In my Your Money column last month, I listed charities that take old console TVs, entertainment centers and sleeper sofas — stuff that hardly anyone else wants. It can be tempting when downsizing, relocating or “de-hoarding” to donate everything and be done with it.
Still, it’s possible that somewhere in a lifetime of accumulation lies a down payment on a new car, a weekend getaway or dinner at a nice restaurant. That’s why I recommend going to a professional for “Think this is worth something?” items.
I’ll start by saying where not to go. Avoid the antique buying events held at a hotel over a weekend. They rarely pay a fair price. Several years ago, I took a friend’s American Eagle coin set to an event in a Plymouth hotel and was offered nearly 40 percent less than two local, reputable coin dealers. It doesn’t hurt to go, but don’t make it your last stop. If you are checking eBay, look only at the prices of items that have already sold.
There’s a difference between requesting an offer to buy (“What will you give me for this?”) and a formal appraisal. An appraiser will charge $75 to $175 an hour, but it may not be necessary unless required for insurance or an estate. “We will go to someone’s house before an estate sale for $25 an hour just to walk through and talk about things,” said Althea Willette, an appraiser since 1995. “If we go around and say ‘that’s valuable,’ we’re acting as a dealer, not an appraiser.”
Many appraisers will give a free estimate of an item’s worth within reason. Sending a photo is often the most efficient use of everyone’s time, said Jim Billings, a fine art and antiques appraiser in Minneapolis.
Unfortunately, appraisers and estate sale reps are usually bearers of bad news. “I say it as nicely as I can, but it’s rare for a garage sale piece to be blue chip art,” Billings said. But it does happen. A few years ago, Billings appraised a painting that was donated to a local charity to be worth $5,000 wholesale.
Bill Norberg of Golden Valley Stamps and Coins rarely has good news for consumers who bring in stamps from later than 1940. “Ninety-five percent of the stamps produced since World War II have only the face value,” he said. “I just sent out class reunion notices to classmates, and I was using 1960s stamps.”
Not all appraisers will take the time to throw out an offer when a customer brings in entire stamp albums or coin books, but Norberg will give a client 15 minutes. Last week a customer brought in an album of little value until the last page was turned. “He had several stamps of Zeppelins that carried mail on the Hindenburg. They were worth $500.”
Norberg said that coin collections aren’t much different from stamps. “The vast majority of coins can be spent,” he said. “The state quarters are still worth just a quarter. The magic date is 1964. That’s when they stopped putting silver in coins.”
Tracy Luther of Luther Auctions & Antiques in North St. Paul said most heartbreaking news he has to give is that no one has a use for grandma’s china. “I get calls nearly every day about china sets. Most of them have little pink flowers and gold trim. Nobody wants them,” he said.
The good news? Grandma’s vintage and antique jewelry holds up, but prices have fallen on items often collected by women (crystal, dolls and china). Grandpa’s old toys, pocket watch, and hunting and fishing equipment, on the other hand, sell well.
If an item has an interesting history that touched a person of wealth or power, the odds for value increase. “Sotheby’s things rarely show up at a garage sale, despite what you hear on ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ ” Luther said.
Find a reputable dealer/appraiser
The following specialize in higher-end pieces. Ideally, get two or more offers.
Antique furniture, glass, silver, china, coins, stamps, art: James Marrinan and Bonnie Lindberg, Appraisal Specialists Midwest (St. Louis Park, 952-926-0225, www.asmw.net)
Fine art: Jim Billings (612-788-7890, www.jamesbillings.com).
Coins: Tom Miels (651-633-3070, St. Paul)
European porcelain and Russian art: Blaine Bolden (612-870-9520)
Firearms for sport (Cabela’s locations, www.cabelas.com)
Diamonds, gemstones, jewelry: Tom Bianchi (Edina Diamond Center, 952-929-0015), Liz Greene Simmons (EverGreene Jewelers, Minnetonka, 952-473-7655) or Mike West (R.F. Moeller Jewelers, St. Paul, 651-698-6321)
Maps and silver: Althea Willette (612-325-3808), Bill Lowrie (612-874-9680, www.billlowrie.com, silver only)
Military and Civil War items: Steve Osman (612-227-5226)
Stamps: Bill Norberg (763-544-4788, www.gvstamps.com)
Watches and jewelry: Paul Hartquist Jewelers (St. Paul, 651-228-9930)
General: Tracy Luther (Luther Auctions, North St. Paul, 651-770-6175, www.lutherauctions.com)