Q: A family member who collected Coca-Cola items for over 37 years passed away and left a collection of at least 50 boxes marked "Coca-Cola stuff." How do we go about selling everything? Can we sell everything at one price? Can we sell the items as they are, in sealed boxes?
A: The reader adds, "Of course, anyone who would consider buying everything could check the contents." Also, that the collection is located out of state and the family wants to complete the sale shortly.
First, our condolences on the family's loss. It's tough losing a close relative, and then having boxed collections to deal with. I understand your wish to get rid of everything in one swoop, but a hasty, uninformed sale could shortchange you and the family.
This query brings to mind the "Storage Wars" TV show, where pickers and auction hunters buy unopened, unexamined storage lots. Smart collectors know that scene is only for toughened pros.
I see significant risks for both seller and buyer in the writer's proposal.
One major unknown is if the collection is old Coca-Cola material, or recent. The company has a long history: Its highly collectible calendars have been printed yearly since 1891. Paper handheld fans date to the 1890s. Ditto for authentic serving trays.
Many devotees of the old limit their collecting to Coca-Cola items produced from the late 1880s to 1970. Others go for more recent goods because they're more affordable. Does anyone really know the age of what's in those boxes?
Worse, probably no collecting field has as many fakes as Coca-Cola. This is an area where fakes and "fantasy" items (that never existed) are rampant. Smart collectors start by assuming that everything is fake; if they can prove it is legit, that's a win.
Another caveat is that Coke memorabilia runs in trends. Around 2000, collectors panted for calendars, especially foreign issues from Mexico, South America and Canada. Will collectors hunting for today's hot Coke item be willing to plow through boxes of miscellanea?
Don't get me wrong: There are hundreds of different legitimate Coke collectibles. In an ideal scenario, the boxes are filed with those items.
As for risk to the seller, what happens if a would-be buyer rummages through the boxes, selects a few things and pressures to buy only those? Can you set correct value? At the least, you will have lost time and be left with opened, picked over merchandise.
I know our reader wants to dispose of everything quickly, but she owes it to herself and the family to explore options. One or more items could pay off big time. It pays to see.
Find a copy of "Petretti's Collectibles Price Guide," an encyclopedia to Coca-Cola collectibles. Perhaps your library has a copy. Called the bible of Coke collecting, the book is now in its 12th edition. Look over book prices and compare with contents of the boxes. Also key current and completed sales on eBay for items that you have.
Next, I suggest checking out the Coca-Cola Collectors Club International at www.cocacolaclub.org . Search for a local chapter. I found one near where the collection is stored. Offer to pay a chapter officer to look over the aggregate to determine if anything looks remarkable.
After doing all that, you'll be better equipped to make a smart decision. If the contents warrant, a dedicated auction may be the best way to sell. The worst way is to sell off what collectors want, leaving you with the rest.
Q: My crystal top hat came into the family some time after WWII. There is no mark. I'm the surviving member of the family and would really like to find out the history on this piece.
A: Our reader adds that the family collected Fenton and carnival-type glassware. The vase shaped like an upside-down top hat with brim stands 6 inches high.
This one has me stumped. The shape matches Fenton hats from the 1930s, but the color is not characteristic.
At the height of the glassblowing industry, artisans took pride in novelties created as an expression of their skill. Many individual glassblowing studios operated then. This hat may come from one.
Q: Small pressed glass top hats and slippers have been popular collectibles since Victorian times. How were they originally used?
A: Many were display, but function was as toothpick and/or match holders.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.