Whatever Shall We Do With Mother's Stuff?

Collector Chats

December 1, 2023

Using a phrase from "The Lion in Winter," I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the painful challenge of disposing of family collectibles. Over the last several weeks, I have heard from several people who have faced the challenges of dealing with accumulated collectibles from one or both of their parents. Notice, that I did not include the word antiques here, but rather those collectibles that a certain generation seemed to fall in love with having. When I was a boy, "Parade" magazine in the Sunday paper was filled with advertisements for limited edition items that were guaranteed to grow in value. Similarly, mailers to our house promoted special packaging and containers for various products that because they were just so darned cute, they would have to be worth something someday. I never bought into the adverts, but assuredly a lot of people did. They purchased these items and squirreled them away in their attics and basements. Some even kept them in their original boxes and packaging so that they would be in genuine "mint" condition. These items represent the most flawed of all understanding about how the market works. Rarity and demand are what drive prices to increase on antiques and collectibles. In the case of most of these items, the "limited edition" really had no limits. It was as many items as the seller wished to produce. A true limited-edition print, by the way, is generally between 75 and 100. So, these items were never true limited editions. Demand is based upon whether there are people who want the item and thus are willing to pay. In this case, most of the people who wanted the items did pay for them. So the demand for them in the secondary market is pretty slim. I recall talking to a professional appraiser who attempted to contact one of the companies offering these modern collectibles. The firm had made the bold statement that their items had a "book value" established for resale purposes and thus were truly an investment. The appraiser contacted them to find out their source and if possible to get a copy of the book listing the resale values. No answer ever came. Sadly, these items appear with near constant frequency in auctions and flea markets across the country. And they go begging for anyone to buy them. I have been often asked what I tell people who have inherited these "treasures." My comment is pretty straightforward. If you want to keep them to enjoy and use, then do so. That would be the nicest memory of the person who originally bought them. But if you wish to sell them, I would take a breath and hope for pennies on the dollar as that sadly is all they will ever turn out to be worth. "Born to collect" should be the motto of Peter Seibert's family. Raised in Central Pennsylvania, Seibert has been collecting and writing about antiques for more than three decades. By day, he is a museum director and has worked in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Virginia and New Mexico. In addition, he advises and consults with auction houses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, particularly about American furniture and decorative arts. Seibert's writings include books on photography, American fraternal societies and paintings. He and his family are restoring a 1905 arts and crafts house filled with years' worth of antique treasures found in shops, co-ops and at auctions.
Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.


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