What’s it Worth? – Sports Cards – Part 1

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Aaron - FinalWhen they were growing up in the 1950s, my father and his friends would go down to the corner drugstore and pay 5 cents to get a pack of baseball cards. The gum, of course, was what they wanted the most. The baseball cards were merely a consolation prize, to be pitched, flipped, traded, or put in bicycle spokes (as they made great bike “motors”!).

I’ve heard numerous stories from my father and other Baby Boomers regarding prized card collections in shoeboxes that were tossed out with the trash. If only Grandma had know that shoebox could have potentially paid for a new car or college someday, she may have thought twice before tossing those old cards out.

So what makes one particular sports card more valuable over another?  Here are a few key factors that affect the prices of sports cards: 1. Rarity / Age  2. Condition  3. Significance. Each characteristic builds upon one another, so it’s important to understand them before you start hunting for the “diamonds in the rough”.

A particular sports card may be considered rare either because it was released in a very limited quantity or potentially because of its age. Older cards have a tendency to be more valuable than newer cards because they are harder to find, as not as many were produced or have survived over time. When popularity of collecting sports cards exploded in the mid 1980s, and so did the number of cards produced, making them less valuable in general.

There are a handful of modern cards produced each year that are considered valuable immediately, but they tend to be much harder to find than cards collected from the 1970s and earlier. The newer cards that are more valuable are usually rookie cards of star athletes or limited edition cards that are signed or include embedded snippets of memorabilia such as bats, balls, or jerseys.

If you do find a rare card, the next criteria for determining value would be the condition of the card. Factors such a bent corners, centering, and focus contribute to what is know as the card’s “eye appeal”. While bent corners are easy enough to understand, a “centered” card means that the image should be equal distance from all edges of the card, with as little variation as possible.  Focus refers to the sharpness of the picture. As printing techniques have changed over the years, so has the criteria for judging how sharp the picture should be.

Tune in next month where we’ll highlight some iconic cards from various sports and discuss how to get the most money for your best cards!

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

 

What’s it Worth – March 2013

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They’re little. They’re cute. And often, you see them in groups of at least 10 or more. If you or anyone in your family served in World War II, then there’s a good chance that there’s a group of Hummel figurines somewhere around the house.

Hummel figurines resulted from the artistic merits of Berta Hummel, who was born in Bavaria in 1909. Growing-up, Berta loved to draw and was particularly fond of portraying children in her portraits. After graduating from the Munich Academy of Applied Arts, she joined the Franciscan Covent of Siessen, which would allow her to devote her life to both her faith and her art.

Several years later, Berta took the name Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. Sister Hummel’s sketches began to appear on postcards in Germany and Switzerland throughout the 1930s and managed to get the attention of Franz Goebel, the head of a prominent German porcelain business. Goebel established an agreement with the Convent that allowed his artists to reproduce Sister Hummel’s sketches in figurine form. They were released in 1935 and immediately became a success.

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At the end of World War II, American soldiers stationed in West Germany began sending Hummel figurines home as gifts. They soon became popular collectors items, especially after they started appearing in U.S. Army Exchanges. In the 1970s, Hummel values began to skyrocket when the small figurines’ popularity peaked.  During this time, plates, bells, music boxes, and other Hummel collectibles were introduced.

Since that time, prices for Hummels have come down dramatically. It is difficult to get anywhere near “book value” for figurines, as there is simply greater supply than demand for most pieces. Having sold over 600 Hummels last year, I would estimate the common 3”-5” figurine without damage sells for between $25-$50. However, specialized collections like The Nativity Set can sell for $500-$1000+, while rare pieces or the largest figurines can command premiums up to $5,000 per piece. The trademark stamp on the base will help you determine the age of your Hummel with the oldest figurines displaying a crown on the bottom.

Collectors worldwide still love and appreciate the innocence of Hummel figurines. I have shipped them as far as Singapore, Australia, and even a few back “home” to Germany. Although Sister Hummel passed away over 60 years ago, her simplistic portrayal of the world around her have managed to live for generations beyond her.

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

What’s it Worth? – February 2013

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If you’ve ever been to an estate sale or auction, most likely there was at least one silver service, tray, or table set for sale. Yet, why do some pieces sell for high prices at the auction house while others arrive at the local thrift shop?

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, 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 has increased in price by over 600% in the last 10 years. 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. I recently sold a Tiffany and Company sterling serving spoon worth only about $45 by weight, yet it sold for over $200. Manufacturers like Tiffany’s often command a premium from buyers due to their reputation for quality. Last April, at their Historic Chinqua Penn Auction, local auctioneer Leland Little sold several silver plate items in the range of $300 – $900, due to their ornate nature and regional provenance.

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.

The original article can be found in the February 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/upload/Feb13web.pdf

What’s it Worth? – January 2013

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If you were born before the era of the cell phone, than most likely, you’ve owned at least one wristwatch in your life. Not only were they the preferred device for telling time for most of the 20th century, but they also provided their wearers a chance to express a bit of personality with the mere flash of the wrist.

Wristwatches started to become popular towards end of the 19th century, when fashionable ladies wore them as jewelry. In 1904, a pioneering aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont lamented to his good friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of viewing his pocket watch while flying. He asked Cartier to develop a watch that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls while flying. “The Santos”, as it became known, became a signature achievement for Cartier and helped to make wristwatches popular among men because of their practicality.

Common versions sell between $500-$1500, with rare pieces selling upwards of $10,000 or more.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 5.02.01 PMEarly wristwatches were made with manual movements, which required the wearer to periodically wind the watch in order to keep time. Beginning in the early 1930s, Rolex helped to usher in the era of automatic wristwatches that used the wearer’s movement to keep the watch running.  Nicknamed “Bubblebacks”, these early automatic Rolexes regularly sell for $3,000 to $8,000, with the most desirable versions worth greater than $20,000.

Not all vintage watches need to be wildly expensive to be collectible. One such example is from the iconic Hamilton Watch Company, which introduced the first electric watch in 1957.  One of Hamilton’s most famous customers was Elvis Presley, who liked their electric Ventura watches so much that he often gave them away as gifts. Years later, the Ventura gained a new following after being reproduced for the “Men in Black” movie series. Vintage editions can be purchased for as little as $300-$500, with near mint editions valued up to $2,000.

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Currently, eBay is one of the best venues to buy and sell collectible watches for great prices. If you want to buy a watch, find a reputable seller with a policy that allows for returns if the watch is defective. If you have an expensive watch (or collection of watches) to sell, provide as much detail about the item(s) as possible and be sure to take clear, high quality pictures for prospective buyers. Who knows – maybe that old watch in the drawer is now worth enough to pay for your next vacation!

The original article can be found in the December 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com/upload/Jan13web.pdf

What’s it Worth? – December 2012

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With Christmas quickly approaching, it’s time once again to break out the holiday decorations. If your family is anything like mine, perhaps you have more ornaments that you know what to do with and it might just be a good time to downsize. Yet before you toss out or give away some of the older or unwanted items, perhaps they may be worth selling instead.

 

Screen Shot 2012-11-02 at 3.07.17 PMFor example, if you happen to have any belsnickles, they might be worth something. What a belsnickle, you ask? Typically 12” or smaller, early belsnickles were bearded figurines made of painted paper mache or cardboard. The name originated from of the German legend of “Pelze Nichol”, which translates to “Nicholas in furs”. Pelze Nichol was bearded and sometimes wore a mask. On Christmas Eve, he would enter homes through the keyhole and leave sweets for the good children and switches for the parents of bad children.  Depending upon their condition and rarity, figurines from the late 1800s to early 1900s can be worth a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each.

 

Screen Shot 2012-11-02 at 3.10.43 PMIf you don’t happen to have any belsnickles in the attic, perhaps you may have some nutcrackers. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a few inches in height to life-sized versions. Some of the most collectible nutcrackers are made by the Steinbach Company of Germany, which has produced nutcrackers and other wooden products for nearly 200 years and spanning seven generations of family. If you’re lucky enough to have a vintage nutcracker signed by Christian Steinbach (who led the company to its current prominence), they’ve sold for up to $3,000 apiece recently.

 

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Finally, we turn to tree trimmings. There are all sorts of interesting items that adorn Christmas trees, such as garland, lights, and ornaments. While most of the value from these ornaments is sentimental (anything I made when I was in elementary school is now priceless, according to my Mom…) some ornaments have become quite valuable in a short amount time.  Swarovski started a series of annual Christmas ornaments in 1991. Their crystal stars were sold for about $50 each, which is no small sum for a single ornament. Since that time however, those ornaments have appreciated in value tremendously and can sell for $1500 or more, an increase in value of nearly 2900%.

 

Perhaps this holiday season, you’ll give some thought to the gifts on the tree and not just under it. They might just turn out to be the best gifts from Aunt Mary and Uncle Ned yet!

 

The original article can be found in the December 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/upload/Dec12web.pdf

What’s It Worth? – November 2012

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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

What’s It Worth? October 2012

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Barbie is probably one of the most recognizable toys to American children. But did you know that Barbie is actually of German descent? Inspiration for Barbie came from a similar doll by the name of Lilli, who was originally a cartoon character from a German tabloid newspaper called “Bild Zeitung” (Picture Newspaper). Lilli was considered a character of ill repute and was sold it tobacco shops and bars throughout Germany, often given as a souvenir at bachelor parties.

As the story goes, Barbie’s creator (Ruth Handler) first came across Lilli while traveling in Europe with her husband, Elliot, and their two kids, Barbara and Ken. Ruth was fascinated by Lilli and purchased several dolls to bring home. She and Elliot owned a small toy company named Mattel, and eventually Ruth persuaded Elliot and his all-male staff that little girls would love the idea of playing with an adult doll.

In 1958, Mattel bought the Lilli patent from its German owners and set about producing their own Americanized version. A year later, Barbie debuted at the International Toy Fair to mixed reviews. Many doll buyers refused to purchase the doll, while others though she was too provocative. Yet to little girls, it was love at first sight. Mattel sold over 350,00 Barbie dolls in the first year alone!

If you’re fortunate enough to come across an original Barbie doll, you might just be surprised at what they’re worth. My father came across one at a yard sale last fall and purchased her for $4. She was in good condition, but missing all of her original accessories. I didn’t think much about the doll when he first contacted me about her, but as I began to research her, my expectations began to rise.

You can buy nearly any original Barbie accessories online, so I purchased an original Barbie Box, zebra swimsuit, stilettos, earrings, and booklet on eBay. I couldn’t bring myself to pay $200 for the only original #2 Barbie stand listed at the time, but I managed to find a similar vintage stand for a fraction of the price that would suffice. I went as far as mailing Barbie off to a “Barbie Restoration Specialist”, who cleaned the doll, washed her hair, and gave Barbie a new ponytail band. I estimated the extra investment would increase the value of the doll to $2500.

Once listed for auction on eBay, Barbie immediately began to attract interest. By her second day online, she had more than twice the number of watchers than anything I had previously sold. By the morning of the last day, Barbie had reached $3000 in bids. As the last few seconds ticked down, the price jumped again. My father’s $4 garage sale Barbie sold for $3938! As a grown man, I must admit that I now like Barbie, too.

 The original article can be found in the October 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/issues.html

What’s It Worth? – September 2012

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I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a column each month about some of the more interesting items that I’ve come across in the consignment business. This will hopefully inspire a few of you out there to root around in the attic or basement for some of those long lost treasures.

The other month, I was e-mailed a picture of a china plate. I’m normally not too excited at the prospect of selling china, as it’s sold everywhere and younger generations don’t typically buy it if they can’t put it in the dishwasher. However, this plate was different. In the picture was a note stating that it had been a gift from [then] Governor Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s mother-in-law to one of her employees, who handed the plate down to the next generation upon her death.

eBay vs Craigslist: Pros and Cons

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Occasionally, people will ask me to sell large items such as furniture, cars, kayaks, or even tractors on eBay. While these items are sometimes appropriate for eBay, I usually recommend that the sellers use Craigslist instead. If you’re not very familiar with either, this article will explain some of the basic differences between the two.

eBay is a website that serves as a meeting place between buyers and sellers all over the world. It generates some staggering sales figures, such as having more than 100 million active users who purchased a total of $68.6 billion worth of goods in 2011 alone (that’s more than $2100 in sales per second!)

Turning Trash into Treasure

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Most people realize that at some point in their lives, they have too much stuff. There are a number of different ways to deal with this. You can have a garage sale, donate items to your local thrift shop, or simply drag it out to the curb and leave it for someone else, be it a neighbor or the garbage collector. These suggestions require the least amount of effort, but also produce the least amount of return on your original investment.

Today, hundreds of millions of people are connected by one of the most widespread communications tools that ever existed – the internet. Not only is the internet a vast information resource, it’s also great for selling almost anything. With it, I’m going to show you a few basic strategies for turning some of that stuff that you’ve accumulated over the years into money.

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