My husband picked up an old book at a yard sale for three bucks. In an effort to clean out our garage and make some extra cash, he recently listed it on eBay. Imagine our shock when this book shot up astronomically – way past the twenty or so dollars we were hoping it would go for – and sold for over $1,800! PayPal payment was received almost immediately and the book was shipped the next day.
This led me to wonder – what other hidden treasures might we have lying around?
Because my husband is a collector and bookseller, and I also collect and sell online, we are often asked questions like, “Is this old stack of National Geographic magazines in my parents’ garage worth anything?” (Probably not, unless they are before 1930), “How much can I get for this big bin of original Beanie Babies, still with tags?” (Not much – you can hardly give them away) or, “Where can I sell this old chandelier?” (That’s a question we are still trying to answer – that thing’s been sitting in our garage for years!)
Tips for determining the value of an item:
- Books, Magazines, Ephemera – Look up the title, author, the publishing history (i.e., first edition/first printing). Book club editions are worth much less. A dust jacket is very important. If the books is in good or better condition, you can check the value of it by going on to eBay and checking current and, more importantly, completed auctions. You can also go to ABE.com, is a bookseller’s site, to get an indication of what a particular book goes for. Some items that are generally not worth much: cookbooks, Harlequin Romance-type paperbacks, most fiction (unless it is very old, signed or very rare), Reader’s Digest condensed novels, pop culture fiction and nonfiction (anything mass produced).
- Collectibles, Coins and Odd Items – Often times, things that were a cultural trend for a short amount of time are worth a lot today. An example is Billy Beer – a two-pack recently sold on eBay for $50, not including shipping. The less of the item that was produced, the more it will be worth; if they printed or sold 10 million of a certain figurine, stamp or coin, it will be worth less than if they printed or sold 10 thousand. Coins that were issued before 1965 have some value.
- Auction Houses – There are many auction houses that sell all kinds of things that may be hiding in your garage. Christie’s, Butterfield’s, Southeby’s, and Profiles in History are a few you may have heard of. You can bring your items to them and they will give you a free appraisal and let you know if they are interested in your item. Things you can sell include: furniture, sports memorabilia, antique clocks or watches, artwork. Do a search online for an auction house near you. Bill Mercer, an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow, gives the following advice: “I think that the biggest thing is to realize that not everything old is valuable financially. The biggest things to consider are condition and authenticity, meaning signatures, hallmarks, etc. for things like paintings, prints, silver, glass, pottery.”
- Authenticating Your Items – If whatever you have doesn’t have an COA (Certificate of Authenticity), you can either describe how you know how the item is authentic or how you give it “providence” – proof that it’s authentic. “I met this person here on this date…” Also, there a few companies that will do some research, like Professional Sports Authenticator. They will research and check signatures. We had a baseball which appeared to be signed by Ronald Reagan. For $120, we paid to have it authenticated. Unfortunately, it was a fake. But if it had been the real deal, it would’ve gone for over $2,000, so it was worth checking out. (Sure wish it had been a real signature!) My husband also had a Time Magazine with Michael Jackson on the cover, that Michael actually signed for him. But for someone to buy it from us, they’re not just going to take our word. For $75, we had it authenticated.
- Other Resources – Go online and find local antique shops, pawn shops, book stores, etc. They can estimate the value of something for you and possibly consign your items. There are also people who specialize in books, furniture, books, antiques and other items who will come to your house/garage/etc. and look at what you’ve got. This is the easiest way, but you won’t make a lot of money this way because the buyers are going to turn around and sell your items for considerably more.
- Donating – If you’re not sure how much things are worth and can’t be bothered to do all the above work, consider donating your items for a write-off. Sometimes when a family member dies, it is emotionally draining to go through their stuff and it’s just easier to donate it all. When my mother-in-law suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, she left a craft room full of supplies. We gathered all of the items up and donated them to our daughter’s preschool at the time. We didn’t make any money, but we were able to clear out the room with the least amount of emotional distress, and the school was thrilled to have the items.