Archive for May, 2018

Good Times and Favorite Finds – Part I

Written by traderchris on . Posted in Uncategorized

One of the best parts of my job is collecting stories, both from my consignors and the objects themselves. Here are a few of my favorites since I founded my business in 2011.

When I originally started, I had no idea what to sell. I had people give me self-help books, old computers, used sneakers, flip phones… you name it and I probably tried to sell it at some point. I remember being amazed when someone in Russia purchased a 1981 bar of Star Wars soap from me for $0.25. Think about that for a second. Someone kept a bar of Yoda-shaped soap for 3+ decades, and then someone else halfway around the world bought it and had it shipped to them. Wow.

While selling old Yoda soap was fun, selling old Barbie dolls was exciting. My father found one in a garage sale one day and paid $10 for her. He suspected that she might be valuable, so I had to pick her up when I traveled to Memphis a few weeks later. She didn’t come with much, so we purchased most of her original accessories on eBay. Then she took a trip to a local Barbie spa for a hair wash and some minor touch-ups. A short while later, the Barbie sold at auction on eBay for nearly$4,000 to a buyer that had set-up a special savings account just to purchase the doll.

Another time, I received a call from a flustered client who had sold her home in Chapel Hill much faster than she anticipated. She had lived there for over three decades and had received a cash offer on the house, with the stipulation that she move out within a few weeks (right before Christmas!) I rushed over the following day and scoured the house from top to bottom and ended-up dragging out a moldy Louis Vuitton leather suitcase from the damp storage area beneath the house. Someone in Massachusetts paid $100 for it and later told me they had been able to restore it and were thrilled with their find.

The same house yielded a vintage Steiff teddy bear, which I sold and hand delivered to a collector in Durham. While I was there, she asked me to look at her 1950s era Madame Alexander Dolls from her childhood. The dolls themselves were somewhat common, but she had taken meticulous care in maintaining their outfits and accessories. Ultimately, her small collection of dolls sold for over $7,000, including a blue Cissy ball gown that jumped from $120 to over $1200 in the closing seconds. I’ve never been so excited about a doll dress in my life!

Estate Silver – Good Find or Goodwill?

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Ever wonder if that old silver tray collecting dust on top of the refrigerator is worth something?

One of the primary factors in determining the value of anything “silver” is whether it is made from sterling silver or if it is simply silver plate. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper alloy, while silver plate is comprised of a base metal such as copper, brass, or stainless steel that has been electroplated with sterling silver.  Silver plate became popular in the late 1800s and made silverware more affordable for the masses.

Sterling items are typically stamped with either “925” or the words “sterling” to indicate their composition. Pieces produced in Great Britain often have a small lion hallmark, in addition to other marks that may indicate the city, date, or maker.

On the other hand, silver plate items may be stamped with “silver plate”, “EPNS” (Electro-plated Nickel Silver), or “German Silver”. Older pieces may exhibit wear spots from use, exposing the base metal beneath. They can be re-plated by a jeweler or even through “do-it-yourself” kits.

Items made from sterling are always worth at least their value in silver, which is currently around $14 an ounce. Simply look-up “Scrap Silver Calculator” online and enter in the weight of your pieces to get a rough estimate of what’s called the “spot” value. If you decided to sell your sterling items for their silver value, be aware that a fee is usually charged for the transaction and to cover the cost of refining the metal.

Both sterling and silver plate pieces can increase in value, depending upon the manufacturer or intricacy of the object. Silver items made by high-end designers such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Buccellati, and Georg Jensen can often command 200% to 400% above their value by weight. Some large and ornate silver plate centerpieces, desk accessories, and other decorative objects have potential to sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, too.

So next time that you’re getting ready to use Grandma’s silver service, take a moment to turn it over and see what it’s made of. Its value might just surprise you.

Next Stop, Thrift Shop

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Thrift shops have experienced a sort of renaissance over the last few years. Sure, you can still find plenty of old tweed jackets and local 5K fun-run t-shirts at many of them, but if you know what to look for, sometimes there are real gems hanging in the clothing racks.

For example, do you know that some collectors pay hundreds or even thousands for the right t-shirt? Vintage Harley Davidson t-shirts from the 1970s to early 1990s frequently sell for $50 to $100+, depending on the graphics and condition.  And while you’re digging through the t-shirt racks, keep an eye out for vintage concert shirts from the 1980s and earlier.  Hard rock shirts (Iron Maiden, Metallica, AC/DC) from the 1980s are particularly desirable, as are vintage shirts from Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, etc. There are even a pair of Beatles “Butcher Album” shirts that sold on eBay for $10,000 – $20,000 a few years back!

After you’ve rummaged through the t-shirts, try heading to the shoe rack. There can be good money to be made selling certain brands of vintage shoes. The most popular shoes that resell for big bucks tend to be vintage cowboy / motorcycle boots such as Red Wing and Lucchese, designers shoes like Chanel and Gucci, and even old Converse and Nikes. In fact, vintage Nikes have grown in demand so much that “Sneakerheads” (sneaker collectors) often shell out hundred or sometimes thousands of dollars for a single, hard-to-find pair. You can even go to Sneaker Con New York City each year to buy, sell, and trade used (and new) sneakers.

Finally, spend a little bit of time going through the men’s jeans and you might be lucky enough to find an old pair of original Levi’s 501 denim jeans.  They were originally created by Levi Strauss, a Barvarian-born dry good merchant who traveled to San Francisco in 1853 to expand the family business.

Some years later, a tailor named Jacob Davis came up with the idea of using metal rivets to make his denim “waist overalls” more sturdy. As he had original purchased the fabric from Levi, Jacob suggest they apply for a patent and manufacture the garments together. On May 20th, 1873, patent #139,121 was awarded and modern denim jeans were born.

Levi’s 501s have changed in manufacturing and style over the years, but familiarizing yourself with the different patches, buttons, rivets, and stitching can help you date any old pairs that you come across. Used pairs from the 1970s and earlier can fetch hundreds of dollars. And if you happen to be lucky enough to stumble across a like-new pair from the 1950s or 60s, they often sell for a thousand dollars or more. Not a bad price for a pair of old blue jeans!

What’s in a Game?

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This year, Santa brought a box full of board games as one of his gifts to my five-year-old daughter and her brother. From time to time, clients will dig old board games out of their attics and ask if they’re worth anything. Here are a few examples of collectible games and their origins.

Board games have existed for several millennium. The oldest game, Senet, dates back to 3500 B.C. and was referenced in an ancient fresco in an Egyptian tomb.  In fact, four examples were found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, as he must have really enjoyed the game!

Vaikuntapaali was originally a sixteenth century Indian game that taught morality and spirituality. It was later adapted as Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley in 1943. First editions of the game are worth up to $100.

Monopoly, a game first published by Parker Brothers in 1935, was based a game that was created over three decades earlier called The Landlord’s Game. The concept of The Landlord’s Game was to showcase the social injustice created by land ownership and encouraged players to put rental fees into a communal pot to share with others. Ironically, this concept was completely disregarded in Monopoly, which emphasizes bankrupting your competition (and also became the most popular board game of all time with over a billion players). First editions of the game typically sell anywhere from fifty to several hundred dollars, depending on condition.

Chess is another popular board game with ancient origins. It was derived from the Indian game of Chaturanga, which dates back to the 6th century. Chaturanga means four parts and refers to the four divisions of an army – elephants, chariots, cavalry, and infantry (the chess equivalents being bishops, rooks, knights, and pawns). Rules for modern chess were developed in the late 15th century, but it’s popularity really began to take off in the 19th century when books, clubs, and chess journals appeared.

As the game has been popular for several centuries, examples vary widely from simple plastic and cardboard sets to extremely elaborate and expensive sets made from semi-precious stones and silver or gold. Sets can cost anywhere from a few dollars to many thousands of dollars, depending on their age, condition, and quality.

Trader Christmas

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For as long as I can remember, my father has loved garage sales. I think part of it is the thrill of the hunt, hoping to find a “diamond in the rough”. He’s also never met a stranger in his life and loves to share stories with people (which is a trait that I inherited).

When I was a kid, during yard sale season, Dad would often disappear for a few hours on a Saturday morning, off to hunt for treasures. You could tell when he had a particularly successful morning by the amount of items that he wouldn’t show you when he came back, as most of the time, he liked to save his finds for gifts.

My dad would squirrel away things for us throughout the year. Oftentimes, he would exclaim “Oh, yea,” after we had opened a gift that he may have wrapped months earlier and forgotten about.

Since my father’s garage sale rule was typically to pay no more than 10 cents on the dollar for anything, that meant that we would usually have way more presents than the average kid. I remember a few Christmases when there were so many presents, they couldn’t all fit around the Christmas tree and might be overflowing into the hallway or another room.

There were always some zany things mixed in with the things we had actually put on our wish lists. One year, I received an umbrella that rained dollar bills when it was opened, while my sister found a life-sized Kermit the Frog driving her car. Another year, Dad show-up on Christmas morning in an adult-sized Grumpy costume to deliver a Buns of Steel VHS tape to my Mom (she thought that was hilarious).

My father’s yard sale obsession and our overabundant Christmas celebrations would later serve as inspiration for starting my eBay consignment business, as I thought there may actually be potential to sell some of the stuff that my dad was always bringing home.  My favorite items to sell are the things with good stories behind them.  After all, who doesn’t like a good story?

I never kept much of the oddball stuff that my dad gave me, as most if it simply got recycled and ended-up back in the local thrift shop. However, I still enjoy the memories of spending pasts Christmases with my family and laughing at the funny gifts that everyone received.  We spend so much time and money trying to get the right gifts for people, when it’s really just the time that we spend with them that’s the greatest gift of all.


What’s Hot and What’s Not? – Part III

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This is the third article in a series that will highlight items that are selling well versus items that are selling poorly, based on personal observation.

What’s Hot

Vintage Wrist / Pocket Watches – First, let me say that the market for watches depends largely on how and where you sell your watch. I have sold many wrist and pocket watches over the years, almost all of which have been shipped out of the Raleigh-Durham area (and a number of which have also ended-up overseas). Also, watches are one of the few types of jewelry that men will collect, so men’s watches are typically in higher demand than women’s.

So what makes a watch collectible? Well, several factors. First, who is the maker? A Rolex watch is obviously more exclusive (and expensive) then a Timex watch. Second, what is the watch case made from and how ornate is it? Many older watches are made of gold or silver and some may have ornate designs from a particularly skilled jeweler or watchsmith. If you’re not sure if your case is solid gold or merely plated, look for markings on the underside of your wristwatch, or inside of the case for a pocket watch.

Third, does the watch run? If so, has it been serviced recently? Running watches that keep correct time are more desirable than watches that need repairs or service. And finally, does the watch have any significant provenance? Watches owned or gifted by famous individuals can fetch far greater prices than their more ordinary counterparts. For example, in 2014, the pocket watch that Babe Ruth received in 1923 was sold at auction. Due to the historical significance of both the owner and the fact that the watch was awarded after the New York Yankee’s won the first World Series, a 14K gold watch that would normally be worth a mere few hundred dollars sold for over $700,000!


What’s Not 

1980s and 90s Sports Cards – Within the first year of business, I received a call to sell a large sports card collection, consisting of a mix of baseball, basketball, and football cards. Not knowing any better, I rented a trailer and picked it up. After spending nearly a week sorting well over 100,000 cards, I felt overwhelmed and had to return the collection, much to the dismay of the owner. While it was disappointing to spend so much time on a project without making any sales, I did learn a lot about card collecting in the process.

The problem with collecting cards from this era is that there is simply more supply than demand. Prior to the 1980s, Topps Chewing Gum had a near monopoly on trading cards for baseball, basketball, and football. However, in 1980, the Fleer Corporation won a court decision against Topps, allowing them to apply for a group license from the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, so that they could market their own trading cards. This ruling helped to usher in an explosion in the card-collecting era and the market was flooded as several companies began producing trading cards. By the early 1990s, the market crashed under the glut of cards, most of which are now worth pennies, even if in pristine condition.

Latest Blog Post

Good Times and Favorite Finds – Part I

One of the best parts of my job is collecting stories, both from my consignors and the objects themselves. Here are a few of my favorites since I founded my business in 2011. When I originally started, I had no idea what to sell. I had people give me self-help books, old computers, used sneakers, […]

Estate Silver – Good Find or Goodwill?

Ever wonder if that old silver tray collecting dust on top of the refrigerator is worth something? One of the primary factors in determining the value of anything “silver” is whether it is made from sterling silver or if it is simply silver plate. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper alloy, […]