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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