Selling a collection can be a long and difficult process. The seller must be prepared to utilize several methods, depending on many factors-- the size of the collection, the types of bells involved, the time available, the contribution of effort toward the process and the reputation of the seller in the bell community.
Preparing a list
Each bell must be described (pictures make identification clearer) in sufficient detail to entice a buyer. The bell must be accurately described (size, weight, material, source, manufacturer, age, markings, etc.) --and the condition stated truthfully (cracks, crazing, chips, finish, patina, rust, wear, fading, labels, missing parts, replaced parts, repairs made, discoloration, damage, etc.) so as to be certain the potential buyer is fully aware and can make a good faith offer. The sale is to be made based on the descriptions alone. Many items are poorly described, or the condition couched in terms that make the sale impossible or create dissatisfaction.
Setting the price
See our article, "Bell Valuation."
Utilizing a dealer
Obviously a very large collection will take considerably more time and effort before completion of a sale-out. Several routes are available. The sale can be done through a collection broker/dealer who will prepare all the sale descriptions or utilize a live sale or auction where the buyer can physically inspect the bell before offering to purchase.
The dealer will expect to profit from the investment of time and effort, and you will need to weigh this added expense against your need for assistance. Some dealers may operate on a commission basis, and some on consignment. In those cases, the return to the seller is not immediate. But, a dealer can be a more comfortable route for you to take.
Selling your collection yourself
Smaller groups of bells, selected portions of a large collection (or individual bells) can best be sold through personal contact or the online auction sites. Personal contact allows the potential buyer to examine the bell and make their own judgment as to its value. Online or mail sales must rely on the descriptions.
If the collector is or was an ABA member, often other ABA members may be willing to help or buy some of the collection. Fellow members may be familiar with the collection, or may even have seen the bells during the course of previous meetings. They may have an interest in several. Some chapters hold auctions or sales within their group.
Several online auctions are available, but using them requires an investment of time and money in listing, packaging and selling. Bells sold through such auctions tend to be the unique or special ones. Groups of bells can be sold as a lot.
Although bell collectors visit these sites looking for bells, the sites also have exposure to collectors of other objects, of which bells may be only a part (e.g. railroad memorabilia collectors are interested in all things "railroad" including bells. Some people focus on angels and some bells carry that theme as well).
Renting space in a antique mall (or flea market in some areas) will allow the entire collection to be seen and bells can be handled by prospective buyers (under controlled circumstances if necessary -- reduces the need for a list or catalog. This can take a long time and cost of the space rental becomes part of the overall result.
Advertising in The Bell Tower, the ABA’s bi-monthly magazine is relatively low cost, but directs the sale to people who are primarily interested in bells, but a smaller group. Special rates are available with membership. Some collections have been sold through that method.
Finally, the ABA has an auction at its annual convention, and members buy and sell bells there. Time and space keeps this method restricted to special bells. Members and dealers also are at these conventions and many bells are sold to convention attendees.
In the end, several or all of these methods may need to be employed, and still there will be many bells left unsold. They can be sold as a lot, grouping many similar types. Often these remaining bells will be of little or no value (they may be simple souvenirs or mass marketed in large quantities). These often become gifts and prizes among members.
Experience has shown that receipt of a collection, or even a few or one single bell, is often the beginning of an interest in bells, and the initial step toward a new ABA member. Several collections (and members) are second and third generation. Sharing a collection, or part of a collection, with children, grandchildren, friends or neighbors can be rewarding and educational. A unique collection of carefully selected specific types can be museum quality and donated to be shared by many people.
See also the article in the selling bells Forum