Mining Your Storage Unit for Hidden Gems

antique-watchAnyone who has seen “Storage Wars” on TV has likely dreamed about the possibility of finding buried treasure in their family storage unit. Recently, a near-mint copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first comic in which Superman appeared, was found by the winner of storage unit auction in Los Angeles. It sold for over $2,000,000.

Wouldn’t it be nice to reap the benefits from your own hidden gems, rather than letting them end up in someone else’s hands? Finding something worth millions is a very rare occurrence; however, smaller sums for unexpected treasures can add up. What if that ugly old doll that creeps you out is actually worth $500? Or Grandma’s fussy little tea service is worth $1000? If you haven’t looked through your storage unit in a while, or you put unexamined boxes from the attic in there, you might want to take a look. But how do you know what you are looking at?

The widely followed definition of “antique” is anything over 100 years old; but clearly, there are things less than 100 years old that have acquired value from their association with a slightly earlier age, like toys, or movie posters, or baseball cards, just to name a few. Antique dealers call these newer items “collectibles”. There are also the items that have sentimental value, like family jewelry, whose value can go up or down not only based on the intrinsic worth of the materials used, but the fashion or style of the jewelry; art deco might be hot, and Victorian not, but that could change with the trends of the moment.

So what are these things really worth? Unless you are an expert collector yourself, you need to hire an appraiser. Here are some guidelines:

  • It is important to understand the difference between getting an official appraisal, as opposed to asking a antiques dealer what it is worth. The dealer is in the business of buying low and selling high, and is not necessarily going to have your best interest in mind.
  • An appraiser will charge you (usually an hourly rate) for his or her services, but will give you an objective, written estimate of your item’s value.
  • You never want to sell to the person who is appraising your item, and if they offer to buy it, you should walk away. This is a clear conflict of interest.

For a complete discussion of finding and working with an appraiser, check out this article on Consumer Reports.

The part of the country you live in can affect the contents of your storage unit. You don’t have to live in Boston to have antiques — the Southwest is a treasure trove of historic collectibles. If you live in Tucson, you live in a centuries-old city where native culture, Mexican culture, and American culture are all alive and well.

This kind of a treasure hunt can be very rewarding, especially if you keep your expectations low and the fun quotient high. Take some time to educate yourself – you might discover a new hobby as a collector. At the very least, you will have the opportunity to get a tax break by donating some unwanted items to charity!

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