Question and Answer Time

One of my favorite parts of writing this column for the past 20 years has been the interaction with you, my readers. You arouse my curiosity, challenge my memory and send me scurrying to the computer for research on a regular basis. It is always my intention to answer each of your questions, but somehow I never quite get that done. So, as we start into new year, I thought it would be a great time to do a little ‘catching up” by answering some of those unanswered questions.
Q: How do I tell sterling from silver plate?
A: The most common item in the estates that I view is a box of “silver” flatware. Most people think they have a box of valuable silver — most do not. The most prolific manufacturer of silverware was WM Rogers. If you find this mark on your “silver” it is always plate, as Rogers never produced sterling. If your items are sterling, they will most always be marked with the word “sterling” or a number indicating the purity of the silver. Look for the number 925 or the letters S or SS. Another simple way to tell is a simple magnet test, as sterling will not stick to a magnet. If still in doubt, you can send your silver to a refiner to be x-rayed, as these tests are 100 percent accurate.
Q: Are all old/antique items valuable?
A: In a word, no! While age is one of the determining factors in placing value on an item, it is not the only consideration. Condition is very important. While the Rookwood vase that your Mom cherished may well bring $400 at a specialized auction, the same piece with damage would do well to bring $20. Collectors take great pride in their collections and no one wants even a rare piece that is badly damaged. We also consider the rarity of a piece. Items that were handmade or factory produced in limited number are usually of greater value than those that were mass-produced. Once we establish condition and rarity there may still be little value to a piece in the current marketplace. Old cut glass, that was at peak popularity at the end of the 20th Century, is selling for very little in 2018. Each year sees new trends in collecting, making the market value of anything highly dependent on how many people out there are interested.
Q: Does painting a piece of old furniture decrease the value?
A: This is very dependent on the piece in question. If you have a piece of fine French furniture from 1830, then definitely have it restored. If you have a 1930s vanity with a chunk of veneer, then go for it!. Many pieces are saved from the city landfill each year by those who upcycle and repurpose damaged furniture. If you are in doubt as to the age and value of your piece, consult with a reputable antique dealer before picking up a paint brush.
Q: Is eBay a good source for determining value or antique, retro or vintage items?
A: When you are looking to determine fair market value, eBay is an excellent source, if you plan to sell on eBay. Remember, this is an national/international market place and as such the values determined by studying it will give you fair market value in that setting. However, if you are selling wholesale on one of the neighborhood FB pages or retail at an area antique mall, the realized pricing from eBay sales may not apply. A better barometer of value would be obtained by checking out local online sales, auctions and shops and antique malls. Always price your item to fit the type of venue and the part of the country where you are selling.

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or