A Basic Guide to Collecting

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I’ve had the privilege to work with a number of collectors since I started my business and also spend a lot of time reading about different collecting trends. If you or a friend / family member has a collection or some sort or perhaps just want to start one, here are a few basic guidelines for a good collection.

Collect what you like. Owners of great collections have a passion for what they collect. They can usually tell you anything that you want to know about their collection, including the history of the item(s), variations, errors, etc. If you collect solely with the hope that your collection is an investment, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment down the road.

Do your homework.  If you’re serious about building a good collection, you should learn about your subject as much as possible. Which pieces are considered entry level and which are advanced? What’s an acceptable level of damage or wear? Do reproductions or fakes exist and if so, how do you tell the difference? Where are the best places to get good deals?

Buy the best quality that you can afford. Unless you plan to collect cars, then most collections can be started with a relatively modest amount of money, perhaps with as little as a few dollars. Over time, as your collection grows, you may find yourself shifting from quantity to quality, which typically means greater expense may be involved with each purchase. I know of one local coin collector who has told me he’s at the point of adding a new coin to his collection every 1-2 years, due to the particular quality and expense associated with his collection.

Keep the box. If whatever you collect comes with specific packaging or a box, be sure to keep it, ideally in the same condition that you originally received it. Boxes and packaging materials can add 10%-30% to the final value of a collectible and can sometimes be harder to find than the collectible itself. A vintage Barbie box is worth $25-$50, a vintage Rolex box may sell can sell for $100 or more, and a 1950s Hubley Atomic Disintegrator toy cap gun box may fetch up to $400 (without the cap gun!)

Pass it on to other collectors. Whether you spend a few years or a lifetime putting together your collection, at some point, it will be time to pass it along. If family members or friends don’t share the same level of enthusiasm for your collection, don’t burden them with having to deal with it themselves. Take the time to find a good outlet to either sell or donate your collection to others who will appreciate and take care of the items as you did.


The original article can be found in the February 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

A Quick Guide to Downsizing in 2014

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A lot of my clientele consists of retirees or people that have managed to accumulate more items that they care to maintain. Since it’s the beginning of a new year when people feel the greatest motivation for change, I’ve decided to make a slight detour from my usual focus on collectibles and instead write a quick guide to downsizing effectively and efficiently.

First, give the people or organizations that you care about most the opportunity to request items that they wish to inherit or have passed along. Most times, there may only be a handful of items, with the remainder not necessarily being things they need or want (how many extra bunk beds or food processors does one possibly need?) It’s an important conversation to have with your beneficiaries while you are able and will help to minimize disputes down the road.

After certain items have been earmarked for friends or family, the remaining items can be divided into three categories: 1. Sell It 2. Donate It 3. Trash it.  I’ll expand a bit on each.

Items that should be sold include things like furniture, jewelry, household goods, fine clothing, etc., which are items that retain some degree of value, even if they are used. Sometimes these items have appreciated in value and you may receive more that you thought they were worth. If you’d like someone else to do most of the legwork in selling your items, then a consignment shop or auction house might be a good fit for you. However, if you’re the do-it-yourself type or want to keep most of the proceeds for yourself, Craigslist, eBay, and a number of other sales venues exist for that purpose.

Items worth donating may be older (i.e. vintage clothing or appliances), slightly damaged, or may have more sentimental value than resale value (wedding china and travel souvenirs come to mind…) These items are considered usable and functional, but might not be worth the time and effort to sell in the venues previously mentioned. If you have enough items to donate, sometimes you can arrange for a free pick-up from the charity or nonprofit that is receiving the items. Another good resource is Freecycle.org, which allows members to post items available for free to each other.

Finally, if the items are not functional or have been damaged beyond repair or repurpose, it might just be time to throw it out. Items that have significant mold, mildew, rust, or that were inhabited by furry critters for several decades are probably the best candidates for the trash. Who knows, perhaps as soon as you put that rusting hunk of junk on the curb for the trash collector, someone else may come along to claim it as their new treasure.

The original article can be found in the January 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – Vintage Stereo Equipment

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When I was a freshman in college, I spent my entire Christmas break working two jobs so that I could buy a new home theater system for my dorm. It cost me $500. It lasted me a few years before I passed it down to my Dad. After setting it up and plugging it in, Dad said that it whirred for a few moments, coughed out a puff of smoke, and died. Thanks Sony.

So why is it then with all of the advances in technology today, do people still want to acquire and will sometimes pay a hefty premium for vintage stereo equipment? Simply put, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Marantz ReceiverQuality of sound has somewhat taken a backseat to the demand for an increase in the number and type of component connections in modern stereo systems. This is especially prevalent at the mid-range price point ($250-$500) that most people are willing to pay for individual stereo components.  As newer technology is crammed into these components, royalties must be paid to license the technology and less is spent on research and development to improve sound quality. So while the newest components will have the most bells and whistles, they will often fall flat in a head-to-head comparison of sound quality against their vintage cousins.

So, what types of components are most desirable to collectors or audiophiles? Vintage stereo receivers and speakers routinely top the list. For receivers, some of the most sought after makers are McIntosh, JBL, Marantz, Pioneer, and Sansui. For speakers, it’s Western Electric, JBL, Jensen, Tannoy, and Altec Lansing. Certain models in decent condition can easily sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the right buyer.

JBL SpeakersOne important reminder when you’re considering selling any type of vintage stereo component is to have the unit thoroughly evaluated by an electronics expert prior to sale. Buyers don’t necessarily mind purchasing a vintage piece of equipment that may need some repairs, but the last thing you want to do is ship someone a “Mint” pair of speakers that’s been sitting in a box in the attic for 25 years, only to have them returned for not working as advertised.

The cost to have individual components evaluated will typically run $25 – $50 at a good electronics repair shop, which I consider a very reasonable investment if the equipment will then sell for several hundred dollars or more. Doing your diligence upfront will give prospective buyers the confidence to spend their money with you and will minimize the potential for a costly return.


The original article can be found in the December 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – Records

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Time to set the record straight on records (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Every month, I get at least 1-2 inquiries about selling records. Most of the time, I can’t help but cringe a little as soon as I hear the request. Yes, it’s true that vinyl has made of bit of a comeback in the last 10 years. However, you have to keep in mind who is buying all of those records (mostly younger folks) and what they’re buying (unfortunately, not Benny Goodman or a lot of swing band albums). Record collecting today is driven directly by a few factors: genre, rarity, and condition.

By far, the most popular vinyl genre is classic rock from the 1960s – 1970s, with the Beatles and Elvis leading the way for some of the most desirable albums.  NextScreen Shot 2013-11-27 at 10.43.23 AM is a genre called “Northern Soul”, which originated in northern England in the late 1960s and consists primarily of lesser-known American soul artists that produced mostly regional albums in small quantities. Finally, hard-to-find pressings of certain classical albums can command prices into the thousands of dollars (although unless you are a very particular collector, you will most likely not own a classical album like that.) If you think you have something that may be valuable, visit www.popsike.com , which lists the results for millions of record sales.

Next, it’s a matter of determining which albums may be worth selling individually. You’ll want to make a list of albums by artist, then either go to popsike.com or use a book such the Goldmine Record Album Price Guide by Martin Popoff  (at nearly 700 pages, it’s vast, but not all inclusive). If stumble across a figure in the price guide, be sure to compare it with a recent comparable sale online, as that will probably be a more realistic idea of what your album is worth.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 10.41.26 AMFinally, what is the condition of the album (including the inner and outer sleeve, as well as the record itself). Serious collectors use a grading scale to assess the condition of each album, which I’ll touch on briefly. “Mint” is perfect, having never been played and without any damage; “near mint” may have a slight defect, such as faint ring wear on the outer sleeve (this is the baseline for the price guide and most collectors); “very good plus” may have some signs of wear, but was handled carefully by the previous owner (worth 50% of a near mint album); “very good” albums may have surface grooves, or damage such as tape/stickers on the cover (worth 25% of the near mint value). Anything graded below very good may not be worth selling, unless you manage to have something truly rare and valuable, regardless of condition!

The original article can be found in the November 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – U.S. Coins

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On a business trip to New Jersey a few months ago, I stopped by my aunt’s house for a visit and a good meal. As dinner was cooking, she brought down a small box of coins that were given to her by my grandfather. She said that she didn’t have any interest in coin collecting and wanted to see if there was anything worthwhile in the box. Inside of 5 minutes, I found the most valuable coin in the lot – a $20 gold piece from 1900. It later sold for $1700 and was part of the nearly $5000 worth of coins in that small box.

Many coin collections I look at typically consist of rolls or baggies of old US coins. Sometimes, I’m just given a pile of various coins to pick through. It helps to know what you’re looking for to sort the coins into different values.

Many U.S. coins made in 1964 and earlier have a high silver content – 90% to be exact. The Dollars, half dollars, quarters, and dimes from this period are typically what hold the greatest value. For example, an old Roosevelt dime from 1950 may not look like much, but at current silver prices, they’re worth about $1.70 each. And since a lot of people have rolls of these old dimes, at 50 dimes per roll, they’re worth at least $85 from the silver content, versus the $5.00 face value.

Unless they’ve been obtained by a serious collector, most coins are likely to have been used and are in circulated condition. If they are made of gold or silver, they are always worth at least the gold or silver content that they contain.  A good website to help determine a basic value of your old coins is www.coinflation.com , which has a calculator that includes current gold and silver values.

Like any collectible, the better the condition the coins are in, the more valuable they tend to be. Numismatics (those who collect and study coins and currency) utilize a scale to assign grades to coins, which ranges from poor (PO01) to mint state (MS65). The U.S. Mint also produced higher-grade proof coins, which are usually distinguished by their mirror-like finish and extremely crisp detail.

Aside from their gold or silver content, scarcity can also be a driver of prices. Even something as common as a Lincoln penny can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, IF you’re lucky enough to come across a rare find in good condition. If you think you may have something that’s rare or valuable, set it aside from other coins in a plastic baggie to minimize additional wear, until you get a chance to research it or have it evaluated. And whatever you do, don’t trade in those old coins for crispy new dollar bills, as you may be getting a lot less that they’re worth!

The original article can be found in the October 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s It Worth? – Selling Jewelry Online

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Unworn jewelry is one of the most common types of collectibles to wind-up in the back of a drawer or bottom of a jewelry box. Fashion change with the times, rings may become tighter with age, or sometimes there’s an unwanted memory associated with a particular piece. So, how about selling it to someone else that will appreciate it more?

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 11.01.04 PM copy

If the jewelry is made with precious metals (gold, silver, or platinum), it is always at least worth the value of the metal. You can get a basic idea of the value using a kitchen scale that measures in grams and searching for a scrap metal calculator online or in your smartphone’s app store. Most jewelry made with precious metal will be stamped somewhere to indicate the type and/or purity of the metal (such as the inside of the band of a ring or the clasp of a necklace).

Designer jewelry is a particularly good candidate for resale, as it is one of the most popular categories on eBay. Luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Gucci, Bulgari, and Chanel command some of the highest resale values online. Vintage jewelry is also quite popular, with unique brooches, ornate rings, and bangle bracelets being some of the most active categories.

If the jewelry has recently been appraised, the resale value is typically 20%-40% of the appraisal value. This percentage may seem low, until you remember that appraisals are typically done for insurance purposes and provide the retail value of the item, making it easier to replace should it be lost, stolen, or damaged. The resale value may be higher if the piece is particularly rare, unusual, or has significant provenance.

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While describing the jewelry accurately is very important, having multiple, high-quality pictures of the pieces is even of greater importance, since buyers cannot see and touch the pieces themselves. Also, your potential buyers may not be native English speakers from the United States, so all the more reason to provide the best pictures possible.

Jewelry on eBay can sell for less than a dollar to $100,000 or more. Often, you can find similar items that have sold recently to give you a good idea of the resale value of your piece.


The original article can be found in the September 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.



What’s it Worth? – How to Estimate Resale Value Online

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I’ve sold several thousand items on eBay by now, so I have a reasonably good idea of how the process works. However, the first step that I take with any new potential item for sale is almost always the same – I do my homework to evaluate the resale value and market for a particular item.

Many people believe in order to establish the value of their items, they simply need to go online to match-up the item, and that’s what they can expect to get when they sell it. This strategy is only partially correct – yes, you can go online to see how identical / similar items are currently priced for sale, but that does not necessarily mean that is what the items will actually sell for. Ever heard of retail price versus resale price?

When I estimate the resale value of an item, I seek out the prices for the same / similar items that have recently sold, as they serve as much better predictors as to what future items will sell for. This is particularly important step to do for rare or valuable items.

In eBay, all you have to do is change your search preferences slightly to find this info. After searching for your item, simply select the “Sold Listings” box on the left side of the webpage. If you could imagine eBay as a huge store with nearly anything for sale in the front of the store, this small change in search preferences now gives you access to the backroom of the store, where everything that has sold in the last 4-6 weeks can viewed, including prices.

After locating the sold items, next you’ll want to sort them by “Price + Shipping: highest first”, which will list the items with the highest resale value at the top of the page. This is important because it provides a baseline for comparison between items that have recently sold for the most money and your particular item. If your item happens to be in better condition or more complete than the “top” item, there’s a good chance that it may resell for more. Oftentimes though, most items fall in the mid to low range, as they have flaws.

If you can’t find what you’re trying to research on eBay, Liveauctioneers.com can be a great alternative, as it compiles sales data from a number of major auction houses throughout the United States. Simply sign-up for a free membership, which will allow you to browse both upcoming and live auctions, as well as sold results from past auctions.

If you still can’t find what you’re trying to research, you may need a paid subscription to a specialty website or a good reference book, of which I have many of both! Just send me an e-mail with a brief description of the item (including condition and reference marks) and I can typically find it and provide a free sales estimate with a few minutes of searching.


The original article can be found in the August 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – Porcelain Figurines

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Porcelain figurines are one of those collectible categories where quality and value can vary tremendously. Many modern figurines are mass produced and can be purchased in stores, flea markets, or thrift shops for a few dollars. Yet if you have a good eye for particular makers, that dusty Goodwill find might just be worth a lot more than what you paid for it.

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Whenever I evaluate a porcelain figurine for sale, one of the first things that I do is to lift it up and look at the maker’s mark on the base. Many prominent porcelain manufactures will have signed or stamped their wares,and the mark may not only tell you the production company, it can reveal age, country of origin, and perhaps the finishing artist as well.

Although are some quite valuable porcelain pieces that come from China and Japan, I tend to focus more on European and American porcelain makers, as they tend to be easier to research. If the company’s name or initials can be read on the bottom, usually a quick web search can help you learn about the company and may help you date the piece. For pieces marked only with symbols, I’ve had luck entering a basic description into Google and doing an image search. If you still can’t locate your maker, there are some excellent pictorial reference books on porcelain marks that can help identify and date your piece.

After you’ve located the maker, it’s time to find comparable items that have sold, which can help provide an idea of the value of an item.  You’ll want to be sure

to properly assess the condition of your figurine as well. Does it have any chips, cracks, or crazing (hairline cracks in the glaze)? Is it the same color and size as item that has sold? Does your piece stand alone or is it part of a set?

Hummel and Lladro figurines are regularly found for sale online, typically re-selling in the $20 to $100+ range (depending upon size, box availability, and rarity). More valuable collections may include pieces made by Herend (Hungary), Staffordshire (England), or Meissen (Germany), with pieces often selling for several hundred to a thousand dollars or more.  Generally, the larger and/or more intricate the piece, the more valuable it may be.

A few summers back, a client asked me to look at a vintage porcelain figurine set that he had inherited from a relative. He had a magnificent set of Lipizzaner horse figurines from an Austrian manufacturer, which ended-up selling from around $200 (for the one missing a foot) to over $1400 each! So next time you’re dusting Mom’s old figurines in the curio cabinet, take a few minutes to turn them over and do a little research. You main gain a better appreciation for her collection afterwards.

The original article can be found in the July 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – Vintage Perfume Bottles

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This 1920 Lalique perfume bottle sold for an incredible $19,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2012.

This 1920 Lalique perfume bottle sold for an incredible $19,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2012.

I was recently given a box of vintage perfume bottles to sell by a client. While they smelled nice and reminded me of my grandma, I didn’t think they would be particularly valuable. However, by the time all of the bottles had sold, much to my surprise (and my client’s delight), that small box of perfume bottles ended-up selling for several thousand dollars!

So, where do the most valuable perfume bottles come from? Primarily France, which also produces many of the world’s best (and most expensive) perfumes. Two French manufacturers in particular – Lalique and Baccarat – are responsible for some of the most artistic and desirable bottles sought by collectors.

Lalique was originally founded by Rene Lalique in 1885. Lalique was a brilliant designer who expressed his artistic talents in numerous forms, ranging from perfume bottles and vases to chandeliers and car hood ornaments. Some modern Lalique bottles can be purchased for less than $100. However, it’s the vintage bottles, mostly from the 1920s and earlier, that routinely sell for hundred or thousands of dollars. Original Lalique pieces are often hand-signed on the base, but can be imprinted as well.

Baccarat was named after the town in France that started producing glassware at the bequest of King Louis XV in the early 18th century.  Originally producing items such as windows and mirrors, the company later expanded their production line to include items such fine barware, chandeliers, and perfume bottles. Modern miniature Baccarat bottles can be found for under $20. Yet the prices can shoot up quickly, depending upon the age and intricacy of the bottle. Baccarat pieces can usually be identified by their circular acid-etched logo on the base.

Although chipped and only half full, this  Baccarat bottle sold for $356.

Although chipped and only half full, this
Baccarat bottle sold for $356.

In addition to glass and crystal, highly collectible perfume bottles can be made from porcelain as well. Many of these bottles were made to resemble figurines of people or animals and were produced by highly skilled French or German porcelain manufacturers.

Identifying the manufacturer of your bottle is the first step towards evaluating its value. The bottle’s label or mark can be very helpful in this process. After you have narrowed down the origin, determining condition is extremely important. Are there any chips or cracks? Is the original box available? Is there any of the original perfume left and is it still fragrant? Collectors will want to know as much detail as possible, so it’s important to describe both bottle and contents carefully. Doing so will help bring you the best prices for those old perfume bottles – and you may be surprised as what they are worth!

The original article can be found in the June 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

What’s it Worth? – Sports Cards – Part 2

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Jordan RookieLast month, we talked about several key factors that make certain sports cards more valuable than others, which included rarity, age, and condition. This month, we’ll talk about the impact that an athlete’s significance plays in the value of a card, as well as how to maximize the sales potential for your best cards.

Every sport has iconic players that most fans would be able to recognize. Can you name the sports in which Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan played? Typically, cards from a famous athlete’s first professional or “rookie” seasons tend to be highly desirable to collectors. Additionally, cards from the years in which these athletes achieved certain milestones, such as winning championships or setting new records are also in demand.

Lets say that you’ve located a card that is rare, features a star athlete, and is in excellent condition. The next step to maximize its sales potential is to have the card graded.

Grading a card typically involves sending it to one of two companies – Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) or Beckett. For a fee, these companies will grade your card, which means they will assign it a score of 1 to 10 based upon the physical condition of the card. A score of 1 is the lowest while 10 is the highest. A lower score indicates to potential buyers that the card has some sort of flaw or damage, while a higher score means that the card is in better condition and therefore more desirable. Since it is very difficult to get a card that receives a 10 (as that score is considered flawless), such cards can command a significant premium over near identical cards with a lower grade.

Mantle RookieFor example, if you find a 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan card, congratulations! You have a very desirable rookie card. According to PSA, the card is worth approximately $790 if graded as an “8”,  $1500 if graded as a “9”, or an incredible $8750+ if graded as a “10”! Of course, 13,408 of these exact cards have been submitted to PSA to date, of which 326 (or 2.4%) have been graded as an “8”, 2108 (or 15.7%) have been graded as a “9”, and only 156 (or 1.1%) have been graded as a “10”. The population or “pop” of a card with a particular grade also lends value to a card, as cards with high grades and lower pops means that the card is rare.

If you think you may have a valuable card, it should be stored somewhere that is climate controlled (like inside your house), out of direct sunlight, and inside a protective card sleeve, to minimize potential for damage. And for goodness sake, if you come across a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, please don’t use it for a bike motor. It may be worth enough to buy you a new car…. or house!

The original article can be found in the May 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.

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