Shifting market for old things

Tom Bassett, Lincoln appraiser, cited the economy and oversupply among reasons for the drop in value of some antiques and collectibles during his antiques appraisal program Saturday during ArtoberFest in Marysville.

“E-Bay has created an oversupply of many items,” Bassett said. “The economy has had a negative impact. A high percentage of people in their 30s and younger are not collectors. Many people in the under-40 age group don’t know Gene Autry or Jean Harlow from a pair of jeans.”

The younger generation doesn’t want to collect anything, he said.

“There is no sentimentality for antiques. They are not putting things in a china cabinet these days, but spending their money on electronics.”

Bassett owns and runs Bassett’s Appraisal Service in Lincoln, teaches classes at Southeast Community College in Lincoln and, besides appraising jewelry, he also appraises coins, antiques and collectables.

“The best time to go to a sale or auction is when the weather is bad or when the University of Nebraska is playing football,” said Bassett, referring to one of his most frequently asked questions. “You are going to get some good deals, especially if there is a football game in Lincoln.”

He advised collectors that if they enjoy something “don’t stop, but realize that if and when you decide to sell your collection, the value may fall short of your expectations.”

Bassett said the list of items whose value has fallen is lengthy, and include Hummel figurines, cut glass, collector plates, Precious Moments, postage stamps, sports cards, hand-painted china, silver-plated items, and 1930s to 1950s personality items.

“In the 1940s, stamp collecting was the third most popular hobby,” he said. “Now it is not even in the top 50.”

It’s hard to sell sets of china, flatware and stemware “because we don’t entertain any more,” he said.

“The younger generation doesn’t want to polish the silver, and you can’t put the china in the microwave. New brides don’t register for china, flatware or stemware.”

Bassett has seen the price of china sets go from $800 and more to recent lows of $150 and less.

“Will the pendulum on china prices swing back?” he asked. “Why would they change back to using china, silverware and crystal goblets when paper and plastic is so easy. I don’t see what is going to make it come back.”

Items that still have some value, according to Bassett, are wooden bowls and utensils no longer in general use such as a lemon reamer, cherry pitter and coffee grinders. Also desirable are small crocks, especially with the imprint of a town’s name or company.

He also sees an increase in collecting Star Trek, Star Wars and space travel items.

Bassett is often asked what’s the best time to sell a collection, and all too often, his answer is, “The best time to sell that collection was six or eight years ago.”

Some antiques and collectibles have increased in value in recent years, he said, including gold coins, men’s wristwatches, duck decoys, any advertising of hunting and fishing items, sports trophies, golfing, hunting and fishing-related items and pre-1960s jewelry.

“It’s disappointing to me that so many things, especially beautiful cut glass, have gone down in value,” he said.

Bassett said a piece of glassware or china needs to be more than simply “really” old to be of significant value. Considerations include condition, manufacturer, color, pattern, quality of glass and collectability.

“We have seen both antique dining room and bedroom sets fall in price,” he said. “The antique beds are too short and too narrow, and houses don’t have formal dining rooms for those large dining tables and chairs.”

Still desirable in furniture, according to Bassett, are wooden sectional bookcases, small pieces such as lamp tables, occasional tables and entryway pieces.

The key to deciding the value of crocks is if they are useful and have markings.

“Markings are important, and we all love Red Wing, but there are others such as Union and Mammoth, that are more desirable,” he said. “Small crocks are more desirable than the very large ones.”

Sheet music is easy to buy but hard to sell, he said.

“The cover is everything, and it has to be unusual. There were thousands of sheet music pieces printed, like maybe one bizillion of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” If you had Bing Crosby on a horse and only a few were printed, you would have something valuable.”

Besides their sentimental value, many kitchen-related items from the 1940s and earlier are collectable, he said, because they are easy to display, fun to collect and most are inexpensive.

Bassett said a recent trend in furniture is to cover it with paint.

“I discourage painting wooden furniture if it is a quality piece with good wood,” he said. “It devalues the piece, but if it is low-quality wood and craftsmanship, then make it useful. Paint will cover the flaws.

“If the furniture piece is to be sold, I generally advise selling it ‘as is’ and let the new owner make the decision. The buyers may have the ability to refinish it themselves.”

If the furniture is a family piece and the owner is likely to keep it, Bassett usually tells people to go ahead and refinish the item.

“Refinishing a chair in a modest price range will not ruin the value, and in some cases, it will enhance the value. However, if a person has a rare piece of antique furniture worth $2,500 or more, my advice may be a bit different. The owner still needs to decide whether the piece is to be sold or kept. Refinishing a $2,500 piece may turn it into a $1,500 piece.”

The condition of antiques and collectibles is important, he said. “People who buy things look at them closely. A little chip might not bother the seller, but if you are the buyer, it should bother you.”

The law of supply and demand is probably the most important thing to remember when evaluating an antique or collectable, according to Bassett.

“How many were made, how many still exist and how many people collect this type of item?” he said.

Bassett suggests writing down the history of items inherited or acquired from family or friends.

“If you don’t do it, the interesting stories and history of these items will become a mystery,” he said.

Put the names of people in photos on a mailing label and stick it on the back of the photo, he said.

“I hear many people say their children don’t want their antiques or family treasures,” he said. “That may be true but don’t give up on grandkids. If you share your family stories and history with your children and grandchildren on a regular basis, you are likely to instill in one or more the desire to own your antiques at some future time.”

Bassett said an item is worth only what someone else will pay for it, and he advised people to check around at various antique malls to see how dealers have priced items.

The Internet and eBay have become many people’s new source of information.

His advice on Internet or eBay pricing is to not put much faith in the price listed for an item unless it is a bid. A bid represents a price someone is willing to pay.

Bassett said doing research to find the value of antiques is fun. Sources, in addition to the Internet, are books at the library, visiting antique malls and shops or contacting an appraiser. – See more at: