Good Times and Favorite Finds – Part I

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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.

What’s Hot, What’s Not – Part II

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This is the second 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 Bakelite Jewelry – Bakelite was developed by Leo Baekeland in Yonkers, New York, in 1907. As an early plastic, it was used primarily for electrical insulation due to its nonconductive properties. Use eventually spread to radio cases, kitchenware, toys, smoking pipes, and even firearms. However, our focus will be jewelry.

The most collectible bakelite jewelry tends to be beaded necklaces and bangle bracelets, although whimsical brooches are very popular, too. Vintage cherry amber and egg yolk-colored beaded necklaces can command hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single necklace, depending on the size of the beads. Bracelets of all colors with interesting designs or carvings tend to be very popular amongst collectors, as are apple juice-colored bracelets that may have flowers, fish, or other designed carved or painted on the inside. Pin subjects vary widely – from patriotic pins and banjo playing frogs to pipe smoking dogs and pencils with dangling school charms. The more unusual, the more collectible they seem to be!

Vintage Rock N’ Roll Memorabilia – Whether you were a flower child from the 1960s or a wild child from the 1980s, some of the souvenirs from the concerts and your favorite bands may be quite valuable now. Original concert posters are very desirable amongst collectors, with many fetching several hundred dollars to a thousand dollars or more. Extremely rare Beatles or Grateful Dead posters can even jump into the five-figure range.

In addition to posters, ticket stubs, programs, even old concert t-shirts are collectible. 1980s hard rock t-shirts frequently resell for $50-$100+, and if you were lucky enough to acquire and hang onto original rock shirts from the 1960s or 70s, those can be worth even more.

What’s Not

Silver plate – Historically, silver was originally only affordable to the very wealthy. However, in the mid 1700s, Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield, England, invented a process in which he could bind a fine layer of silver to other metals, giving the appearance of silver at a fraction of the cost.

Today, while silver remains popular for use in jewelry and decorating, most buyers prefer to have sterling silver over silver plate, as both require the same degree of care and maintenance, but sterling objects hold their value much better.

How do you know if your item is sterling or silver plate? Sterling items are typically marked “STERLING” or “925”, as sterling is 92.5% pure silver. Silver plate objects may be marked EPNS (Electro-plated nickel silver), Quadruple Plate, Silver on Copper, etc. Also, sterling items won’t be attracted by a magnet, whereas sometimes silver plate objects will be.

Beanie Babies – Beanie Babies were launched in 1993, but didn’t start becoming a collectible phenomenon until 1995. Their story is a fascinating lesson in supply and demand, when production of the beanies was limited on purpose, leading to a massive secondary market. At the peak of their popularity, they accounted for approximately 10% of the sales on eBay where they could be flipped for as much as a 1000% mark-up.

However, like most collectible crazes, the era of the Beanie Baby has come and gone. Most people that collected large quantities of the stuffed critters are disappointed to learn that their investment is most likely worth pennies on the dollar now. Due to their low resale value, I recommend that people who wish to depart with their collections donate them to police or children’s hospitals, so that they may be enjoyed by younger generations in need of some cuddly comfort.

What’s Hot, What’s Not – Part I

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I receive inquiries almost daily about selling stuff. All sorts of stuff. Inquiries from the last month alone have ranged from selling high-end estate jewelry to the liquidation of a vintage beer can collection. I even took some time to go out and view an antique radio collection stored in an old school bus. I love hearing about / seeing unusual collections, which is what keeps my job fun!

I’ve decided to start a series of articles that detail items that are selling well right now in the market versus items that aren’t. So here we go.

What’s Hot

Late 1950s to Early 1960s Barbie Dolls and Accessories – The first Barbie I ever sold was a 1959 #2 Barbie. She sold for $3938 to a collector in California. Ever since then, I kept an eye out for early Barbie dolls and accessories. The most valuable dolls are going to be the earliest dolls, from 1959 to 1960. They can be identified by their facial features, body markings, and even the holes in their feet. Whether the doll is a #1 or #3 Barbie can make a big difference in the value. A near mint #1 Barbie recently sold on eBay for $4500, while a pristine #3 Barbie with box may sell for $1500 – $2000. Original, vintage outfits and accessories can go for a lot, too, and are oftentimes worth a lot more than the dolls that may be kept in the cases with them. Hard-to-find individual outfits may sell for hundreds of dollars each and even partial outfits can still sell for $20 – $50.

Iconic Toys from Every Era – Toys have been collectible for a long time and will continue to be collectible into the future. People develop a special attachment to toys, especially from their childhood, as it reminds them of a simpler, more innocent time in their lives. Toys that are in the highest demand from collectors tend to be iconic examples from their era and are in very good to excellent condition. Ideally, the original box and/or accessories are still available. Some examples include cap guns, tin toys, and Tonka trucks; vintage dolls and play sets; original board games, video games, and action figures.

What’s Not

Dishes – Most People will inherit at least one set of china from a parent or grandparent. Unfortunately, the market for reselling most china and other porcelain tableware is very poor. There is simply way too much supply and not enough demand. Younger generations have different tastes than their elders and many of them do not formally entertain like people did in the past. As fine china is often too fragile to put in the dishwasher, people simply don’t want to bother with it most of the time. Consider gifting to a friend / family member that would appreciate it or donate it to a worthy charity. If you must sell it, local consignment or auction is a possibility, but don’t expect to get much for your set(s).

Limited Edition Prints – I once worked with a couple that had purchased dozens of beautifully framed Ducks Unlimited prints, “back when [they] had more money than sense”. They had paid several hundred dollars for each work, hoping to recoup their investment or perhaps even make a profit someday. Sadly, when you have hundreds or even thousands of copies of a particular work, it tends to dilute the resale value for the piece. I was only able to sell a handful of the prints for $100 or more apiece, while the remainder had to be liquidated at local auction for a fraction of that.

A truly limited edition tends to be 100 copies or less. And ideally, the work is signed by the artist and has been kept away from sun or moisture, to minimize the chances of fading or spotting. If the print is large but perhaps only worth a few hundred dollars, it may be best to sell it locally or remove it from the frame for easier (and much cheaper) shipping.

A Priceless Gift

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My father recently turned 70-years-old. For the last few birthdays, I had either sent him gift certificates to his favorite local restaurants or had offered to cook for him during his next visit. I mean, what are you supposed to get for someone who already has everything he wants and doesn’t really need anything else?

I racked my brain for several days for gift ideas for him. Since I am well past nine-years-old, a new bottle of Old Spice aftershave no longer seemed appropriate. Dad enjoys movies, but fussed a bit about having to set-up a Netflix account last time I got him a pre-paid subscription. What would be something small, yet simple that he would like?

My parents have lived in my childhood home for nearly 30 years. Over the years, they have added and removed walls, bookcases, closets, etc. Storage space has been maximized to the fullest extent, as my father is obsessed with storage and organization. So needless to say, their house is full of tchotchkes and other things that my siblings and I don’t want.

Out of all of the stuff in my parent’s home, the one item that I hope to inherit someday is my father’s Mickey Mantle dinner plate. Although Mickey Mantle was best known for his hitting prowess while playing for the New York Yankees, he diversified into a number of different business ventures after his playing career, including opening-up several Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’ restaurants in Texas in the late 1960s. These restaurants focused primarily on country favorites such as fried chicken, catfish, and ham sandwiches. Unfortunately, they were poorly managed and didn’t stay open more than a few years.

Dad acquired the plate at some point through his various Saturday morning garage sale expeditions. I remember when he came home with it, he was really excited to have his own special dinner plate. When I was growing-up, my siblings and I always seemed to be heading in different directions during our daily activities. However, dinnertime was the one time during the day that we would regularly sit down and spend time together. Of course, it may have involved some loud talking with hand gestures (Italians do love to speak with their hands…), but it was quality family time nonetheless.

For my Dad’s birthday this year, we threw him a modest surprise party consisting of family friends and a handful of old co-workers. Of course, we had way more food than was necessary, including a pair of giant party pizzas that were so large, I had to turn the boxes sideways just to fit them inside of the house.

My daughter, Lily, was the first person to jump out from her hiding spot, and my father immediately broke into a big smile and started laughing. He was even happier when he learned that all of his children were there, as we hadn’t been all together for several years.

After the party, my father opened a small pile of cards and gifts from friends and family. He opened my present last. I had managed to find a small Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’ soup bowl on eBay that Mantle had signed. It came with a certificate of authenticity, which would make it easy to sell or trade at some point in the future.

And while Dad enjoyed the bowl, I realized after giving it to him that his favorite gift of the day wasn’t something that could be bought or sold. It was the time and effort that his family put into his special day. And that is a priceless gift.

Collectibles as an Investment

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People collect all sorts of things. I’ve seen doll collections, Hummel collections, sewing machine collections, mahjong collections and porcelain Collie collections, just to name a few. People often spend thousands of dollars and years growing their collections, only to find out that the value for most items tends to decrease over time. So how do you put together a collection that is more likely to appreciate in value over time and get the most bang for your buck when it’s time to sell?

  1. Buy the best that you can afford. In the beginning, quantity may take priority over quality, just to fill up your shelves. However, the best collections are carefully cultivated, with top specimens often taking years to acquire either due to cost or scarcity. As your budget permits, buy the best examples that you can afford, as you might not get another chance for a long time.
  1. Trade up. After a while, many serious collectors may find themselves with duplicates or less than ideal examples in their collections. When the opportunity is available, try trading-up some of the less desirable specimens for better quality ones. In fields such a coin or sports card collecting, sometimes a minor improvement in a single item can increase the value of your collection by thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
  1. Keep an eye on the collectibles market. Just like the stock market, the market for collectibles can experience ups and downs. What may have been valuable years ago may only be worth a fraction of the value now (and vice versa if you’re fortunate…) Published identification guides often include price sheets, but they tend to become out-of-date very quickly unless the publication is only 1-2 years old. It’s best to use recent prices realized on eBay and auction house websites as a reference for the value of you collection, as they will more accurately reflect current pricing trends.
  1. Follow the golden rule of collecting. Collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect. If you find that this mantra is no longer true, it’s either time to downsize or sell your collection.
  1. Don’t burden friends or family with your collection. Unless they share the same passion for the items that you collected, most people are not terribly excited at the prospect of inheriting a collection, even if it’s valuable. Storing and insuring it can involve a great deal of time and money and selling it can be even more of a hassle, especially if they are in a time crunch to clear out an estate or storage unit.

If your intended recipient(s) would find the sales proceeds more beneficial than the owning the collection, take some time to find a reputable dealer or seller that can get you the best prices for your items. To make things easier, be sure to maintain an inventory of your collection with notes such as value and provenance, which can be very helpful when it’s time to sell.


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, […]