Is It Trash or Is It Treasure? Antique Appraisals Separate Trinkets From Treasures

By Michele Moore, Contributor

Posted in: 

Stuff. We never seem to have a shortage of it: we inherit stuff from parents and grandparents, we snag extra stuff at yard sales and thrift shops, we move through life collecting more and more stuff.

Last year, as we were stuck at home surrounded by our "stuff," the pandemic sparked a huge boom in JustAnswer’s appraisal category, as the shutdown had us bored and looking for ways to cash in on our trinkets and treasures. Suddenly folks were unearthing forgotten artwork, dishware, vintage jewelry, comic books, and even old toys to see if they had valuable treasures to sell. Not surprisingly, traffic on JustAnswer soared to hundreds of appraisal questions a day.

Now, with the arrival of spring, the annual cleaning and decluttering ritual is here again, and people are once more seeking expert advice on what to keep, sell or toss from their attic, basement, and shed. And the payoff can be big. One customer just last month surfaced a lithograph worth more than $10,000, and another wrote in about a violin by an obscure maker that appraised for around $56,000!

 

Top 5 Appraisal Questions This Year 

Wondering what collectors like yourself are asking aboutand how experts on JustAnswer are responding? On JustAnswer, appraisers such as Judith Katz-Schwartz give tips on how customers can cash in on family treasures including:

  • What are some items you might not have considered valuable but could be?
  • What are some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to price and sell antique or vintage goods? 
  • How can you get the best results when hiring or working with an appraiser? 
  • Where do appraisers get their information for an appraisal?
  • How can you tell if an antique is valuable?

 

Q&A with an appraisal expert

Read on as Judith Katz-Schwartz, Antiques and Collectibles Expert, answers these pressing appraisal questions and gives tips on how to cash in on your stuff.   

Q: What are some items you might not have considered valuable but could be?  

A: In general, musical instruments, old books, clothing, jewelry and even toys can hold value, depending on their condition and other factors. More specifically, some of the below items are definitely worth looking into: 

  • Equestrian Paintings: Large oil paintings with original ornate frames garner higher values, while smaller pieces with simpler frames bring less
  • Video Game Consoles: Video game consoles from the '80s -- and actually any of the toys popular during the 80s and 90s when GenX and Millennials were kids -- sell for a lot of money, particularly if they're unused and/or a limited edition.
  • Milton Bradley Board Games: Sealed, unopened boxes often double the value, but the nostalgia of childhood family nights equals dollars for most titles
  • Federal Style Bull’s Eye Mirrors: Mirrors from the actual Federal period (1780–1830) fetch top dollar, while 19th- or early-20th-century replicas sell for much less
  • Lunch Boxes: Lunch boxes featuring Roy Rogers, The Beatles, and The Jetsons can score a lot of cash

 

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to price and sell antique or vintage goods?  

A: Here 5 of the most common mistakes we see people make when selling their antiques or collectibles:

1) They fail to understand the importance of condition in determining value - particularly important when it comes to musical instruments such as a piano. With a piano in particular, you need to keep in mind that people are not looking for a piece of furniture. They are looking for a musical instrument. And so if it’s a piano that was sitting in your aunt’s attic for the past 50 years collecting dust and hasn’t been tuned or restored, it’s not likely to be worth anything

2) They get too caught up in what they see people pricing similar items for on eBay and are mistaking “Retail Value” for “Fair Market Value,” which is typically 40% of the retail price. Just because it’s listed on eBay for an amount is not what it’s worth on the market, what someone would actually pay for it at auction or otherwise

3) They think that cleaning and polishing items such as coins increases the value when actually it might actually remove the patina and lower the value.

4) They think that something 50 years old is vintage or antique. In reality, if it only dates to the 1960s it is not generally considered old or antique at all.

5) They rely on values from older price guides, not understanding that those prices are completely outdated.

 

Q: How can you get the best results when hiring or working with an appraiser?

A: Good photos are essential. JustAnswer appraisals experts get dozens of photos that are not high resolution or show the wrong thing. An appraiser needs to see signatures, stamps, labels, etc. Don’t forget to capture the underside, back and bottom of an object and make sure the resolution is clear and the lighting is not too dark. Be sure to get a few different angles of an item.

Don’t forget size and dimension information. You need to provide measurements and/or take photos with a common object to provide some perspective of sizing.

Don’t get caught up in finding out what people are pricing similar items on eBay because you should not mistake Retail Value for Fair Market Value (which is typically 40% of retail price).

When it comes to musical instruments—particularly pianos—condition and status of restoration matters. As Judith Katz-Schwartz explains, “With pianos, people are not looking for a piece of furniture. They are looking for a musical instrument. And so if it’s a piano that was sitting in your aunt’s attic for the past 50 years collecting dust and hasn’t been tuned or restored, it’s not likely to be worth anything.”

Just because something is old, don't assume it’s worth more. Some items getting the highest prices right now are those from the 1980s and early 1990s. As Judith explains, “Nostalgia always sells, especially when it comes to toys—people are looking to buy back their childhood. Today, the dominant generations buying in this category are GenX and soon will be Millennials who will want toys that were popular 30 years ago."

 

Q: Where do appraisers get their information for an appraisal?

A: We get our information from many sources. Here are some of the resources we use:

  • Comparable sales over the last 5 years
  • Past auctions
  • Antique dealers
  • Antique trade magazines
  • A network of appraisers and specialists

 

Q: How can I tell if an antique is valuable?  

A: Signs of a valuable antique are rarity, popularity, authenticity, and condition.

Rarity: It's all about supply and demand here; if there is a small supply of the particular antique, demand is probably going to be high. Even if a little damaged, rare items are going to get extra attention purely because they are so hard to find.

Popularity: If the demand is high, people will pay top dollar so gauge just how popular your item is.

Authenticity: Is it the real thing or is it a mere shadow of the original? 

Condition: This is one of the biggest indicators of how valuable an antique is. Wear and tear is to be expected with many antiques but buyers might see items as less valuable depending on how much damage there is.

 

Final tip:

Don’t worry if you think you “don’t have any antiques”. Keep in mind you might have lots of other things that people might collect and will pay a price for, from musical instruments and fishing equipment to old magazines, books, and toys. As the saying goes, "one man's trash is another man's treasure"!

 

About Judith

Judith Katz-Schwartz Antiques and Collectibles Expert, NYC, specializing in Collectibles, Jewelry, Tableware, Toys, and Instruments. 

Judith Katz-Schwartz is a noted expert, author, TV personality, and columnist specializing in antique appraisals. In addition to publishing three books on collecting, appearing on shows from “Good Morning America” to “Fox & Friends” as an antique expert and serving as the president of the Association of Online Appraisers, Katz-Schwartz has served as an Appraisals Expert on JustAnswer since 2011.

Do you have other appraisal questions that weren’t answered above? Ask an appraisal question on JustAnswer to get a personalized response from certified Appraisers like Judith.