When eBay teaching and selling legend Lynn Dralle came across a large collection of antique apothecary bottles at a local estate sale, her grandmother’s advice crept into her head.
“When you come across a collection, buy the whole table,” her grandmother used to say. “Something on there is going to make money.”
Apothecary bottles are old pharmaceutical receptacles for drugs, elixirs and vaccines. “The bottles were selling for $1 to $2 each, so I bought them all,” said Dralle, known to many as The Queen of Auctions. “It was brown glass, and I wasn’t sure they’d sell.”
When she got the collection home, she discovered something more worrisome. Some of the late 19th century bottles still had prescription medicines in them!
“I thought there was going to be an explosion in my office,” said Dralle. “It was 120 degrees – a typical Palm Springs summer – and I thought they were going to blow.”
There were vaccinations still in vials and needles. The labels referred to all kinds of different influenza strains and vaccine cures. “There was no way I could sell half the stuff on eBay,” said Dralle. “The health scare implications alone were just troubling.”
Dralle ended up disposing of half the collection and cleaning some of the remaining apothecary bottles for some test listings.
Initially, Dralle put up auction listings, but once she got the sense that these kinds of apothecary bottle collectors were not so common, she switched to BIN (Buy It Now) pricing with Best Offer options. She did some research, tracking similar items in completed listings. Apparently, $100 to $200 per bottle was the BIN sweet spot.
As interest trickled in and her listings gained more exposure, Dralle became grateful for eBay’s international reach. “I noticed that a lot of the interest, questions and sales were coming from foreign countries,” said Dralle.
Overall, approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of Dralle’s business is international. Most of the apothecary bottle sales sold internationally.
As of now, Dralle has sold $6,000 worth of bottles on her initial $200 investment —not too bad for a collection that she thought would land her in trouble with the FDA. She still has 30 of the initial 80 salvaged and cleaned bottles listed on eBay.
Noticing Collections, Taking Chances
Purchases like the apothecary bottles are what have made Dralle’s eBay selling career interesting. The keys to her success have been flexibility, trend-spotting, and bold buys.
“eBay has changed a lot since my start in 1998,” said Dralle. “I used to find rare items at garage and yard sales that would easily sell for $1,000 to $2,000. Today is way more competitive, however.”
To stay competitive and keep profit margins high, Dralle offers a few important tips:
Move Away from Conventional Collectible and Antique Categories.
“The old Victorian antiques just don’t sell like they used to,” said Dralle. Why? The demographics are changing.
“People that have money want to collect the stuff they remember from their childhood – the stuff their parents had,” said Dralle. That’s why Mid-Century Modern items are currently much more popular than the older antiques. “Popular items come from the 1947 to 1969 era,” she added. “That’s where the big hits are now.”
Go to Estate Sales.
“The best stuff is no longer at thrift stores or garage sales,” said Dralle. Buyers need to forge relationships with estate sale organizers and make sure they get asked back. “I always make a point to never question the prices at estate sales and always spend money, even if I don’t like what’s there,” said Dralle. The key is to get invited to an early showing at the next estate sale that’s lined up.
Pay Attention to Unique Cultural Trends.
As an example of how trends are important, Dralle noticed the “Steampunk” movement early on. This is the Victorian armor and adornment trend that blends gothic elements with a techie sensibility. Look at some Google Images, and you’ll get a taste for it.
Follow Gender Preferences and Target Sales to Them Specifically.
In Dralle’s Queen’s Court mastermind group, the predominantly female sellers have noticed some gender differences when it comes to buyers. “A lot of items, like the Steampunk stuff, appeal directly to male buyers,” said Dralle. “We’ve noticed that guys will spend more money and act quickly on a sale when they find the right items.”