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Q: How can I find a home for a well-maintained circa 1920s upright piano? A local consignment shop was not interested at all. Several local churches have also turned it down. Any info?

A: In the past, churches were often eager to "adopt" unwanted pianos. But our reader adds that churches turned down this piano because they use keyboards that are portable. Makes sense.

We were not told if the piano was offered for sale or as a giveaway. In any case, the piano must be moved, and that could be a costly problem.

I understand our reader's frustration. She's offering a quality instrument in good condition, yet there are no takers. I'll bet she's not alone in that situation. For better or worse, the piano is a victim of changing times. During the past century, a piano was one luxury many upwardly mobile homeowners aspired to.

These days, in our mobile society, pianos are a pain to move. They're space hogs and big brown (or black) dust catchers. Even grand pianos are not immune. I recently heard a radio ad saying Steinway was planning a clear-out sale of showroom grands. Who thought that day would come?

Worse, many pianos have been destroyed because they were unwanted and could not be sold.

Certain pianos do sell at auction. But the best sellers are name grands in excellent condition. Bonhams San Francisco made news recently when it sold a Louis XV style gilt bronze mounted grand piano for $266,500. Made by Steinway in New York in 1924, the case was then sent to Paris for custom marquetry and bronze mounts. The job took a year to complete.

But that's a rare scenario. Checking auction results since December 2012 on, we found that an upright Kimball sold for $50. A Steinway upright brought $1,500. Many uprights came up for sale, and most did not sell.

Grands fared better. A Steinway baby grand sold for $4,200, but a Baldwin baby grand with bench brought $400.

Whatever you decide to do with the piano, remember that it must be moved. That calls for a specialist, and they don't come cheap. If you sell privately, offering to pay for delivery may sweeten the pot.

Q: I want to sell a collection of miniature Madame Alexander dolls from the 1960s. I also have an original Barbie doll with a black case. What's the best way to sell? Any advice?

A: Before our reader is blinded by dollar signs dancing before her eyes, she needs to do some homework.

First, I suggest a look at eBay's completed sales for dolls similar to hers. That gives an idea of current values.

In dolls and all other collectibles, condition is everything. Mint and unopened in the original box is best. Played-with dolls bring far less.

When we looked for a Little Bo Peep, a doll the reader has, we found an 8 inch Madame Alexander Storyland doll never played with and still in its original unopened box that sold for $62. The same doll with no stand and no box brought $12.99.

Next, see if a local library has a price guide to MA dolls. Several have been written. Look for recent editions.

While you're there, look for a book on Barbies. "Original" for collectors is very narrowly defined.

I'd love to unroll a magic path to successful sales. The hard truth is that selling smart involves work.

BOOK IT: "Art of the Skull" and "Art of the Heart" by Mary Emmerling ($19.99 each from Gibbs Smith) are collections of images on themes loved by collectors. "Skull" shows antique and contemporary visuals (think Pinterest) of the skull as jewelry, as bone charms, as biker art, even on a chic umbrella. "Heart" shows copper molds, French soap, folk and tin hearts, and more. In both books, text is minimal, used to explain.


Q: Was there really a Madame Alexander? When did the Madame Alexander Doll company begin?

A: Beatrice Alexander and her husband, Phillip Behrman, formed the company in 1923. The first dolls were cloth. MA started making composition dolls in the 1930s. Now owned by investors, the company still makes dolls.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She 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 will not be returned.