The following was written for Artisan’s Jewelry Times in 2016

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I often get approached at shows about consigning at galleries, and my bet is that if you make and sell jewelry online or at shows then you’ve had these requests as well. You’ve probably even considered consignment, but before you do it, you’ll want to do some careful research first about the shop.

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Mermaid’s Treasure Necklace – made from lampwork glass cabochons, abalone, mother of pearl, Czech and Japanese glass, sterling silver, shell shards and a crab claw lampwork pendant by Nancy Lawler. Sold via consignment. Photo by Hannah Rosner

I have had some wonderful experiences consigning. In particular, I’ve enjoyed consigning my work with two separate museum shops in Taos, New Mexico, as well as a wonderful experience with the John Hines History Museum gift shop in Pittsburgh. Museum shops are usually run beautifully. They have all their paperwork above board and also tend to be organized.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of consigning at galleries.

Pros:

  • As a consigner, an artist gets to keep all the legal rights to his or her work until it is sold. In this way, you can establish a name for yourself in any particular regional area.
  • You can elect to remove the work from your gallery at any time (although the gallery may ask for a certain amount of time between the request and removal) and also can set the retail price. This means you can test new ideas, sell large scale, one-of-a-kind pieces, and also have your work on display somewhere while not doing shows or art fairs.
  • You can rotate your work on display, especially if the gallery is local.
  • Your work is more likely to sell if it is on display than languishing in your studio between shows.
  • The gallery takes responsibility for the overhead costs including rent, electricity, display, and promotion. Score!

Cons

  • Many galleries add a higher percentage to consignment pieces than pieces they buy outright. As a result, either your retail price has to be higher or you’ll end up making less per piece than outright wholesale.
  • In this economic climate, galleries are feeling the crunch. They need to have a full show floor in order to stimulate sales, but at the same time, many can’t afford to buy artwork outright. As a result, they offer a show space for you and pay you on a net-30 after they sell your item (in other words, they pay 30 days after the month in which it was sold). However, too often the demands of a brick and mortar shop take precedence over an artist who resides in another state. Faced with a utility bill versus paying an out-of-state artist, the shop nearly always goes with the pressing demands of keeping the shop open first.
  • Galleries are often more careful with damage to and display of items that they have invested in rather than items that have been freely loaned.
  • Consignment pieces are often not protected by a gallery’s insurance in case of damage (fire, water, etc), theft, or bankruptcy. If a gallery closes due to any of these reasons, artists are often out money and possibly their work.
  • Unless you really dig paperwork, keeping track of where your artwork is, whether it has sold and whether it has been paid for can be a real headache. Perfect records are a must!

What can I do to protect myself?

I now have a written agreement when I agree to consign. It’s really boring and lawyerly sounding, but it really does the trick. I found mine online by doing a web search for “consignment agreement for artists” and changed to wording to suit my needs. If you need help finding one, feel free to email me.

Let me leave you with one final thought. I have met some of my very closest friends via the galleries through which I’ve consigned. I really have to give a thank you to a Celtic Arts Gallery in Pittsburgh for pushing me to sell my jewelry; at the time, I was really nervous about the salability of my work. The family-owned business gave me a wonderful community and some of my now-best friends to show our work. Further, it really gave customers the opportunity to buy local and to buy from a small business. I truly count myself as lucky.

Sell everything!

Hannah

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