A question about dealers

    Most of my thinking time seems to occur while I am driving to or from shows. On my way back to sunny Missouri after a drizzly military vehicle rally in Spooner, Wisconsin, I was thinking about buying things at shows.

    I ponder a lot of different things on such drives, but a single phenomenon that seems to be equally rampant at both military vehicle shows and military relic shows monopolized my thoughts: Dealers who don’t price their items. “What can possibly be their motive?” I asked myself. Hours past as I ran various scenarios to justify this behavior.

    At long last, I couldn’t come up with anything other than, “A dealer who doesn’t price their items at a show hope to take advantage of a buyer.” Surely, the dealer knows what he paid for the item. Surely, he knows what sort of profit he wants to make. And yet, many dealers don’t mark the prices. Why?

    Honestly, I can’t think of any reason other than they hope to put the screws to customers after they evaluate the potential victims ability to shell out cash. There might be less sinister motives, but I couldn’t come up with them.

    So, I am asking the readers, “Why do dealers make the effort to set up their wares at shows but neglect to put price tags on them?” Share your thoughts with us in the “COMMENTS” section.

Keep treating others the way you hope to be treated,
John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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8 thoughts on “A question about dealers

  1. Robert Gholston on said:

    When I ETS’ed from the Army in the Summer of’71, I started frequenting a shop right off the main square of downtown in a town in North central Oklahoma, where I live. This shop had a little of everything, from furniture to junk, antiques and collectibles. He purposefully left many items unmarked. Becoming curious over a period of time, I asked him why. He replied that he wanted to try and gauge the depth of a potential customer’s pockets, while attempting to see how badly the potential customer wanted the piece in question, and what might be the limit he was willing to go. I have always remembered this, and when I go to shows and see displays set up unmarked as to price, I can’t help but smile. I feel as though Vultures are watching me. Only if there is something there that I am REALLY interested in, will I even engage the dealer in banter, and I will know from the outset what it is worth to ME, and what I’m willing to go. Thankfully, I don’t see much of this practice anymore.

  2. John R. Blair Jr. on said:

    I think you nailed it when you said dealers evaluate you by your looks as too what the price may be.
    This is a common practice and NOT just at gun and militaria shows.

    The MOST infuriating thing (NOT just at gun and militaria shows) though is when you ask and they say Oh that’s NOT FOR SALE. I respond I paid an entrance fee to a show/market not a museum; put a price on it or take it OFF the table!

    I remember the days when a SHOW had a section of personal collections just for display and for prizes or ribbons; those were the days!!!!

    One technique that worked in the past???
    Wait until after lunch on the last day when the BUYERS rule!
    I have even had DEALERS tell me “I need gas to get back home, make an offer” talk about deals!!!!!
    Oh! And always dress down, it throws their assessment off….

  3. Barry Holtan on said:

    Hi John,
    While I often see items that are not priced, they usually do have a sticker on them with a letter/number code that will tell the seller what he paid for the item and the sky is the limit on a realized sale price… as long as the desired profit margin is met. A lot of dealers say they will buy things at 60% (or other ratio) of retail so they can make a profit and will have lower priced items on their table to justify a low purchase price to an unknowing customer (e.g. a 2nd class Iron Cross is common, but some makers are not).
    I believe your guess is accurate. As the saying goes, ‘an item is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it’. The buyer’s clothing; accessories (watch; reference books; shopping bag); age; knowledge of the item; etc. are all used to guage the ‘quality’ of the buyer to the seller. This will also help to establish the emotional connection to the item… the unshakeable desire to possess that item.
    I knew a dealer (deceased) who would not mark the prices -just so he could engage the potential buyer in dialog. He was quite the actor and would assign a romanticized fairy tale to every one of his items (e.g. ‘this Arisaka bayonet was taken from a Japanese soldier trying to infiltrate the staff area of MacArthur’s headquarters’, etc.). He was something to behold. He spoke 6 languages and would engage customers in their native tongue with his concocted ‘provenance’ and therefore appeal to the customer’s emotional attachment to the item. Perhaps the buyer’s father/grandfather fought in a certain war and remembered seeing certain items as a child; or was THE veteran that fought and lost all of his souvenirs and so forth. Whatever the reason a person was interested in a particular item was eventually exploited and used against the buyer. It was a game to this dealer -as he knew if this person didn’t buy it, someone else would. He was that good.
    Of course buyers don’t often have high scruples either -everyone of us always look for the ‘deals’ to be had. A dealer that doesn’t know what he has is prime pickings for an educated buyer. I personally saw a knowledgeable Airborne collector ask about a WWII-vintage wing background for the 506th (Band of Brothers fame) and was told "Three". The buyer responded "Three hundred?" The seller said "No, three dollars." With a glazed look, the buyer sheepishly reached into his pocket and pulled out three $1 bills and handed it to the seller and slowly walked away with his prize.
    That happened about 15 years ago. I am more knowledgeable now, so I won’t be making that mistake again!

    Barry Holtan

  4. Steve Klein on said:


    It was explained to me that during negotiation, the first one to give a dollar figure loses. This is because the person who gives the figure first reveals his depth of knowledge concerning the salary figure as it relates to the position. He is literally showing his hand. This depth of knowledge (or lack of) can then be exploited by the person you are negotiating with.

    Barry Holtan’s story is a perfect example. It definitely would have been better for Mr. Holton (the seller)to say "make me an offer" and rely on the buyer’s knowledge since he knew nothing of the item. Sellers offering items with no price tag are basically saying "make me an offer". This puts the seller in control because when he would be offered 10 or 20 times what he thought it was worth, he would reject the offer and quickly take the item off the table after realizing he had something valuable that needed further research.

    All this being said, I know some collectors who will refuse to buy from someone who does not use price tags and tells the seller so. On the other hand I know some buyers who recognize this stunt and are able to walk away with a steal every time using their knowledge and a good acting job.

    Steve Klein

  5. Steve Davis on said:

    Hello all,
    We are not traveling dealers at gun shows or military vehicle events. However 20 years past we have done some of the MV shows. What reason would someone have for putting prices on their items??
    If I am interested in something a person has for sale, I ask! If it is priced too high, and I am still interested, I simply make an offer. The lack of a price tag, is not offensive to me and I am not about to pass judgement on anyone for the lack of one.
    For one, I can understand, that it takes time to price these items. You have to pick some kind of tag, that won’t damage the piece, and still stay attached. If you use adhesive tags, and leave them on too long, you know what happens there.
    We have been attending all sorts of sales events over the past 50 years and in the past it was very uncommon to even see price tags, the exception being department stores. Today, even garage sales use them.
    Funny thing, I recall seeing a high priced item at a garage sale and just walked away. If it had not been priced, I might have asked the owner, then some kind of deal might have been struck.
    Having been in sales, and buying as well, I’d like to think people are just too busy to deal with the petty price stickers. Folks that travel to the shows to sell their collectibles and parts, are helping to promote the hobby. It is expensive and back breaking work to load and unload and move from place to place. Give ’em a break I say. There are much worse things to be concerned about.
    Steve Davis
    Oklahoma City

  6. Count Chur Monnaise on said:

    Sounds very similar to certain numsmatic dealers I have met over many decades that do not price their wares. They usually politely ask me if they can be of help and being nice about it I will ask for something they most likely don’t even know what the heck it is I am asking for and then I casually walk away. But once in a while they will steer me to a dealer friend that might just have something of interest to me.
    On the flip of the coin I find that many small time dealers that actually price their material really overprice it…..perhaps allowing a discount margin. Either way, unpriced or overpriced wares do save me a lot of time at shows while looking for decently priced material……… After going to certain shows time after time I just look for familiar faces I have had success in dealing with and the occasional "Newbee" that has set up for the first time and to see where he sits in my personal opinion pole.
    Every person that stops at a dealer’s booth is a potential customer but a quick scanning of their wares, then a look of disgust or slight chuckle and quickly walking away leaves them wondering if you are really a high flier with a fat checkbook, a really knowledgeable bargain hunter out to beat him or just a "tire kicker" which the latter two types clears their conscience of course.
    I would safely guess that if a dealer does not price his wares then how can he be labled as a price gouger? Perhaps the spider and it’s web syndrome fits this very well as when you ask the dealer how much for an item he has your undivided attention and are open for his sales pitch or bull crap………whichever……
    Being a worldwide barter and auction market there will never be consistent level pricing throughout even with all the latest guidebooks that are available. Just compare WalMart, K-Mart and Target where the competition is really tough but this stiff competition does not really exist in our specialty market of militaria.
    For closure I think a dealer may be more than happy to sell just a few overpriced items than dumping a lot of bargains because there just isn’t a ready supply depot at his disposal for popular items. But on the other hand I have seen some more obscure material overpriced in really aged looking holders or display cases that the dealer will most likely take with him to show after show after show……..I really chuckle at the cheapo dealers that reprice old tags, holders or smaller display cases. Poverty Pete’s prices cannot be beat……….but may change daily or even within the hour as I have actually witnessed.
    As I look back over the years some early purchases I made were indeed very costly but I wrote them off as merely educational. Then some items were overpriced somewhat but I was very happy to acquire them and they actually increased in value. But when you buy, buy quality. One $500.00 addition to your collection will usually be worth a lot more in years to come than 100 pieces valued at a mere $5.00 average.
    Hobbies are meant to be enjoyed and many dealers out there are to be commended for assisting collectors in their pursuits.
    Count Chur Monnaise (not mayonaise)

  7. Peter Angelou Jr. on said:

    Years ago in the 50’s & 60’s I owned a "gun shop". I would show a "selling price" and list my "buying price" in code. If some one was interested in a certain piece I would tell them the price. If they made me an offer where I could still male a profit on occasion I would sell.
    It depended on the item itself and it’s overall availibility.

    Those days are long gone and prices have risen dramatically over the past 50 years.

    Today it seems that the "old" saying…Buyer Beware" is in effect as I have noticed dealers at gun shows in the NJ, NY and PA have many items with no price indicated. The seller is trying to "get as much as he can" and the buyer wants it " as cheap as he can".

    You alone have to determine what it is worth! If I pass it up can I find another identical item cheaper, better condition, more locally, ect. If you can’t…bite the bullet and "buy it now".

  8. Joe Bairn on said:

    We seem to have consensus on the reason.
    My solution if I see something I’m interested in, is to pull the cash I’ll pay out of my pocket and say "I’ll take it".
    If the seller says the price is higher, I tell him that my offer is what it’s worth, put the cash back in my pocket and walk away.
    Seeing real money walk away doesn’t always change their mind, but it does make them think.

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