Saturday, December 14, 2013

Valuable Household Items to Watch Out For

It’s a question I’m often asked - ‘What’s collectible’?  And it’s a good one in this seemingly soft marketplace where supply outweighs demand.  In working with clients and downsizing and estate professionals alike I’ve been asked numerous times to put together a list of stuff to watch for when you are sorting through a home and its lifetime of accumulation; so here it is. Most people know that fine jewelry and Group of Seven paintings are going to hold value, so this is really a list of unexpected items that you may overlook or wouldn't think of.


Old Toys

Often times in going through an estate I find a stash of children’s toys from the 1950s. Vestiges of the baby boomers being babies, it may be a collection of dinky toys, or Barbies or a stuffed Punkinhead. They sit in the closet - to precious for parents to throw out but not something their original owners want anymore. If still in good condition, these items have a collectible value.


Costume Jewelry

Yes everyone knows to grab the jewelry box because gold and diamonds have value, but I’m talking about costume jewelry like rhinestones and plastic stuff. Just because something isn’t made from ‘the real thing’ doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Don’t dismiss these pieces, there have been whole books written on the subject and fortunes made in buying and selling costume jewelry. A month ago a plastic pumpkin brooch sold on eBay for $8,400.



Still desirable are military items. The further away we get from WWI and WWII the rarer this stuff becomes, and the fascination and thus the demand grows. In this category the more the better, a single pin may only bring a few dollars but if it’s part of a larger collection of stuff that belonged to the soldier then it creates a story, and this is what collectors will pay a premium for.


Christmas & Halloween

This may or may not catch you off guard. Halloween actually supersedes Christmas in some ways as the most collectible holiday. It may be due to the fact that there is a lot more Christmas stuff than Halloween which is a relative minor holiday by comparison but both are certainly hot collecting fields. I’m talking old paper decorations to glass ornaments, postcards to figural pieces. The key here is the older the better.



Yes, photos. And I mean snapshots. Photography was invented in about 1820 so by 1900 virtually every household had a camera. Flash forward 5-6 generations and what we’ve got is tons of photos that we have no attachment to or memory of, this creates the supply, all these photos are now coming into the market. As for collectability, they are a cheap thing to start collecting and intensely personal and thus fascinating for a whole variety of reasons to the collector. For more info you can click here to visit a blog entry I wrote about photography.


Yes another surprise. They are something that virtually every house has and they often get thrown out or sent out for donation, but buttons can collectible. This is a bit of a needle in a haystack because it’s only one in a thousand that are worth good money but they’re worth more than a toss.


Dress Patterns

Sought after by collectors and designers and dressmakers alike, vintage women’s dress patterns are hot. Again these are things that are found in many homes and often end up in the trash but groupings regularly go for good money, while the odd desirable single patterns have been known to go in the high hundreds.



Namely sterling silver. Whether it's flatware or larger pieces, it’s really important to know if what you’re dealing with is sterling or silver plate. Most North American pieces should be stamped ‘Sterling’ or ‘925’ and European often ‘800’ so that’s helpful. It gets a little trickier with British sterling because of the hallmark system they use. Hallmarks are a series of little square marks, but be careful because silver plate companies got smart early on and started using similar markings. Go to for more information.


  1. What about old records?

  2. Old records are tough, most are worthless at the moment. The two categories that seem to generate the most interest are 30s Jazz and 70s Rock.