As Rex Newell tells it, when he was a 10-year-old kid with a budding interest in collectibles, a big-name jeweler pulled a massive rip-off on him for his grandfather’s pocket watch. These days, he says, he likes making sure people selling antiques are well-informed about the true value of their property.
Newell, now an antiques broker and appraiser with over three decades of experience, was hosted by Western Springs’ on Tuesday night for a seminar on the value of Villagers’ old stuff, including free appraisals. About 50 Villagers showed up with lamps, paintings, watches and jewelry to find out the worth of what they happened to have.
“Wherever you live, someone has something rare on your block, and they don’t even know it,” Newell told the audience.
Over the hour and a half-long session, he touched on the values of everything from china sets to various small gewgaws that required a magnifying glass to properly appraise. There was even a bayonet. One of his main themes: stuff, even antiques, is meant to be used, not stored and occasionally looked at.
“Wear these things! Enjoy them! That’s what they’re meant to do!” Newell encouraged. “If it sits in a closet, sits in a drawer, sits in a basement or your attic—you may want to think about getting rid of it, turning it into money. And if you’re going to give it to someone, will it to someone, make sure they’re going to appreciate it.”
A few other takeaways: Gold and silver are sky-high in value right now, as is costume jewelry; furniture like dining-room sets are in the tank. Manufacturer markings are critical for establishing the authenticity of many big-name products. The tiniest things affect the value of an antique: for instance, dolls with closed mouths are worth more than those with open ones. An Abraham Lincoln signature can bring in up to $4,000; a Bill Clinton one, $5.
(Oh, and even if it’s been dead over a century, the Department of Natural Resources can still arrest and fine you for selling a mounted protected species of owl. Be warned!)
None of the items brought by Western Springs residents came close to the jackpot that Newell said he once found at an appraisal session in Indiana—an authentic 17th-century black-magic codex written in blood that went to a museum for $1,500,000—but Villager Meg Aikens did win top item with a large painting by artist Daniel Ridgway Knight worth about $5,000.
Aikens said she wasn’t looking to sell—“ I just wanted to know before I hung it up in my house, should I get insurance or have it cleaned or take it somewhere special?”—and was actually a little relieved to find out the painting wasn’t worth more. “I really don’t want to have a $50,000 painting,” she laughed. “That’s too much responsibility for me!”
Most of the other items brought by residents were appraised at between $25 and $200.
“It turned out really well,” said event organizer and librarian Rachel Hoover. “I think there’s a lot of people around here who probably have had [antique] things in their families over the years, families who been in the Chicago area for a long time.
“It was great. He’s a great speaker, everyone loved the presentation and we saw some really interesting things.”