Toss or treasure: Easton appraiser offers tips for your spring cleaning
Ahhh, spring. The season of renewal, when old growth is cleared away for new flowers to bloom. Inside, such a turnover is more complicated. As spring cleaning unearths objects whose time has come, how do you know their value? Is it rubbish or hidden gold?
“Sometimes it is not so obvious,” says James Lipton, who runs Easton-based Appraisers Associates Inc. The company does insurance and estate appraisals and brokers sales. “There are times when I have come out to a property … and there are thousands of dollars in the Dumpster.”
To avoid such a costly mistake, Lipton, who has been in the business for more than 40 years, is often called in to search for treasures that net the kind of money to take care of a few bills, help with college costs, fund a home improvement project or finance a vacation. Or even buy a house. One of his more recent finds, a rare Yongzheng mark Chinese vase, netted $396,500 at auction.
Such a discovery is rare, but, he says, bringing in an honest, seasoned, objective appraiser can help unearth valuable objects and make navigating the vagaries of antiques and collectibles markets easier.
Such was the caveat he brought to the table when asked to impart some knowledge about heirlooms, hand-me-downs or acquired pieces languishing in attics, basements or plain sight. Antiques, art, collectibles and other such commodities rarely can be boiled into a simple what’s hot and what’s not categorization.
However, there are some things about which you can ease your mind. “Busted plastic, no. Particle board, no,” he says. “But you could have something with plywood that could be a valuable midcentury piece, and there are some midcentury pieces that don’t look so good to the eye.”
As you roll up those sleeves and begin the task of cleaning up, here are some things to consider when setting aside objects for further review.
“If it was bought at a furniture store, it has almost no value, and that includes expensive furniture stores. Your resale is good luck, put it on the driveway and put a sign out,” Lipton says. “But if you think you have something historic or interesting or different, you really should get help.” The latter camp is often exemplified by furniture that has been handed down through generations. Lipton recalls a nearly $40,000 sale that occurred because the chest of drawers, circa 1960s, came from a highly sought-after Italian designer. A love for all things midcentury has guided many markets, and Lipton says one should be cognizant of any furniture of that era. Still, “there is a lot of very ordinary midcentury that doesn’t have any value. When someone wants to know whether to throw it out, they need to find a way to educate themselves, which is hard to do.”
Can you cash in on this resurgence of vinyl records with that dusty turntable? “If it was high-end when you bought them, like McIntosh, yes. If you have high-end components, they are still sought after,” he says. Antique clocks may carry value, but their electronic counterparts won’t likely fetch interest of high-end buyers. But Lipton says to be careful. Vintage electronic clocks that carry the name of Cartier or Tiffany, shouldn’t be chucked just yet.
The enjoyment of art may be subjective, but the sale of it is anything but. It requires proper identification, as well as where a piece falls in the arc of the artist’s career. Then it is about getting it to the right market. Lipton once discovered a piece that a family suspected was from one artist, but it turned out to be by another, better artist. It’s difficult to get meaningful information as an amateur, he says. Perhaps the piece was overvalued when you bought it, or you are working with an inaccurate family story. Someone could attempt a do-it-yourself effort, but they run the risk of undercutting themselves. “They may think they did really well by getting $10,000, say, but maybe they should have gotten $50,000.”
You suspect that engagement ring has a lot of value, but perhaps the future bridegroom paid more for it than it was worth. Don’t toss it, as it still has some value, Lipton says. However, there could be some unexpected cash lurking amid the fake pieces. “I have found some very, very valuable things in costume jewelry boxes.”
One needs to know just how scarce a particular title is, the market (or supply and demand) and the condition of the book. A do-it-yourself online search helps to get a first taste of the market, such as how many books are out there and the kind of sellers seeking them. But, Lipton says, as with art, it is important to have expertise as to the proper market to maximize the sale. “You need the right book with the right signature,” says Lipton of the value of first editions. “You may have a first edition worth $20 … or have one worth $2,000.”