From time to time, clients will provide unusual items that most people (including myself) are unfamiliar with. They’re usually from a bygone era and have either gone out of style or were made specifically for a niche group of users. These are the items that I call “curios” and are one of my favorite categories to sell, as I enjoy learning about the items and the people that used them.
For example, when you think of calculators, what comes to mind? Most people nowadays probably use their phones for everyday calculations. Basic calculators exist as far back as 2000 B.C. when the abacus was invented. The first mechanical calculator was invented in 1642 by Blaise Pascal and was called a Pascaline. It could perform basic arithmetic functions such as addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication.
A few months back, a client pulled a weathered piece of metal with several rotary dials from a cracked leather case. It turned out to be a Quixsum Adding Machine from the 1920s, originally used to add different lengths together and probably used by architects and others in the building trade. Although it was not in the best of shape and was missing the original stylus, it still proved to be a desirable collectible, selling for $577 to a buyer in China.
Another item that originally perplexed me was a small box that contained a heavy piece of pointed brass with a cap. Although it looked a lot like a plumb bob (which is used to ensure constructions are vertical), some online sleuthing revealed that it was actually an antique oil lamp used by miners. Not finding much previous sales information on our “Plummet Lamp”, we decided to take our chances and list it for sale anyhow. Nine different bidders pushed the low starting price to $738 by the end of the week!
More recently, a client showed me an ornate, silver-plate cherub riding a hummingbird chariot with a blue flower-shaped glass insert. What could probably be mistaken for an unusual potpourri or soap caddy was actually a Victorian-era card receiver from the late 1800s. At the time, it was customary for people to visit friends, family, and neighbors and leave their “calling card”, which may have contained initials, art, or even poetry. This particular receiver had the dual function to hold cards and serve as a small bud vase. While most silver-plate receivers are valued between $100-$300, this particular one exceeded all expectations and sold for $1000.
So next time that you come across something old and unusual that you haven’t seen before, spend a little time researching your “curio”. You’re guaranteed to learn something new and you might be pleasantly surprised by what it may be worth!
The original article can be found in the November 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/issues.html