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How heirloom value shifts from sentiment to cash


By Rosa Salter Rodriguez


Jean Allen recently found herself revisiting a stately Victorian-style home in Huntington to wait while someone picked up an antique grand piano. The piano was a Chickering, a quality name, from the early part of the last century and in relatively good shape, Allen said. A generation ago, such an item might have been jealously passed down among members of a family — making it a real heirloom.

But not anymore. Folks just aren’t holding on to family heirlooms the way they used to, Allen said.

“It was beautiful, and I sold it for a pittance,” said Allen, owner of JS Allen Estate Sales of Monroeville, a company that helps people clean out houses and liquidate their contents.

This Has to Go

“Children don’t know what to do with all this stuff, and don’t have room for it, and just get to the point that they throw their hands up and say, ‘This has got to go.’ ”

It’s a trend that dealers in used items and antiques around the region have noticed. They point to a variety of reasons folks are ditching the family heirloom.

Families are smaller, with fewer brothers and sisters among whom to divide possessions, they say. A plethora of baby boomers are downsizing. The cost of moving or storing bulky items such as furniture is high, and rapidly changing technology makes things obsolete more quickly.

Even decorating and lifestyle trends play a role.

Got a dining room set with a giant matching hutch stacked with Grandma’s fine china? Some homes don’t even have dining rooms, so not everyone can use the furniture, Allen said.

And as for those old dishes, if they’ve got gold or silver trim, they won’t go into today’s microwave or dishwasher. “Nobody wants to wash dishes by hand,” she said.

Besides, adds Ron Wiegmann, owner of Wiegmann Auctioneers, “With men and women working and kids playing sports, it’s paper plates and plastic forks and eating out. The china and dinnerware doesn’t mean as much.

One Person’s Trash

“The younger generation, I think, are kind of letting the family heirlooms go,” he added. “Some families are more sentimental than others, but most of them are turning them into cash.”

While the trend to dispose of items might seem to mean a boom for their businesses, auctioneers and antiques dealers say the trend cuts both ways — the stuff that people want to sell is often the same stuff people don’t want to buy.

Shirley Ward, who works in sales at Stollers Antique Mall, said collectible porcelain dolls are a case in point.

barbiefurThe dolls were popular as decorator items in the 1980s and ’90s, and some cost hundreds of dollars then, she said. But few want them today, so they’re not worth as much at resale.

“They’re nice dolls, but there’s thousands of them,” she said.

“Even Barbies don’t sell like they used to.”

And, as for collectible plates and figurines — well, let’s just say they’re going through a down market phase, too.

“Cherished Teddies, and Hummels and Pretty as a Picture, Precious Moments — we’ve got hundreds of them. We carry them, and people still buy them, if you get the right buyer or somebody just broke one.

“But we’re not looking to buy more.”

Furniture is Iffy

With eBay and other resale websites, people don’t see such items as being as scarce as they once might have when the only place they could get them was the village gift shop, Ward said.

Allen said she often has to deliver bad pricing news to clients.

For example, she often wants to split up bedroom sets because she’s found individual pieces sell better. Most new homes today have walk-in closets with built-in storage, so folks don’t want those bulky matching dressers, she’s found.

“People don’t have that kind of space anymore,” she said. And, she notes, a single item doesn’t require as big an outlay on the part of a buyer.

antique-chest-of-drawers-empire1“You see all these people (selling items) struggle because everybody thinks their stuff is worth 10 times more than it is.”

However, some people are finding new ways to hang on to sentimental items, said Debra McClintock, in sales with Keepsake Threads.

That business takes textiles with sentimental value and repurposes them into items for display, décor or other reuse.

Among the company’s products have been stuffed animals made from a deceased husband’s ties, a quilt made with a grandmother’s old dresses and scarves made from old handkerchiefs.

“We also can incorporate text, like love letters or Grandma’s recipes, and photos. If it can be scanned into a computer, we can print it on fabric,” she said.

“A lot of people have things in a closet, textiles, that they got from mom and grand mom, and they don’t know what to do with them. Instead of knowing things are there and thinking, ‘What can I do with them?’ why not do something,” McClintock said.

Repurposed items can become cherished gifts for occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, christenings and birthdays, she said.

Indeed, Wiegmann said, many of the heirloom items that sell quickly today are inexpensive items that people turn into other things.

He recalls an old farm implement, a rotary hoe that a buyer bought to turn the wheel into a wall hanging.

“A stuffed chair that you paid $300 for — it might go for $30,” he said. But an old metal gasoline sign might fetch $300.

“You see crazy prices on oil cans and gasoline signs,” Wiegmann said. “Crazy stuff. They (buyers) want goofy stuff nowadays.” — AP/The Journal Gazette

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