There are lots of Antiques Roadshow-style programs out there, where one person finds treasure in another person’s junk. I’m not much into comparative history, so I don’t know if the BBC versions or the Discovery Channel versions or the HGTV versions came first. I’m not sure but what the Newberry’s Appraiser’s Night didn’t predate Antiques Roadshow itself, but never mind.
I enjoy these things, but they do encourages people to think that their junk will reveal the same sorts of treasure troves. That does happen, but when they’re doing their own hunting, without expert advice, they do tend to turn up a lot of, well, junk. Now, I’ll bet you think I’m going to write about “collectibles” again, about how 90% of the sheet music or issues of Life magazine you’ve been saving are worth pretty much what you paid for them in the first place. No, I thought I’d surprise you with a few positive notes. Not many–I’m not giving up my bad temper for Lent or anything–but a few notes to hint you in the direction of how to tell when a piece of junk becomes a collectible
OLD MEDICAL BOOKS: MOST of these are dogs, back to, oh, about 1865. (So are plenty of them before that.) But there are exceptions. Do they mention medicines or therapies not approved of today? There is always a market for medical books which recommend a new wonder cure called Cocaine (These tend to cluster around 1890-1910.)
SHEET MUSIC, LIFE MAGAZINE: What you’re mainly looking for is the right picture on the cover. Those special issues on the History of Mankind? Nada. That full-page cover of Marilyn Monroe when she was still alive? Bucks. A piece of sheet music with a picture of a rose-covered cottage? Zilch. Sheet music with a really good picture of a train on it, or a Hupmobile, or a biplane? You’ll have customers. Oh, and those autographs under the picture of the singer? About 98% of those are printed on the page. A few people buy them as autograph references, but they’re not going to pay little Ritzie’s freshman college tuition. If you saved the issue of Life where they bound in a sheet of baseball cards, that might.
NEWSPAPERS: Just put them back in the closet, huh? So somebody saved the front page or, even better, the whole newspaper from a really notable event in American or World history. If it took place after 1945, PUT IT BACK IN THE CLOSET. Everybody saved the July 20, 1969 Moon Landing paper. Everybody saved the November 23, 1963 JFK Assassination headlines. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is better. The sinking of the Titanic is better yet. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is so good that there about a thousand forgeries—you probably have one of those. Now check condition: can you turn the page without creating a storm of little brown flakes? If not, PUT IT BACK IN THE CLOSET. Some people will be thrilled to find it when they buy your house.
THEATRE PROGRAMS: These are very nice, and I sell them for a buck when I can, and fifty cents when I can’t. Yes, that’s a very young Tallullah Bankhead on the cover. Fifty cents. Did you get it signed? Fifty bucks. Oh, you got it signed by Antoinette Arkness, who went on to such a fine career in infomercials? Two bucks. You enclosed the very ticket from that night’s performance when you met the love of your life and all the world was roses and champagne? Throw in the engagement ring, friend, and you MAY have a decent collectible. Or, better yet, put it back in the closet.
Or tell ya what: donate the closet. Good vintage closet space is ALWAYS in demand. I’ll let you keep the newspapers and Life magazines.