When it comes to learning how to spot a treasure, the first thing you have to learn is where to look. My real gift comes from my years of experience in museums and universities knowing how to identify and spot the real valuable stuff. In my experience, the most common places where valuable antique treasures are hiding are at yard sales and inside homes.
Many of you have probably heard me say it is a better use of your time to watch sports this weekend than to schlep all of your unwanted stuff out of your basement or down from your attic and onto your front lawn in order to host a yard sale. Most yard sale sellers have lost as much as 80 to 90 percent of the actual value of their unwanted items by selling them at a yard sale. Yard sales are one of the places where auction houses send out runners and pickers to get inventory. Many people don’t realize that yard sales are big business. They aren’t just an exercise where you can make a few bucks and clear out some space. They are a high stakes game of getting great stuff for cheap. The people making really big money at your yard sale is not you.
An oil painting by Martin Johnson Heade, a 19th century American realist painter, sold at a yard sale held in California for $18. The seller didn’t know that is was a masterpiece, but the buyer certainly did. The buyer then resold the painting at auction for $425,000 and it is now in the collection of a major Texas art museum. Is there an old painting hanging around in your basement that you think is ugly, but is really worth a fortune? I’ve seen it happen.
A Chippendale table sold at a yard sale in New Jersey for $35. The buyer who knew the value and origin of the table, bought it for only $35, and then resold it for $3 million dollars at an upscale antique furniture sale. Would you recognize a valuable antique table sitting in your grandmother’s den?
At a Pennsylvania yard sale, I picked up a clearly marked platinum and diamond ring with a $10 price tag on it. When I told the yard sale host what I found, she argued with me. She told me that the price was $10 firm (even though I had not asked her to reduce the price). I said I didn’t want a discount nor did I want to buy the ring. I wanted her to know she made a big mistake and she should take the ring back into the house. After much discussion, she thanked me for saving her from losing a $5,000 family heirloom.
People regularly make these kinds of mistakes at yard sales, and, I take the heat from the pickers, resellers and other yard sale runners who don’t want me to reveal this kind of information to the general public.
Many people who want to sell off unwanted stuff will have me come through their home and appraise the objects that they want to sell off before they have a yard sale. My motto: Don’t host a yard sale. You can lose your heirlooms and your shirt.
(Dr. Lori Verderame hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide and is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings. Visit www.DrLoriV.com/Events, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori, or call 888-431-1010.)

 

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