Advice #5: Evaluating Your Antiques And Collectibles

If only you got to see all of the garbage that doesn't make the cut.

If only you got to see all of the garbage that doesn’t make the cut.

Recently, thanks to television and the internet, people have come to understand that antiques and collectibles can be worth an insane amount of money. They see things they would likely throw out as trash being sold for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes millions of dollars. The problem with a lot of the shows that teach people about antiques and similar collectible items, is that they film thousands of people coming in with different items and you see about six of those people in one episode. All of the other numbers aside, do the math on that and you’ll have a better understanding of why the hidden treasure that’s been passed down through your family for years is not worth what you hope or think it is. I’ve witnessed more than a couple of big group appraisals and I’m here to share with you all of the things I’ve learned so that you don’t have to embarrass yourself in front of an actual appraiser.

Note that this Walkman is old. Would you pay a lot of money for it just because it's old? Why would anyone else?

Note that this Walkman is old. Would you pay a lot of money for it just because it’s old? Why would anyone else?

For those new to the subject, an antique is something that is over a hundred years old. You do not have any antiques from the fifties because there are no antiques from the fifties. There will not be any antiques from the fifties until we’re living in the fifties again. Do you see how that works? If it says Ikea anywhere on it then you can bet it’s not an antique. Just because whatever it is looks old and you don’t know where it came from does not make it an antique. Here’s the truth that the Antiques Roadshow people will never tell you: Just because something is an antique doesn’t mean it’s worth anything at all. All of those Royal tea sets that everyone’s grandmother collected are really not worth very much because everyone’s grandmother collected them. If something seemed like it would be a good idea to collect then likely very many people did and thus the value is quite low because many of them have survived, passed down to people thinking they’re worth a lot of money. I’m not even joking when I say that the more valuable antiques (other than really old and really well known pieces that were expensive even when they were originally sold) are often the ugliest antiques you can find. The things that everyone threw out because they thought it would be worthless, but there’s a group of wealthy people who remember that thing from their youth and they want to have it again now. Since you’re the only one hanging onto that travesty to the eye, you’re the one who gets to determine the price.

The same goes for comics, of course. If you have one of the first issues from the time where no one thought comics would be valuable and it’s in great condition then you should rejoice, as you’ve got yourself a real treasure. In all of the years since then, however, people have known of the value of comic books and have gone out and purchased twenty of the first issue of any new comic in the hopes that they’ll one day be as valuable. The very act of buying that many and thinking you’re the only one doing it makes comic book companies chuckle all the way to the bank. The only comics you can get now that will be worth anything are the ones that no one buys and will soon be out of print. It will be worth something when some person who found solace in that comic is looking for a trip down memory lane. Are we starting to understand how this works, yet?

You don't understand, this belonged to my grandmother. It doesn't matter that it's warped out of shape. It's old!

You don’t understand, this belonged to my grandmother. It doesn’t matter that it’s warped out of shape. It’s old!

Let’s discuss sentimental value for a second here, friends and neighbours. Do you know what “sentimental value” means? It means the object in question is very valuable, but only to you because of the history you have with it. There’s nothing more pathetic than a person taking an item to be appraised and then being offended at the valuation because it’s been in their family for years and it once electrocuted their grandfather. You can’t argue that something has that much sentimental value to you when you’re bringing it in to see how much money you can sell it for. Trying to fall back on it being more valuable because it supposedly means a lot to you just makes you look like a cheapskate. The only way something with sentimental value would be worth something to other people is if you’re a celebrity or if the other people in question happen to be you or someone related to you.

Ah, now we’re getting to the meat of it, aren’t we? Those old coins and bills and stamps you have? They must be worth at least face value. If you’ve got an old bill that’s folded anywhere on the bill or has a stain on it or, really, has been in use since it came from the mint, then odds are excellent that it’s worth little more than the value on its face. When we’re talking about scratches on a coin, please understand that what appears to be a tiny knick to you is a galactic gouge to the coin collector. They examine those badboys with magnifying lenses for a reason. While being old certainly makes money more valuable, looking old does not. Those big note sales you’ve heard about were for bank notes that were immediately put into a book and forgotten about for seventy years, not used to death and then saved because the government announced they were replacing that bill. Besides, the real money in notes and coins comes from those produced with a mistake on them. Money printed with a mistake on it is never supposed to leave the mint. The fact that you have it means someone made a mistake or someone snuck it out at the risk of their job and going to prison. Starting to make sense as to why these bits of financial history are likely worth far more than yours.

Seriously, this is the thrull I used to beat Baron Sengir in the finals at Gathergeddon. It's worth your right testicle.

Seriously, this is the thrull I used to beat Baron Sengir in the finals at Gathergeddon. It’s worth your right testicle.

If you don’t have a certificate of authenticity and your item supposedly belonged to someone famous then you should do everything you can to get one, if possible. No auction on earth has ever said, “This next piece belonged to John Lennon, and we know that because the person selling it informed us her mother told her she got it from him after they shared a romantic evening in Venice.” If you have a great tale behind your item but no one can prove that what you’re saying is true then you’re going to have to understand that no one else will want to buy it from you. Think of what a jackass George looked like in the hit series, Seinfeld, after he bought “John Voight’s” car. That was a cautionary tale, friends.

I’m not here to tell you that your family treasures are necessarily worthless, I’m just saying that not all old things are worth money and quite often the things that are worth the most are things that people already knew were valuable and took very good care of. You’re far less likely to have some mystery piece that is worth thousands of dollars than people would have you believe. It’s entirely possible that your piece is one of the ones that exists outside of the general rules I have stated here. Don’t start throwing everything out without giving it a fair shot, if you so desire, just make sure you’re not spending the money before you even know what it is you’re hanging onto. There are few things on earth more heartbreaking than watching someone carefully unwrap an old vase their grandmother told them was very expensive but in reality was not really expensive or rare at all. One of the few things that is more heartbreaking is watching them wrap it back up with the same care, refusing to let the dream go.

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3 Responses to Advice #5: Evaluating Your Antiques And Collectibles

  1. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this weblog and I’m impressed!
    Extremely useful information particularly the last part 🙂 I maintain such information much.
    I used to be seeking this certain information for a very lengthy time.

    Thank you and best of luck.

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