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What’s It Worth?

Not a day goes by for those of us in the antique and collectible business that someone doesn’t inquire about the relative value of an item or treasure.  With the popularity of “Antiques Roadshow”, “American Pickers” and other TV programs, more and more people want to attach a dollar value to a piece of personal property that they have found, picked up at a yard sale or inherited.

Antique expert and national columnist Harry Rinker recently wrote that after decades of hearing this question, he has now started responding with, “Are you looking to sell it? Do you need an appraisal for insurance?  If not, then the sentimental value is worth far more than any dollar amount. Take it home and treasure it for what it is and don’t worry about value.”

As a personal property appraiser, the answer to question always comes down to, “It’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”  Collectors are always eager to tell us that, “It’s selling on Ebay for hundreds of dollars!”  When I ask if they were researching the actual “sold” items, or just checking the listings of what it  was offered for, they usually answer that it was the listing price. This information, may or may not be a reflection of an actual value for a particular item.  I can list a recent jelly jar on Ebay for $1,000, but that doesn’t make it worth that much money.  (Note: to find sold listings on Ebay, click the “advanced” button to the right of the search bar and search with completed or sold items checked off)

What was popular, desirable and collectible 20 to 30 years ago, may not be so today. Every generation has somewhat different interests and places value on different items. Not that long ago, oak furniture from the late 19th to early 20th century was very sought after and commanded high prices both at auctions and in antique stores.  Today that interest is waning, with these pieces bringing far less in the marketplace than they did decades ago.  Inversely, one of the post popular styles of furniture today for collectors is what is called Mid-Century Modern, or Danish Modern from the late 1950’s through the 1960’s. This simple and sleek contemporary style continues to grow in desireability and in price, especially in urban areas.

A lot of items deemed as a collectible over the last 30 to 40 years usually aren’t. Starting in the 1960’s a number of companies sought to capture the growing market of people who were collecting things.  These companies mass produced millions of instant “collectibles” and sold these items at premium prices. Indiana auctioneer, Jack Christy, calls these items “desirables” and not collectibles, because these items did and do bring pleasure to their owners.  Unfortunately, just about all of these “special, limited edition” plates, statues, dolls etcetera are worth today a fraction of what they were sold for new.  As a general rule, we tell people that if it says, “Collectible”  it probably isn’t a collectible.

I believe desirability changes with the times and things that have sentimental value, from our childhood or from our own heritage make items more important. I personally collect and am knowledgable of mechanical wrist and pocket watches.  As time goes by (escuse the pun) I believe there will be less and less interest in these things.  Pocket watches, with the exception of the best of the best, have been declining in value in recent years.  While I, being a baby boomer, can recall as child seeing older gentlemen still using pocket watches, that might well be one of the last generations.  Most young people today tell time with their phones and don’t even wear a watch. Note, there has been a renewed interest in higher end mechanical watches in recent years, but there is a limited market for these watches than can sell for as much as a brand new car!

The world of antiques and collectibles is changing rapidly. Each year fewer price guides are being printed, because the information is easily found online and is current and not dated.  Some categories are starting to disappear, because a new generation of collectors hasn’t emerged to replace the ones who are passing away, downsizing or selling their collections. Is collecting a fading past time? Not at all, just the items being collected are changing and so are the relative values. One of the first Apple computers ever built in 1976 is expected to sell for close to $500,000 at auction.

What’s it worth? Your treasure is certainly worth the joy of the hunt, the knowledge gained in learning more about it and, if you do wish to sell it, it’s worth whatever someone will give you for it.

See you at the auction,



Terry Mangum is a Professional Auctioneer, Realtor & Personal Property Appraiser.

He and his wife, Patrice, own and operate Capitol Auction & Estate Services LLC in Salem, where they conduct monthly Antique,  Collectible, Coin & Firearm auctions. For more info, call 503-990-6976 or visit their website,

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