Reader Question: How to unclutter some possibly valuable odds and ends

Reader Alice recently sent us the following question:

I inherited a rather big plastic bin of items that are not junk but would need specialized attention to sell. For example, there is a messy but large stamp collection, a reprint of a newspaper from the day after Lincoln’s assassination, and a beautiful pair of felt baby booties from the late 1800s.

There isn’t enough stuff for an estate sale. I don’t know if an auction will take it and I’m skeptical about the value I would receive. I am worried I will need to take every item to a different place to sell it. I also don’t want to be taken advantage of. I know some things have some value, but don’t want to be given $20 for something worth $2000.

What is a fair way to approach this random collection of stuff? Is there a method of selling I am missing? Should I just forget the “value” and put more of a premium on getting my space back?

Thanks Alice for a really great question and one that I’m sure many readers can relate to. It isn’t easy to know what to do odds and ends especially when you are not sure of their monetary value.

The first step is to research the approximate monetary value of each item. Whether you are selling through an auction house or via private sale, the first thing someone will ask is, “How much do you want for it?” You need to have at least a minimum price in mind.

The internet is a great resource but it can be overwhelming and time consuming to search for the value of certain things. The Collector’s Marketing Resource Center has built an amazing guide called, “How to use the Internet to research the value of your antiques.” It has links to multiple websites and search engines specifically for antiques, collectibles, and vintage items.

Stamporama has a great article on what to do with an inherited stamp collection. The site provides three options for the collection; keep, donate, or sell. It states that most collections are not worth very much money but you should have a dealer evaluate the collection to confirm especially if you have no experience in stamp collecting yourself. You can find dealers through the American Philatelic Society.

Kovels has an article specifically on Lincoln’s assassination newspaper. Unfortunately, reprints do not have a high monetary value. However, they may be valuable to someone so you may be able to sell it on a site like eBay if you’re willing to take the time.

As you mentioned, you could send the items to auction — if an auction house would accept it. Some auctioneers only do full estate sales. Others will include lots from several estates in one auction if each individual estate does not have enough or compile the items from many estates or businesses together and sell them in theme auctions such as “tools and farm equipment” or “restaurant equipment.” Most auctioneers will give you an appraisal of your items but the value they provide will likely be what they could fetch at auction, not necessarily the value you would get if you sold each item privately. They will take a commission from the sale so ensure you inquire about that percentage.

Another site to check is the online auction site MaxSold. They do online estate sales across North America. It is interesting to note that similar items sell for different prices in different cities so the value of your items might depend on your location should you chose to use a local auction house to liquidate your goods.

Once you have an approximate monetary value of the items in your bin, you need to ask yourself whether it is worth your time and effort to sell these items. Take into consideration the value of your time (i.e. what you would do with your time if you did not have to sell them), the value of the space in your home, and the peace of mind that you will have once you are no longer worrying about these things and this task.

Some people may decide to just donate everything. Others may decide to take the time and sell each piece individually. There will also be people who choose to sell the more valuable items and donate the rest. Each person who reads this column may come up with a different answer because it is all based on how they value their space, time, and the “mental load” of worrying about all of this.

Thanks for your great question Alice. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

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One Comment for “Reader Question: How to unclutter some possibly valuable odds and ends”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    A retail price is what something may be worth to the end person buying at item at a retail location, with the protection that comes from an established dealer with a good reputation. As a seller on ebay or craigslist, you do not have this sterling reputation or the extensive knowledge of antiques which add value for the seller.
    You will most likely be selling your item at a wholesale price to a dealer. They need to make money in order to make it worth their time. They can afford to wait for the end, retail buyer. Unless you have dreams of becoming an antique dealer, your best way is to sell your items to a dealer for about 1/2 their retail value.
    The amount of time you spend researching the item, and gaining knowledge about that particular item will result in you being able to get a better price for it. Antique dealers do that research and put in the time.
    The other thing to consider is the market. How many people still collect stamps. How many people still mail letters? Part of the joy of stamp collecting was having your friends and family put interesting stamps on their letters to you, and those arrived for free in the mail. I don’t know any young kids who still collect stamps. As the older people who collect things like stamps and antique dolls stop buying and start de-acquisitioning their collections, and fewer new collectors take their places, prices will go down.
    Be careful when researching prices on ebay. Tick the box that says “completed listings”, which shows you if the item eventually sold, and how much for. Make sure you are looking at recent sales, and in an area near you. Buyers in large cities will pay more than in smaller cities.
    You could find a stamp club in your area, and try to sell some of your stamps there.
    My main advice is to not feel “ripped off” by the dealer who will put in the time and effort, and has years of experience. That time and knowledge is worth money. Do your homework, and research your prices online. Come up with a ballpark figure, cut it in half, then add a little bit of bargaining room. Don’t rely on prices in library antique guides. They can be helpful to identify what you have, but prices are way out of date, and are not specific to your country or area, and the changing marketplace.

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