Treasure Hunting With The Antiques Road Show
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Strike It Rich1 of 12
By Emili Vesilind
Gramps' old golf clubs. That shoebox of vintage family photos in the closet. Some of the most unassuming items in your house may have value (way) beyond the sentimental, according to Kathleen Bailey, a certified appraiser who regularly appears on the cult-favorite PBS series Antiques Roadshow. We asked her for tips on unearthing treasures in our own homes—and the scoop on what's fetching top dollar at auction these days.
Stock Check2 of 12
"When people live in a home for a very long time, they usually forget about some of their really good things," says Bailey. So take stock of any items you have a hunch about (find out how to research antiques), particularly things that have been passed down through the family. And if you have a long-dormant storage unit or safe deposit box, then it might be time to detail its contents.
Sift & Sort3 of 12
"When a family member dies, people have a tendency to throw out all the contents of their file cabinets, but you should go through those cabinets piece by piece in case there are any historical documents," says Bailey. She has worked with people who've unearthed letters and documents from the Civil War (see photos).
Look Down4 of 12
Wipe your feet. You may be treading on the most valuable item in your house. "Rugs can be very valuable," says Bailey. "In particular, vintage Persian tribal or city rugs (what do they look like?) that were beautifully made and are still in good condition."
Game On5 of 12
"Make sure you check out the smelly sports equipment in your garage," says Bailey. Long-forgotten baseball bats (check out the record price paid for Babe Ruth's bat) and gloves and tennis racquets are among potentially lucrative items—as are golf clubs. "Some single golf clubs can be worth thousands of dollars."
The Big Picture6 of 12
Family photos that are circa-1900 or older can be very attractive to collectors, says Bailey, adding that with photos from as far back as the 19th century (check out the recent discovery of a rare Robert E. Lee photo), most people have little idea of who's in the picture—a good thing if you're as sentimental as we are.
Book It7 of 12
Bailey says that stacks of hardback books (see estimated price of this popular first edition) can yield all manner of treasures, as books are, in general, widely collectible. Paperbacks, unfortunately, have little to no value beyond the personal. And bibles, no matter how old they are, "really have no commercial value. All the important bibles are in museums."
Tune In8 of 12
Old musical instruments "should always be appraised," says Bailey. "There are some very rare, valuable instruments in people's attics." Pianos, for one, are very collectible, but because they're pricey (one of the most expensive pianos sold for how much?), "can be slow sellers in this market."
Say It's Sew9 of 12
While vintage Singer sewing machines are typically not worth much, according to Bailey, "Small sewing items like thimbles and needle-holders and darners and the 18th- and 19th-century containers that hold sewing items" can yield high prices. Take a look at these antique sewing items.
Ranks to Riches10 of 12
Collectors of military paraphernalia are getting more common, so don't overlook retro uniforms, military documents, medals, hats and—of course—guns, knives, swords and other weaponry, when digging around the attic. Find out how many millions of dollars Napoleon’s sword fetched at auction.
Tea Time11 of 12
"China and glass usually get over looked because they're daily use items, but you could be eating off some very expensive things," says Bailey. It's wise to have all finer china and pedigreed glassware appraised. Check out this glass museum.
Hot Tickets12 of 12
Chinese antiquities from the 1600s and 1700s—think vases, porcelain, bronzes and jade—are among the most lucrative categories in collecting right now. But since we don't have a cellar full of jade, we'll stick to excavating for old silver and gold jewelry, Bailey's second-place pick for the season's hottest seller. What was the most expensive collection on the Antiques Roadshow?