The average family has about $10,000 worth of unused items in their home. But how do you know what’s worth something and what’s just plain junk? We asked Cucksey and a few other experts to tell us the most often overlooked items-and the best online resources for you to start cashing in.
Used Clothing and Shoes
A lot of people donate to charity clothing that has been sitting in their closets for years, but, Cucksey says, “There is a really big secondhand market out there of people who will buy styles that look outdated to you.” It’s often lesser-known designer items that are most surprising: Many of her clients are ready to toss their boxed, funky purses from the ’60s and ’70s before she lets them know they are by designer Enid Collins and commonly sell for $300 and up. And don’t discount the pieces from the ’80s you’d rather forget: Those garments (shoulder pads and all) are considered vintage.
Unique jewelry pieces can be sold with a heavy price tag, especially if they have their original stamp or maker’s mark. You can set up an online store by uploading photos of pieces you own. If the jewelry was passed down by a relative or looks as if it’s a few decades old, it might be just the thing costume jewelry enthusiasts are eager to get their hands on. Pieces by Trifari, a jewelry company popular in the ’30s, can be distinguished by its trademark “T” stamp with a crown above it. Other sought-after pieces are Eisenberg Ice, especially pins made of Swavorski crystal (marked with “Eisenberg Originals”) from the ’30s.
“We once had a client who had a pottery vase they were using as a toilet brush holder,” says Stuart Whitehurst, vice president of Skinner, Inc. auctioneers in Boston. “They had no idea it was made in the late 1800s by Boston pottery maker William Grueby and that its yellow glaze was extremely rare. That toilet brush holder ended up being worth $18,000.” So how do you know if Grandma’s umbrella stand is actually precious pottery? Just Art Pottery has a large gallery of patterns and frequently publishes articles on how to tell what kind of pottery you own. And one of the hottest items on the market right now, Whitehurst says, is Chinese porcelain. Commonly found in a traditional blue and white motif, it’s now exceptionally popular because Chinese collectors are trying to reclaim pieces that were brought to the States by American missionaries in the 20th century.
If your music collection is now on your iPod, you might have somevinyl records sitting in your attic collecting dust. As with most collector’s items, the more rare the record is, the better (and if it’s autographed by a popular artist, it’s definitely worth thousands). The vinyl records that sell for the highest prices tend to be albums from the ’60s and ’70s by artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan that are still sealed (never opened) and in great condition. Gently used records are still sought after.
While the antique book market isn’t what it once was, appraisal expertAllan Stypeck says rare, autographed and original editions, especially manuscripts, are still highly valued. Because books are usually passed down through relatives over the years, many of his clients have no idea what theirs could fetch at auction. “A woman recently called and said she had a book she thought might be worth something,” Stypeck says. “It turned out it was a 13th-century illuminated [handwritten and illustrated] manuscript from a monastery in Paris that was worth a minimum of $30,000.” But because book appraising depends on a multitude of factors (edition, condition and rarity) Stypeck doesn’t recommend trying to figure out your books’ value on your own. The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America has a directory of rare booksellers who can get you on the right track.
You’ve upgraded, and now your old computer sits there, obsolete. Many buyers will pay good money for your old desktop, hard drive, monitor, router and even keyboard and printer. Computer parts are especially popular on eBay: Visit PC Selling Center at eBay for detailed instructions to get started on selling what you’ve got. You’ll be doing the Earth a favor: Disposed computer parts, also known as “e-waste,” are an environmental hazard due to their toxic parts.
Pez, Barbies, figurines from popular cartoons like the Smurfs or Snoopy-any toy that brings back a little nostalgia could be something a collector will pay big money for. There are certain rarities to look out for, says Whitehurst, like Barbies with a side part and bubble haircut (which were mostly sold in Europe in the ’60s and are now highly sought after by American collectors) or a Pez dispenser with a patent number (found toward the bottom of its stem) of 3.9 or lower, which means it was manufactured before 1976.