Q: I found three vintage sports pennants from the 1940s, but I can't find value for them. There's a reference book on pennant prices, but who wants to spend $18.95 for something you use once?
A: The reader adds that his local library does not have the book. He wants to check value before approaching a sports memorabilia store owner to sell the pennants.
Good for him: That's how a smart collector thinks. Never go in clueless, unless you know and absolutely trust the seller/buyer. Even then, a smart collector does some homework. Your fourth grade teacher was right: Knowledge is power.
I think this reader is guilty of faulty thinking concerning that reference, however. Should any of the pennants have serious value, isn't it worth $18.95 plus tax to learn that? The reference is one way to level the field, to use a sports metaphor. You better believe smart merchants have tools to determine value.
Yet the book and all print price guides have an intrinsic flaw. Price guides are outdated before they're printed. Use them as benchmarks. Text, if it's good, can inform, but prices provided are not current.
Really smart collectors use the same tools merchants and savvy sellers employ. In this case, the reader should run an Internet search on his pennants and see what comes up.
Next, key a free resource such as liveauctioneers.com and eBay to view prices listed and realized.
Then, pay for short-term use of worthpoint.com, a resource heavy on eBay results. For art and decorative pieces, try artfact.com, as well.
For roughly the same price as a book limited to one topic, our reader can use paid time on those sites to check the pennants and other items that he wonders about.
Using those databases to check the reader's pennants, we narrowed the search to prices from the past year. We learned that most of his pennants sold for about $25.
But one, a Washington Redskins pennant circa 1940-1950 brought $199.99. Right there, access paid off. Plus, we learned what detail on that pennant brings top dollar.
Had we walked into a sports memorabilia shop with the pennants not having done our homework, a merchant could have told us anything and we would not have known better.
See how it works? It pays to arm yourself with the best, most current info available. You better believe that's how the pros do it.
Q: My father brought a Kutani tea set back from Japan in the 1940s and I want to learn more about its history. I can't find the same pattern on replacements.com .
A: You cannot find it on replacements.com because you're probably searching the dinnerware china section. Vintage tea sets are another animal.
Kutani is a type of porcelain first made in 17th century Japan. It is still made there. The pattern is most often found decorated in five basic enamel colors ranging from cobalt and red to a brownish purple. Kutani variations are still produced primarily for export; those wares often have Western influences.
As with any product that has had a very long run, looks and, of course prices, vary dramatically. Contemporary Kutani, usually marked in English, does not have the quality of earlier work.
Because so many pieces were exported from the 1800s on, many still exist. Value of WWII Kutani tea sets depends on how many pieces are involved, visual appeal, and condition. The geisha at the bottom of each teacup is a lithophane, a visual fired into the porcelain that shows when lifted to the light.
If your library has "Japanese Porcelain 1800-1950: 2nd Ed." by Nancy Schiffer, a section on Kutani illustrates the huge variety of patterns. Online sources mentioned above also show the immense variety of Kutani wares, with prices.
"Farmhouse Revival," by Steve Gross and Susan Daley (Abrams, $40) highlights 20 family-owned historic farmhouses that have been lovingly restored. From a cozy upstate New York working farmhouse to a Greek Revival beauty and Vermont property from the 1770s, all have been adapted for today. All are still lived in and show how to live with period antiques without screaming "decorator." A perfect gift for the collector.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.