Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting an Appraisal

QUESTION:  I have inherited a tall case clock and am looking for some guidance. The clock is said to be at least from the time of the Revolutionary War. There’s a slit in the back that I’m told is from a soldier putting a sword through. I’m trying to get a value for shipping and also for fairness for other family members in the event it’s really valuable. Can you help me?

ANSWER: Contrary to popular opinion, not just anyone can valuate an antique or collectible. Asking someone how much an object is worth is like asking if it will rain tomorrow. The only way to know what an antique, especially a potentially valuable one such as this clock, is worth is by having it “appraised” by a professional appraiser. And only a professional appraisal is legally binding when it comes to insurance claims or inheritances.

Exactly what is an appraisal? An appraisal is the paid opinion of an expert on the value of an object based on known facts. In the case of antiques and collectibles, known facts include records from more than one sale at more than one auction, the latest published price guides, and personal experience gained from buying and selling similar items many years.

While a verbal appraisal may offer an indication of how much an item is worth, a professional written one is the only one legally recognized by insurance companies and the courts. It must be based on fact and able to stand challenges in court. However, written appraisals, even for one item, can take hours to prepare and are expensive, but are absolutely necessary to prove an item’s worth.

A verbal appraisal, on the other hand, is an informal one. Usually, the person giving the appraisal spends no time researching auction records and price guides. Therefore, a verbal appraisal is an opinion based on first hand knowledge.

Formal appraisals fall into two categories—replacement and fair market value. Insurance companies require the former, while estate valuations require the latter.

Replacement value is generally defined as the price at which an object would be available on the retail market. In other words, what an antique dealer would charge for a particular item.

When you try to insure a collection, the insurance company wants to know how much it will cost to replace it. The same applies for a single piece of furniture. The insurance company won’t accept a verbal appraisal as the basis of settling a claim. Instead, they require a written appraisal with proof of replacement cost.

Fair market value, on the other hand, is best described as "the price that property would sell for on the open market between a willing buyer and willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both parties having reasonable knowledge of the reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.

But whatever the appraised value, an object will bring only a percentage of its replacement value when offered for sale—generally between 40 and 60 percent below replacement cost. Items that sell extremely slow will sell for only about 30 percent of replacement value, while those that sell fast may bring 80 to 90 percent of replacement value.

With so many auction sites online these days, it’s easy to pull one up and do a search for a particular antique or collectible to see what it may be selling for. Most people use eBay. Unfortunately, the amounts listed on eBay may not reflect an object’s true value. If the object is listed on an auction site, then, as with live auctions, the price could go way above the object’s current value due to competition between bidders. If someone really wants an antique or collectible, they may stop at no amount of money to obtain it.

Too many homeowners use this as an easy way to price items in a yard or garage sale. Flea marketers do the same. This is why so many items that are actually worth much less are selling for higher prices today at these venues.

Prices of objects at antique shows usually sell for the amount of their value or a little less. However, some sell for what the dealer perceives to be the value of the object. High-end dealers selling objects for four to six figures do their research and know their market. Those selling at middle-market shows, sometimes do research about an item, but, more often than not, just guess at an item’s value and price it for what they think the market will bear.

To find a professional antiques appraiser near you, contact the International Society of Appraisers

For more information, read my article on appraisals in The Antiques Almanac.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Selling Your Antiques and Collectibles

QUESTION:  I was a Hess dealer from 1969 to 1982, station Numbers 30293 and 30298 in Maple Shade and Millville, New Jersey. I clamped the Hess Toy Truck gasoline tanker display  to the top of the oil rack on the gas island. Hess Oil issued one of these for each island oil rack. Have you ever seen one of these? The Hess Training Vans came packaged six trucks to a box and four boxes to a master carton. Only one of these have been out of the box to take photos. Notice  the sharp corners on the boxes that are still green and not white and end flaps are still flat and not rolled. I’d like to sell these items but don’t know how or where. Can you help me?

ANSWER: People ask about selling Hess Toy Trucks all the time.  Unfortunately, the market for them is flat, so sales are sort of in the dumps at present. However, there are other ways to unload your antiques and collectibles. Have you ever considered crossover sales?

Most people associate the word “crossover” with SUVs. But in fact many antiques and collectibles can also be crossovers—they have collector appeal in more than one field or category. For example, an early 20th-century calendar showing bicyclists attracts not only ephemera collectors, but also antique bicycle enthusiasts.

This person has some really unique pieces which although they may not appeal to the typical collector of Hess Toy Trucks—except for the trucks, themselves—they may appeal to a wider market of both advertising and gasoline memorabilia collectors, especially since Hess Oil sold off its gas stations last year. The display cases are particularly interesting. Also, anything bearing the company logo will sell.

In order to get the most for whatever type of antique or collectible you have, you must look at this from a broader perspective and begin to see the crossover possibilities. First, you have the people who collect the trucks, themselves. Then you have those who collect toy trucks, Third, you have those who collect Hess memorabilia, and fourth those who collect gas station memorabilia. Most people only think of the collectors of the items they have. You have to think beyond them.

Second, you have to plan to sell to a targeted audience. Let’s look at some of the right and wrong possibilities.

The first marketing level, the yard or garage sale, depends on people who impulse buy. The regulars make the rounds each Saturday, hoping to find some items that interest them. Sure, there may be some collectors in the group, but the chances of a collector of a particular type of antique or collectible finding an item they collect is a million to one shot.

The second marketing level, the flea market, depends on a similar group of people. However, this group includes more collectors, who browse flea markets looking for items to add to their collection. It’s always hit or miss. A collector never knows what he or she will find on a given day.

The third marketing level is the antiques or collectibles dealer. Most people don’t realize that when selling to a dealer, they’ll only get half or less of what their items are worth. Here, the number of collectors is higher than previously, but the monetary returns are low.

Computer technology and the Internet have dramatically changed how people sell things. For the most part, the audience is made up of mostly collectors—people who are searching for specific items to add to their collections. It’s so much easier to sit at a computer and search for a specific item than it is to go out hunting for it. Plus it saves on gas.

When eBay began, it was the only game in town. And in this case, “game” was the right word. People went on eBay to play the “bidding” game before sophisticated video games began to take up their time. They would bid on items for which they had only a marginal interest, bidding them up to see if they could “win” the item in the last second. This caused the prices of antiques and collectibles to rise substantially beyond their actual value.

But now eBay is just one of many online sales venues. In fact, bidding plays only a small part in eBay sales as more and more buyers prefer the “Buy It Now” option.

To successfully sell online, divide up what you have and sell individual pieces. This applies especially to items like Hess Toy Trucks. Some people have been collecting them for years and want to sell their entire collection to one person. Although that’s the easy way out, they’ll make a lot more money selling everything a la carte.

Before attempting to sell any antique or collectible online, see what others like it are selling for, then either match or offer a slightly lower price. Offer the item in several categories, maximizing its crossover potential. It’s all about competition—and there’s loads of it online today. Lastly, be patient. It may take a while for the right buyer to come along. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Picture That Record

QUESTION: A few weeks ago, I discovered several unusual records at a garage sale in my neighborhood. Each had a picture embedded into the record on both sides. This painting seemed to illustrate the song on each side. I was so fascinated by these records that I bought them on an impulse. Can you tell me anything about them? I’ve never seen anything like them before.

ANSWER: You’ve picked up quite a treasure. Your records date from the one year in the late 1940s when Sav-Way Industries of Detroit, Michigan, produced these unique “picture” records on the “Vogue” label. From May 1946 to April the following year, Sav-Way produced 74 different, 10-inch Vogue records.

Sav-Way released the first 10-inch Vogue picture record in May 1946. These records featured everything from big band to country to jazz.  Each had  an artist's illustration embedded in the transparent vinyl of the record. These  illustrations, signed by the artist, on each side of the record generally related to the title of the song on that side. Many of the illustrations are for romantic ballads. And while the most common Vogue picture records are 10-inch, 78 RPM records, Sav-Way also released a few 12-inch, 78 RPM records.

Each illustration has an "R" number, or catalog number, printed on it, ranging from R707 to R786. However, the company didn’t use all of the 79 catalog numbers, so there are gaps here and there.

There’s also a "P" number printed on the illustration next to the copyright symbol. This matrix number should match the matrix number inscribed in the lead-out area of the record. Once in a while illustrations didn’t match the song pressed on that side of the record. Sav-Way sometimes marked these records as Factory Rejects. But they marked those records with damaged illustrations—torn paper or smeared ink—as Vogue Seconds.

While Vogue picture records were unique and somewhat popular at first, later on they lost favor because Sav-Way couldn’t attract very many big-name singers and musicians. This caused the company to re-use some previously-released songs to help fill the second side of some records. Consequently, the catalog numbers on a particular record may not match. Most Vogue picture record collectors know that these records aren’t one-of-a-kind examples and don’t get excited when they come across them.

Sav-Way sold Vogue picture records both individually, as well as in albums containing two records. The company produced eight different albums. Originally, the single records sold for around a dollar while the albums sold for a little less than three dollars. Sears, Roebuck, and Company’s 1946/47 Fall/Winter catalog offered 18 different Vogue records and seven different Vogue albums.  

Vogue picture records were of very high quality and had little surface noise. Sav-Way produced the records using a complicated process using a central core aluminum disc  sandwiched between the paper illustrations and vinyl.  It took a while for the firm to perfect this process. Their engineers spent several months working out the bugs that resulted in torn or dislodged paper illustrations.

Unlike many other collectibles, Vogue picture records have a definite beginning and end making it possible for a collector to assemble a complete set of the records over time. However, finding these picture records can be a challenge. Beginning collectors often find them at yard or garage sales or flea markets for a few dollars. More advanced collectors know to look to the Internet to find some of the more hard-to-find examples. In the end, Vogue picture records were a short-lived novelty which has become a fascinating collectible.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The World’s Most Usable Antique

QUESTION: I purchased an old trunk a while ago. It seems as if someone tried to “antique” it back in the 1960s, which makes it look ugly. I’ve seen trunks restored before and wondered if you can tell me something about this trunk and if it can be restored?

ANSWER: Old steamer trunks are one of the most useful of all antiques. They can still be used for storage after given a little TLC. This makes them more valuable because a person who isn’t necessarily an antique collector will buy one to use rather than a plastic bin.

Although trunks, themselves, date back to medieval times, it’s only the ones made in the 19th and early 20th centuries that people buy to reuse for storage. Trunks gained popularity with the coming of the railroads. And while people used them when traveling by stagecoach, they were more likely to use a “carpet” bag, one made of durable carpet material that could be carried by the owner.

People along the coasts of the United States traveled from one point on the coast to another by coastal steamer or, within the interior of the country, by steamboat. Larger trunks could be taken along because these vessels had porters to carry the heavy trunks onboard and off, thus the name “steamer” trunk.

From the later half of the 19th century to the first couple of decades of the 20th, trunks were flat on top. These usually had a smooth metal or canvas covering, and later an embossed metal cover. They also had wooden slats or metal banding to strengthen them, as well as to add a decorative touch. More elaborate trunks, especially those made by Frenchman Louis Vuitton, had rounded tops.

A typical 100 to 130-year-old antique trunk has a stale and musty odor from more than a century of collecting dust, mold, and mildew. Along with the deterioration of the outside canvas, leather and the inside paper lining, the glue, itself, will have decomposed over time. The original tray insert, made from a thin wood fiber or a compressed sawdust type of material, may have a deteriorated paper covering. Dry rot and mold can also be present. The purpose of the restoration process is to stop further deterioration and to remove the collection of dust, mildew, and mold which is causing the musty odor.

A basic restoration consists of first removing all canvas and paper coverings and leather straps and handles. Next the exposed wood must be washed in a special non-toxic solution to kill and remove dust, mold and mildew, then lightly sanded. Any broken hardware must be removed and replaced, as well as all of the leather. It’s important to make all repairs using the same types of tools, nails, tacks, and craftsmanship used when the trunk was first made. The next step is to restore and seal the wood using special non-toxic restorative oils and varnishes in a slow, repetitive manner to bring out the patina that only 100-year-old wood can achieve. The last step is to bring the hardware, fixtures, and any sheathing back to its original color. This includes removing any paint that may have been applied. The hardware, itself, can be painted a flat black if the original finish cannot be restored.

It’s important to use plastic gloves, eye protection, and a construction-grade face mask when removing the dust and old finishes. While there are lots of good non-toxic cleaners on the market today, some toxic ones may have to be used if the finish on the trunk is in bad condition.

Never use an old trunk without properly cleaning it both inside and outside. It’s especially important to scrub the inside and remove and old paper lining that can’t be saved. In fact, unless the paper lining in historically important to the trunk, it should be removed entirely, as should the glue holding it in place. Back in the 19th century, trunk makers used horse glue to attach the paper to the inside and canvas to the outside.. The trunk can then be lined with fabric or vinyl wallpaper.

Many people romanticize about old trunks—where they’ve been and who they belonged to.