Published: October 23, 2018
Antiques dealer John Chaski is not shying away from the camera. In fact, he’s looking directly into the lens and telling you how it is. In an era where television production on the antiques business continually pushes the ceiling of absurdity, Chaski’s YouTube vlog is a tasteful and entertaining grounding: this is what dealing is like. Chaski’s video bank is nearing 50 titles since he began filming, with a range of topics that aim to paint a folk portrait of selling antiques in the Twenty-First Century, with a splash of family fun thrown in. We have only one suggestion for you: hit the subscribe button.
This is a very real representation of what it’s like to be a dealer. You don’t hold much back.
That’s probably the most common compliment I get on the vlog: that it’s unfiltered. Dealers say, “That’s what my life is like, too. That’s pretty accurate.” That was a conscious decision when I started that I wouldn’t hold anything back. It’s obviously very tempting when you go to a little auction and score something good, the natural reaction for any dealer is that you’re not going to share with the public the auction you were at and the thing you scored really cheap.
And the price you paid?
Right. But, philosophically, in the antiques business, I don’t care if someone knows what I paid for something. Whether I’m making a ten percent markup or a 600 percent markup – that’s the antiques business. If I buy something for $10 and I can get $1,000 for it, that’s life. I don’t care if that makes someone angry or if that stops someone from buying it from me. If it’s worth $1,000, that’s what it’s worth.
And you also talk about losses. That’s something that’s usually glazed over.
To use the baseball analogy, I am the kind of dealer who swings at every pitch. If I can put the ball into play, I am swinging. I just don’t know any other way to be. Another dealer said, “At the end of the year, my knowledge favors me.” The more things I can find and buy, the better I will do.
Your children are always making cameos. What is it like having a young family and dealing?
It’s great at times and the most frustrating thing in the world at times. Hannah, my two-year-old daughter, likes to help my wife Jen and I load at the shop. She wants to have her hand on everything we are moving, which if you have ever moved anything, you know it’s a major complication. My son Charlie likes the stuff. I don’t know if that will last forever, but I think the worst thing you can do to kids is force it on them. He likes clocks and always has. We have a couple grandfather clocks in the house and he likes to wind them and watch the weights go up and down. And anything tractor- or truck-related.
Some episodes are unique because they blend fatherhood and antiques dealing together.
Yes, so there’s this one episode where Charlie was at the auction with me and he had a bag of jewelry I bought. I didn’t see it, but I found out later that people had witnessed him swing this bag of jewelry around like a lasso. At one point – I wasn’t right there with him, I had left him in charge of organizing the jewelry – all of the jewelry falls out and he’s picking it up off the ground one-by-one. So it has its moments.
Are you looking to talk to collectors and educate people, or is it more of a “this is it, this is what it’s like”?
I think it’s both. I definitely like realism in media. But more than educating collectors, I look at it as sharing something with my fellow dealers as a way of saying “this is okay, it’s normal, buy more stuff.”
There’s an element of e-commerce to the vlog.
I think diversifying is key in the challenging market that we have right now. I have a lot of respect for my fellow dealers at shows, but I don’t know how they do it. For me, it’s not a viable way of living week in and week out. I think the costs are high and the materials are hard to source. Personally, it’s hard to sell to collectors who have been coming for 20 years to these shows. I’ve only been doing them for ten years, and they already have their own stable of dealers who they do business with. E-commerce is a way for me to level the playing field. Internet buyers are pure fundamental retailers, if someone wants a widget and they like your price, they’ll buy it.
It seems like you’re always broadcasting from the van.
For continuity, that’s a good starting and stopping point. And it’s a realistic starting and stopping point.
What have you learned about the wonderful world of YouTube?
It’s complicated. I had no idea that there was this prohibition on copyrighted music and that I would have to find copyright-free music. So I’ve become a real enthusiast of chill-hop.
And you do auction livestreams.
I don’t edit those down or anything, I just leave them as what they are.
For those, are you commenting on every lot that comes up in a sale?
No, not on every lot. Just a livestream on what it’s like to watch an auction online as a dealer. I try not to have a lot of dead time, so I’ll have the kids come and watch with me. Hannah will come and ogle at the jewelry and Charlie oohs and ahhs over this or that. That’s cute, it’s good YouTube TV. But you get other scenes, too. The other night I was watching Pook and Pook. About eight lots beforehand I see a Virginia fraktur in the catalog that I had noted when I got the catalog but forgot to look at it when I previewed. So I’m on the livestream making phone calls, trying to find out if anybody knows about it – if the people I deal with in Virginia have seen it, know the hand, anything like that. Five minutes later I’m buying it.
What other kinds of responses have you had to the vlog?
Overwhelmingly positive. A few dealers who go to the same auctions have voiced their concerns. They don’t want me exposing the auctions. They think, “why would you go out there publicizing where you buy the stuff and where I buy the stuff.” They haven’t been aggressive to say you have to cut that out, but a few have let it be known that they think it’s a bad idea, and they don’t understand what I’m thinking.
From the old-time dealers?
Mostly older. But what I’m doing is hopefully a bigger thing than what I buy at Crumpton on Wednesday. If a dealer tells me that I’m ruining a place, I tell them to start selling. If all these people show up at Crumpton thinking it’s a buyer’s paradise, I’m going to move to the other side of the fence and make a killing.
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