thing I know, they sent us a check for $2,400," Deaner-Rogers said. "I was like, holy cow! I was astonished."
The sale is an international-flavored byproduct of recession in which consumers overseas are gobbling up such things as vacuum tubes, 1950s jukebox parts and battered guitar amplifiers from Americans anxious to raise cash.
Boerschinger is one of the middlemen in such transactions.
His Sell It Now Store in Waukesha, which he owns with his wife, Lisa, specializes in selling items that have a minimum value of $100 on eBay.
"We're growing by leaps and bounds," he said. "We've expanded at least five times in the past two and a half years.
"It's really busy."
When the economy goes south, people will try to sell just about anything to make ends meet, Boerschinger said.
At Gary Reschenberg's Auction It Today store in Oshkosh, Wis., some customers have come in looking for extra cash to pay medical bills. Others have lost a job. Business has picked up a bit in recent weeks as the economy has continued to slow, he said.
What a customer thinks might be worth a fortune often isn't, the consignment experts say. The merchandise that ends up being auctioned is usually the result of talking with customers about the hottest items - such as vintage audio/visual equipment.
"Invariably, they have something" in their attic or basement that someone will pay dearly for, Reschenberg said.
Inquiries come each day about the value of items such as old clothing, dishes, dolls, pinball machines, guitars, radios, cars, car parts and used laptop computers - some worth nothing, some worth serious cash, Boerschinger said.
"We have no problem selling the high-end items," he said. "When people talk about discretionary income, there's still a fair amount of it in the world."
Like the 1950s Les Paul guitar and amplifier that a senior citizen couple brought in one day.
"I expected $15,000 to $20,000" for the pair, Boerschinger said. "I didn't expect $40,000," which is what someone in northern Europe paid.
Not everything is sold abroad. Among his store's high-end auction sales, both U.S. coasts seem to have plenty of discretionary spending power, Boerschinger said.
At Reschenberg's store, a cornet - an instrument similar to a trumpet - that was manufactured in the 1800s recently sold to someone in the United States for $5,800.
A porcelain doll head that some of his college-age employees described as "creepy" sold for $369, he said. It also went to a U.S. buyer.
"You name the item and there seems to be collectors for it," Reschenberg said.
Like the 1903 Eveready flashlight that sold for more than $400. Or the early 1900s funeral parlor fan that sold for $800.
"It's a very interesting business. You think you've seen it all," and then find customers in Sweden and Finland who spend $200 to $300 for 1970s Chrysler bumper guards, Reschenberg said.
The businesses are commission-based consignment shops. They do research, determine whether an item has value, and then handle the marketing, online auction posting, shipping and customs. In return they get a commission based on the price paid at auction after the auction site's fees are subtracted.
A spot check shows commissions range from 25 percent to 38 percent depending on the price of the item. Buyers almost always pay for shipping.
Part of the reason for the success of selling goods overseas stems from a fascination among Europeans and Asians with certain vintage American goods. Combine that with a relatively weak dollar and you have a robust market.
"Right now, there's a substantial increase in purchasing power," for residents of Europe and Asia, said Joseph Daniels, a Marquette University international economics professor who is a visiting professor this semester at Wake Forest University.
He gave an example of a vintage American amplifier that operates using vacuum tubes. Assuming a constant price of $2,000 on eBay, the amp would have cost around 2,300 euros in 2002. Today, it would cost about 1,500 euros based on the exchange rate.
With an exchange rate like that, overseas buyers are jumping on purchases of vintage American items, Daniels said.
That was echoed by Tom McKinney, president of the American Historic Jukebox Society based outside Philadelphia.
"It's a whole fascination with Americana," McKinney said.
Jukeboxes from the mid- to late 1950s are extremely popular in Europe, and the value of some models keeps going up, said Frank Benner, treasurer for the jukebox society.
And some of those jukeboxes might be in somebody's basement or storage shed.
"We find them all the time," McKinney said.
Christy Librizzi of Milwaukee discovered the international demand when she put a bunch of heavy metal - "really dark, heavy metal" - CDs up on eBay. The CDs, sold in lots of six, were gone quickly and went to the UK, northern Europe, Saudi Arabia, China and Spain. Only two lots went to U.S. customers. The best price was $150 for a lot.
"I was like, 'Dang, I wish I had more of those,'" she said. "It was insane."
But not unusual.
"I sold a stack of Barbra Streisand records to a guy in England," she said. "He paid $20 for them and paid $25 to ship them."
Librizzi operates her business from her basement and rarely takes consignments. The heavy metal CDs were an exception. She often picks up items at garage sales and resells them.
"It's very crazy," she said.
Reschenberg recalls someone bringing in an old concertina. When he opened it up, dead bugs fell out of the bellows. Someone in Sicily bought the instrument for around $75, he said.
The Boerschingers have a number of pinball machines in the store.
"Those pinball machines, they'll go to Italy or France," Mike Boerschinger said, pointing to a couple of machines in the store.
On a nearby shelf is a 1962 Gretsch guitar.
"This one will go to Europe" once it is listed, he predicted.
Last week, the store was packing up a 1920s-era radio for shipment to Switzerland.
"Anything can go anywhere," Lisa Boerschinger said.
"We have people every day who bring in something interesting," Mike Boerschinger said.
Said Reschenberg: "You never know what's coming in the door."
On the Web www.sellitnowstore.comwww.auctionittoday121.com/