Treasure in the attic? How to monetise your finds


Experts can usually tell at first glance what sub-categories an object falls into, and also spot any discrepancies and whether an item is an imitation, kitsch or a worthless mass-production. Photo: dpa

Furniture, art, jewellery, coins, militaria, porcelain, vintage clothing: If you aren’t a collector yourself, the windfalls from an attic or house clearance can bring in some handy extra cash – but how do you go about selling them?

To avoid parting with your finds for a fraction of their worth, you need to know their significance. So the first step is to take stock.

German art historian Friederike Werner advises that you analyse each piece in detail. For example, a clearly legible signature or label on it can tell you a lot. A search online or in the case of very old pieces, in the library, usually yields the basic information.

If there is no signature or label, take a technical approach: What kind of object is it and what was it used for? If you inherited a possibly rare piece of jewellery, determine what it is made from, its dimensions and weight. Does the piece have any distinguishing features like stamps?

“I encourage you to do some detective work. Take a magnifying glass and look closely,” says Werner.

If you are still at a loss, consult a collector or get an expert appraisal, advises Sarah Geiker of eBay Germany.

The next step is to find comparable items to help get a rough idea of value. This can start with a simple online search. For objects like porcelain, there is a wealth of catalogues on the Internet that can easily be found via search engines.

It may be helpful to look for similar items on well-known auction websites. According to Geiker, an extended search in completed sales will turn up a similar object for almost every unique piece. Because of their broad application, these websites are often the first stop for collectors – and they can be good sales outlets later on.

If you are looking for a match for an art work, try consulting specialist online art dealers. They can often hook you up with experts who can provide a reliable price estimate in a few days. In view of the cost, however, this is really only advisable if you are convinced you have a piece of high-quality or well-known art.

Generally, it’s worth seeking an expert opinion, and not everything has to be done over the Internet. You can ask auction houses directly whether there is interest in a particular piece. If so, they will usually provide an appraisal free of charge.

However, do some research in advance to find out which auction house specialises in which area. Their experts can tell at first glance what sub-categories an object falls into, and also spot any discrepancies and whether an item is an imitation, kitsch or a worthless mass-production. Auction houses also know who collects what and will have the right contacts to advance a sale.

If you want to sell several items like designer clothes, you can try approaching a local dealer or secondhand shop. Selling on your own at flea markets, antique markets or fairs can also be an option, and the fees are reasonable.

Bear in mind, though, that customers at these venues are often only passing the time, and rarely willing to spend a lot.

“Objects from €30-80 (about RM145-RM380) will usually still sell, but above that it gets tough,” says art expert Thomas Faessler. The atmosphere at markets, he explains, “simply doesn’t suit high-quality and higher-priced objects.”

After the various preparation steps comes the actual sale. Unfortunately, knowing the value of a unique object still doesn’t mean it will automatically sell: “Just because an object is worth something doesn’t mean someone will want it,” says art historian Werner.

Even with high-quality objects, a sale can drag out. And be prepared for the fact that in the end, sale prices can fall way short of the estimated value. That’s why you should be clear about your personal minimum – how much is too little for the piece?

Certain items may have more personal sentimental value than a real chance of finding a buyer. So sometimes it’s just better to keep a piece for your own appreciation than to give it away for a song. – dpa/Felicitas Stirn

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