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Antiques are where you find them.

It happened in one of those dingy antiques stores that specialize in things grandma threw out because they were too old to be stylish any longer. The tall man picked up a blackened pitcher from the counter heaped with glassware and held it to the light. "How much?" he asked the dealer.

"Fifteen dollars." After a few moments of silence, the dealer added, "Well, I guess maybe I can let you have it for ten dollars."

The customer handed the dealer ten dollars and walked out, trying not to seem in a hurry.

Today that pither stands in the Glencoe, Illinois, home of Len Weinzimmer, who teaches about antiques at night in local high schools. "There are six or seven of them, in the museums, in the world," Weinzimmer says. "It's a Rockwood ewer made in 1892 in Cincinnati. The Berlin Museum bought one new in 1838 and paid $176. There were only 918 ever made. It was a rich man's item. I paid $10 for it, but it is worth $1,500," Weinzimmer adds.

Just beacuse an object is 100 years old doesn't necessarily mean it is an antique. A piece of junk made 100 years ago is only a 100-year-old piece of junk. And styles in antiques change. A real "dog" on the market last year might be all the rage this season. "The hottest item right now," says Weinzimmer, "are those old brass beds, the kind people gave to the scrap drive during World War II. Some brings as much as $800."

Another well-known expert on antiques says, "If you are a collector at heart, the items you can buy can become your wisest investment. You can turn your leisure hours into one, big, fun-filled treasure hunt."

Let's say you are cleanign out your grandmother's attic and you come upon some yellowing letters or documents. Don't hastily pitch them out--they could be of value. A family in Missouri came upon a cache of Civil War letters penned by a great-uncle who had fought in the Union army, when he was 15 years old. Although the long-dead soldier's name meant little, his detailed descriptions of battles and army life imparted great value to the sheaf of 20 letters found in an old suitcase. This batch of yellowed, brittle correspondence was sold for $2,000 to a Civil War buff in Philadelphia who regularly advertises in magazines and newpapers offers to buy memorabilia of that era.

Norman Crider, director of the Antiques Center of America, in New York, says, "We're at a time in history when there are more antique collectors than ever before." As an example, Crider reviews developments in the field of Art Nouveau--articafts of the early 1900s. He says: "A pair of Tiffany bronze candle-sticks are priced at $200. Three years ago, they sold for $80; ten years ago, they would have been bought for $10. Or that iridescent blue Tiffany vase--worth $25 ten years ago and $110 three years ago--is now priced at $275."

Should you happen to come upon a letter handwritten and signed by President John F. Kennedy it may be worth considerably more than a letter bearing the autograph of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

The reason: President Kennedy almost never wrote letters by hand and seldom signed them himself. But Washington and Lincoln themselves penned many letters still in existence.

Even old political campaign buttons, auto license plates or streetcar tokens or transfer found in grandma's trunk may have surprising cash value. Throw nothing away until you look into the sale possibilities.

If you should happen to unearth an old dueling pistol or musket, consult a reputable gun dealer about its possible worth. Antiques dealers, as a rule, know much less about firearms. However, the experts warn--don't clean a gun, insert ammunition, fire it or alter it in any way.

Have you looked for paintings in your attic lately? The art world is filled with stories of people who walk in off the streets lugging an oil painting under their arms and who are totally unaware of the true value of their art possession. Allan Rich, head of the gallery bearing his name in New York, says: "People come by great, forgotten paintings in the strangest ways. Some are family hand-me-downs, some are left in a will and others are just purchased in old bookstores or art galleries now out of business. It pays to have a picture certified, for you never know what the little signature at the bottom may mean."

He continues: "A dentist from Brooklyn walked in one day and had an etching wrapped in a brown paper bag. He though it was rather worthless and asked $50 for it. I immediately noticed that it had a small signature in one corner. It was a Mary Cassatt, one of the great female painters of the last century. I asked him to leave the picture to have it certified. It had been purchased, the dentist told me, in 1925, and he just wanted to get his $50 back. When I had the etching certified, we finally got $3,200 for the picture."

In the art world, a painter who has little reputation today can be an artist of great repute in 10 to 20 years. Most people do not keep up with the art news and are in the dark about the true worth of their impulsive buy of long ago. This lack of knowledge is why some lady in Iowa who once purchased a still life at a county fair, or a man in Indianapolis who purchased a portrait in a secondhand shop years ago, may have a surprise in store.

Rich often tells the story of an artists, Elisee Maclet, who painted with Maurice Utrillo in 1906. When he wanted to purchase wine from a local pub, he would leave one of his paintings for payment. Many butchers, pub owners, bakers and other merchants held on to their so-called "little landscapes" by Maclet. When Maclet died, they were amazed to find out their paintings were worth $4,000 and up.

Many old Frederic Remingtons have been found out West, where this artist did his great cowboy and Indian paintings and other Wild West oils. Many are owned by people who chanced upon these pictures as reminding them of the Old West in its heyday. These little gems sell for $10,000 and up, once they have been taken out of the storage room or off the kitchen wall.

How can you distinguish the junk from the unique, and how can you spot antiques that aren't? What actually is an antique? A recent revision of the U.S. Customs Service law now defines any object that is 100 years old as a bona fide antique. Until a few years ago, the cut-off date was much earlier: 1830. To qualify duty-free), an article had to have been made before 1830.

Under the new law, the qualifying date is, of course, advanced with each passing year. For collectors, this new law has special significance, because it means items from the 1920s and '30s will be bona fide antiques in about 50 years. As a result, mother's old "junk" has suddenly assumed unexpected value and importance, and attics, barns, basements and root cellars are being searched with a gleam in the eye.

How can you tell if a piece is really old? The experts say: "Look for wear. The feet of any old piece of furniture should show signs of slow abrasions of time, and this is quite different from the deliberate physical distressing done with tools and sandpaper. Even porcelain and glass will show wear around the rims and bases. Drawer runners should always be examined for signs of considerable wear and tear from decades of friction."

How does a collector begin? The president of the Questers, a collectors' organization, suggests that the new antique collector concentrate at first on one style, period or type of antique and later expand into other styles. Decide which appeals to you the most. Perphaps you like glassware, china, buckles, clocks or even car parts. Don't simultaneously try to become an expert on many different types and try to guess which will be the hottest item among collectors in the near future.

They also advise that an item is valuable not because it is old; rather it is old and has survived because the owner cherished it and took care of it--because it was valuable!

The two ways one can learn about antiques are book learning and personal experience. Both are important. The books will give you facts such as historical background of the style and period of your choice, dates, characteristics of style, types of wood used, manufacturing methods, etc. You will find that the small-town and the neighborhood libraries are jammed with antiques books. Read and absorb the contents of at least four good books before you begin to buy. Many of the books on these subjects are in paperback for those who wish to own them instead of borrowing them from the libraries. Several magazines are on the market for the antique collector.

No matter where we live, we are surrounded by undiscovered treasures of every kind and description. In the homogenized, plasticized, everything-looks-the-same 1980s, old is suddenly beautiful. The collector often spends many spare hours often spends many spare hours nosing around in thrift shops, ready-for-the-bulldozer houses and flea markets.

If you shop around in secondhand stores and at the retail establishments operated by such institutions as Goodwill Industries, look carefully at metal pieces heavily coated with dust. You will sometimes find real treasure beneath the grime accumulated through the years. Smal secondhand stores simply do not have the time or manpower to clean and to carefully examine all the miscellaneous items they buy from private homes. If they did, they would probably raise their prices considerably. Occasionally, you will discover several pieces of cut crystal mixed in with a lot of molded glass. You may even find a dollar copy of a book with a valuable inscription.

Studies show that every day some 123 American farms break up and their goods go up for auction. (Check local papers or store and post-office bulletin boards for notices). The next time you drive into the country, plan a side trip off the busy highways and go treasure-hunting in backroads America. You'll be surprised at what you will be able to discover.

Perhaps the antiques you were crazy about when you first started collecting no longer suit your taste, so you would like to sell them and use the money to buy whatever interests you now. Perhaps you are moving and would rather sell some of your heavier pieces than lug them along or pay transportation costs. Or perhaps a dealer has spied your fine collection of cut glass and has been tempting you by waving dollar bills under your nose.

At any rate, you should have them appraised by a professional appraiser. Be sure to get the appraisal in writing, on the letterhead of the appraiser or dealer who made it, so you can show it to your potential buyers. And a word to the wise: Even if you are not planning to sell you valuable collection, you should have it appraised anyway, for insurance purposes. In case of fire or other destruction, you will not get full market value for your antiques and collections unless you have a written appraisal to give to your insurance company. An old sales slip or your own estimate will not stand as proof of what your collections are worth today.

What is a collectible? Charles Marsten, an antiques dealer in Illinois, says: "In the last few years, many more people everywhere, have started collecting many more things. Anything no longer made could become a collectible today, especially if it can be catergorized as 'Americana.'"

In the antiques trade, a "collectible" is anything substantially younger than 100 years old for which there is a demand. For instance, in 1925-26 the Bye-Lo Baby Doll was introduced by Montgomery Ward in its catalog, at prices ranging from $2.98 for the smallest to $7.98 for the largest. The doll enjoyed great popularity until the Depression, when money was scarce and it was forced out of production. Today, this doll is a "collectible" and called "the million-dollar baby." It is a favorite of doll collectors everywhere and sells at antique shops and shows from $150 to $550, depending on its size and condition.

In a way, antiquing can be a game of stumping the experts. Len Weinzimmer, the antique expert you met earlier who bought the $1,500 pitcher for $10, likes to tell the story about the gracefull armchair his mother gave him years ago. It became a part of his furniture collection, and although he had never examined it thoroughly, Weinzimmer assumed it was from the Louis XV period.

One day the Weinzimmer dog, barred from a birthday party for one of Weinzimmer's four children, avenged himself by chewing up the upholstery of the chair. Weinzimmer had it reupholstered in a beautiful, green-leaf brocade. When his mother came to visit, he told her he had "the antique chair" re-covered.

"The antique chair?" she cried out. Then she began to laugh. "Antique? I bought it in 1932 at Goldblatt's."

A sense of touch and a sharp eye will become your most helpful aids in judging the antiques you wish for your various collections. With experience, patience and persistence, your antique-collecting days will be fun filled and profitable.

After your first "discovery," we promise, you will be forever hooked! You will pick up a store of knowledge all along the way and will find soul brothers wherever you happen to travel. You will have the joy of investing a little money, instead of just spending it, as you start a rewarding, absorbing hobby likely to last a lifetime. Happy hunting!
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Laird, Jean E.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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