The smart collector: Do your research before selling inherited items

2013-07-07T00:00:00Z The smart collector: Do your research before selling inherited itemsDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
July 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Q: Several years ago, family members aged 91 and 95 died and left me a lot of things that I have no idea regarding value. Can you give me a clue? I'll pay for your appraisals.

A: Oh, boy, do I feel for this reader. I can't count the times this kind of query has crossed my desk.

People, please, if you must bequeath miscellaneous items to others, before you're called to that flea market in the great beyond have the courtesy to let them know what you have. And, if you can, leave them an idea of value. Photograph and itemize all items, then tuck the info where your heirs have been told to look.

I'm not a credentialed appraiser. My job is to help readers be smart collectors. What I can do is give this reader a crash course in how to find the info he needs.

He writes that he's currently in "sort of a financial crisis." That's the worst kind of situation to be in when a cool head and methodical thinking are needed. Selling blind is a loser's game. Ditto for rushing into a sale without knowing at least a bit about what you have.

One item is a stoneware pitcher of indeterminate size. Decoration is freehand cobalt brush work in florals, perhaps tulips. From images sent, I feel it is genuinely old, but stoneware is a field for expertise.

First, this reader should ask everyone he knows if they know an advanced stoneware collector or seller. Get this expert's opinion. Also, look on and for sale results on similar items. Concentrate on recent prices.

Visit a local library for books on stoneware. Check eBay completed sales, but be aware that repros lurk there.

I talked with stoneware expert and dealer Heidi Kellner, of zandkanti- in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. She thinks the pitcher might have been made around Philadelphia or Baltimore. It needs to be examined.

Stoneware buyers tend to be site specific; many prefer shapes and/or decoration traceable to specific makers.

A reputable dealer will ask you to state how much you expect for the piece. Dealers know how much it's worth to them.

That's why you need to do some homework before selling. Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for lowball offers.

An alternative is to send the pitcher to a stoneware auction, but even then research is needed. You have only one chance to sell smart.

Another image shows a Victorian Gone-with-the-Wind table lamp. The reader adds that a local antique lighting shopkeeper who restored the lamp in 2010 said it was worth about $2,500.

Unless the burner or other metalwork is remarkable, I think that's high for the lamp seen in the image. Victorian lighting sells well in some areas, but is passé in others.

I'd research similar GWTW lamps along with the stoneware. You may end up back with the restorer, telling him it can be his for $2,500.


Q: "American" and "toile" are terms one does not imagine together. Did we ever print toile fabrics? And what is toile, anyway?

A: Toile is a textile printed with copperplate images. It originated in Ireland and became famous in France as "toile de Jouy." Here, early toile was used most in presidential campaigns and as commemorative 19th Century fabrics. More recently, toile has become chic as scenic fabric and wallpaper. Source: "American Toile," by Michele Palmer (Schiffer, $34.99). With many colorful examples.

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 or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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