Imagine this scenario—your parents are downsizing from their house of forty years to a small condo. In their attic are boxes upon boxes of things from your childhood, their childhood, and possibly their parents’ childhoods. They give these boxes to you because they don’t have the space to store them, but you don’t either. And so you think to yourself, “It’s time for a yard sale.”
But what if there are some highly valued antiques or collectibles that shouldn’t be sold? What if in one of those boxes there’s something worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars?
Certain types of antiques and collectibles speak for themselves. A Tiffany lamp or Waterford crystal goblet, for example, are highly lucrative items. The same goes for memorabilia—Olympic, political, music, sports, Elvis, or movie, to name a few—or “boys toys”: action figures, comic books, and baseball cards. And, based on their condition, these items will sell for more than yard sale prices.
But sometimes looks can be deceiving. When is a ceramic ashtray more than a utilitarian piece of pottery? The not-so-obvious answer is if it’s stamped on the bottom with “Abingdon” or “Made in Occupied Japan.” Cha-ching!
Instead of hoping and praying that the Antiques Road Show blows through your town, why not try to evaluate them yourself? While there are books and Web sites dedicated to the classification of precious antiques and collectibles, the list below can help any neophyte determine the brummagem (collector’s term for the cheap, showy, and worthless) from the real deal.
Plastic jewelry that you suspect is pre-1950s may be worth a pretty penny. Thanks to artists like Andy Warhol, who prolifically collected vintage Bakelite jewelry in the 1980s, the value of plastic has never been so profitable.
Bakelite, a castable and fire-resistant plastic, was invented in 1909 by Leo Baekeland. It was the first wholly synthetic plastic and jewelry makers used it to produce carved bangles, polka dot bangles, figural pins, clip earrings, dress clips, and rings. Bakelite jewelry was produced in the 1920s until 1942 in the United States. It is heavy and can be transparent, translucent, or opaque. Because of oxidation, the original colors of these pieces have often changed (transparent or colorless to an “Apple Juice” color; white into butterscotch, pink into orange, light blue into forest green). A rich patina enhances the value of the piece.
Lucite is an acrylic resin that began to appear in costume jewelry around 1940. Cheaper than Bakelite, it had many of the same qualities and could be easily molded, cast, laminated, inlaid, carved, and tinted. Lucite continues to be used in jewelry manufacture, but it reached its height of popularity between 1940 and 1950. Common post-war pieces of interest to collectors include clear Lucite imbedded with glitter, seashells, rhinestones, or flowers.
Celluloid is one of the earliest man-made plastics used in making costume jewelry and dates roughly from 1900 to 1930. Celluloid jewelry pieces tend to be thin, light, somewhat brittle yet flexible, and sensitive to heat. Extremes of temperature, moisture, exposure to cosmetics or perfume, or lack of adequate ventilation can cause a celluloid piece to discolor, crack, or even disintegrate, so they should be stored carefully.
The landscape of pottery is vast and somewhat unreachable unless you study it full time. The value and interest in many seemingly mundane objects, like piggy banks or bookends, might surprise a non-collector. Looks can be the most deceiving, so inspect all pieces big and small.
Made in Occupied Japan
Any pottery that is stamped with “Made in Occupied Japan” and can be authenticated to have been manufactured between the summer of 1945 and spring of 1952. Items include ashtrays, planters, and other knickknacks.
Bisque pottery, also known as biscuit ware. Items have only had one firing in the kiln and are unglazed porcelain or china. American bisque cookie jars are extremely popular with collectors, as are bisque dolls.
Does it have Elvis on it? Was it a give-away with proof of purchase from Nabisco? Is it in the shape of Woody Woodpecker? Or does it have a studio or artist marking on the bottom? All are highly desired objects of a collector’s affection and can be worth much more than what you might sell it for at a yard sale.
Check the Marking
Collectible pottery often has a mark on the bottom. If you see the names Abingdon. Cowan, Fulper, Frankoma, The Lefton Company, Mary Rose Young, McCoy, Purinton, Robinson-Ransbottom., Roseville, or Shawnee, it’s worth holding on to. This is an abbreviated list, so if you find a marking that is not here, it’s best to research it further.
While it’s easy to spot fine china plates and dinnerware, the value of a porcelain vase, figurine, or doll is harder to determine. Personal taste often prevents a person from realizing that those Lladro figurines passed down from his grandmother are worth a few hundred dollars. Here are a few ways to see past your own eyes.
Limoges porcelain is a fine, hard paste white and elaborately molded porcelain made of kaolin clay and produced in the Limoges region of France. While some of the most desired pieces are those that were factory decorated and signed by a French factory artist, many Limoges porcelain pieces popular with collectors are the ones that were painted by American factory artists in a decorating studio.
Nippon porcelain is another popular type of porcelain with collectors. It was manufactured in Japan (“Nippon” means “Japan”) from 1865, when the country ended its long period of commercial isolation, until 1921. Much of the Nippon porcelain pieces were decorated with gold, which was not very durable and wore away over the years, so it is common today to find Nippon china pieces with the gold rubbed off.
Names That Say It All
The following is a small list of manufacturers that produced (and perhaps still produce) highly valued porcelain: Hutschenreuther, Lladro, Royal Copenhagen, Royal Delft, Royal Worcester, and R.S. Prussia
There are some glass pieces that need no introduction, like a Murano glass paperweight. But some may seem more commonplace and worthless. Here are two examples that defy expectations.
Milk glass is a molded glass that can be white or colored glass (e.g. blue milk glass, which usually comes from France). The older pieces appear almost translucent, especially around the edges. Farm animals were popular motifs. The Hobnail pattern, which consisted of raised bumps and lace pattern were also popular. Manufacturers are numerous, including Fenton, Westmoreland Specialty Glass Company, U.S. Glass Company, L.E. Smith Glass Company, Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, Duncan Glass, Fostoria Glass Company, and Belknap.
Depression glass is mass produced cheep colorful glassware made during the Great Depression, from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. The most popular colors with collectors are pink, blue, and green. Popular patterns are Cameo, Mayfair, American Sweetheart, Princess, and Royal Lace. Anchor Hocking, Dell, Fry, MacBeth-Evans, U.S. Glass, Viking, and Westmoreland are some Depression glass manufacturers.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg known as antiques and collectibles. So before you decide to hold that yard sale to de-junk your home, do a little research on those dusty trinkets. The rewards might be greater than you expect.