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chinese antiques

VoxPop Radio Show December 3rd, 2019



We enjoyed another visit with Ray Graf on Vox Pop on WAMC 90.3 FM yesterday! Thanks to everyone who called and emailed in, and listened along. In case you missed it, make sure you like our Facebook page so you can get all our updates with events and future radio shows. You can listen to the show in the media player above, and we’ve provided time stamps in the outline below for you to follow along with every call and question.




We started off the show with some great news about our recent sale of Chinese antiques. We came across an intricately carved cinnabar lacquer screen found in several pieces in the basement of a local client. We were pleased when our specialist gave the screen an estimate of $15-25,000. Unbelievably, we were able to surprise our client with the stunning news that the screen in fact sold for $55,000! That particular hammer price was just one of many impressive auction results from our annual Fall sale of Chinese antiques (We also have one each Spring). Given an estimate for the sale of $40-50,000 total, we could not have been more impressed with the realized auction total of $200,000+. Excellent results for our client but not unusual for this type of material.  As we said in previous Vox Pop shows, the market for good Chinese antiques remains red hot. Folks from China are extremely proud of their cultural heritage and are typically very competitive bidders at auction.



Chinese Antiques




We brought a couple of nice items to the studio to discuss today before taking calls. The first was a lovely 1920s Asscher cut diamond ring set in platinum with sapphires. The Asscher cut is one of the most desirable and rare of antique diamond cuts. Based on an emerald cut, but square, it scintillates more than the emerald cut, with not quite as much sparkle as the round brilliant cut, making it an understated and elegant design. This special cut was created by the same man, Joseph Asscher, that cut the Cullinan diamond, to this day the largest diamond ever found, the two largest cut gems of which comprise the most fabulous of the English crown jewels. This diamond ring nicely includes the original receipt and box from the jeweler in Troy, NY, that sold it. The price at the time was $600, and today it’s worth about $10,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s almost the exact same value on a dollar basis. 



Antique Jewelry




The other item we brought in was an Indian Head Eagle $10 coin from 1907 in lovely condition. Some consider this exceptional coin to be the most beautiful ever struck by the US Mint. At the time, President Theodore Roosevelt felt that US coinage was lackluster and could use a little pizzazz, so he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the foremost American sculptors from this period, to come up with new design and he did a great job. Although President Roosevelt was criticized widely for his “absurd” idea to put a Native American headdress on Lady Liberty, he held a strong conviction that such a uniquely American image deserved to be honored and included as representative of our national identity. Thousands of these coins were minted, but unfortunately many were melted down in 1933 when the US Mint stopped striking gold coins for circulation. The Indian Head $10 coin is 90% gold and in this condition and date, worth between $700 and $800 today.



Coins and Coin Collections




Our first caller (6:50), Adrian from New Paltz, called in with his small Russian enamelware box that he had obtained on a cruise. Dating from the 1980s, it has intricate designs and scenes from Russian history and folklore and was made by master craftsmen in one of the little cities outside Moscow. We love seeing these little boxes, and thankfully they come our way often. They fall into two categories. The first is comprised of ones from the Imperial period prior to the Soviet Union; depending on their size and complexity they can be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars. The second category dates mostly from the era after the fall of the Berlin Wall; they are delightful pieces, but unfortunately today their monetary value does not reflect their exceptional craftsmanship. They are often called “enamel” or “enamelware”, but they would most accurately be described as lacquered papier mache distinguishing them clearly from the traditional Russian artistry of enameled silver objects that can be masterpieces of the jewelers art.


19th century Russian Lacquer Papier Mache Snuff Box $200-400


Late 20th century Russian Lacquer papier mache trinket box $20-40


Superb example of Russian enameled silver.


Antique American and European Decorative Arts




Our second caller (10:50) emailed to ask about their seven higher value Morgan silver dollar coins. They are uncirculated, with four of them certified as MS63 grade, and three of them graded as sliders (coins that could go between two condition grades, usually almost uncurculated-AU and uncirculated-U). “The kids do not appreciate the coins’ numismatic value. What is the best way to sell them?” 


We get asked this all the time, and are happy to recommend our dear friend Google as a way to locate a professional and reliable dealer who purchases coins and coin collections. You can call  and talk to the professional coin dealers themselves. See how you are treated by whoever answers the phone. We believe that you can tell pretty quickly whether or not you want to do business with someone by talking to them for a few minutes. Referrals from friends or family are usually reliable as well. Online reviews are good to scan too. Negative reviews can often be the result of misunderstandings or honest mistakes. The way that negative reviews are responded to by a business can tell you much about them.






Andy, our third caller (12:55), had two coin collections from his father’s estate. The first was a collection of pennies from each year dating from 1845. “The condition isn’t fantastic but it is almost complete. Is it worth more than face value?” 

Definitely, don’t spend them! There are many pennies, especially the older ones, with good value. Large cents were made through 1857, small cents of approximately the size we know today were first made in 1856 for general circulation. As with many collectible coins, value comes from a combination of scarcity and demand. Coins of a rare date can have good value in not so good condition, e.g. the 1856 flying eagle cent. Common date coins can have a high value in a high grade of condition that they are rarely found in, e.g. any otherwise common large cent that is graded in one of the highest uncirculated grades MS-65. The second coin collection was an uncirculated set from 1980 onward. These collections were mass produced and sold to collectors by the US Mint. Unfortunately, most of these sets today sell for less than they were issued for at the time, with the exception of rare issues (quite uncommon) or coins with any silver content.


Most wheat pennies (Lincoln cents with sheaves of wheat design on reverse) are worth about 2 cents. Pre 1930 cents are worth more.


Coins and Coin Collections




Our fourth caller was Rob (12:36). He wanted to know: what are the best auction houses around Dutchess County?. Does one need to go to NYC? Does one need to send different items to different auction houses? He has a house full of hand-me-downs, including many small antiques and a 100-year old Mason and Hamlin piano. How can he sell it all? We get this question every single day in various forms. It’s more of a problem today, compared to 25 years ago, due to the decrease in demand for older styles of furniture, antiques and collectibles. People don’t accumulate things or live in the same way that they used to. It depends on what you have, but there are a few principles to keep in mind. The first step is to find someone that you trust to look over what you have and advise you. It is imperative to make sure that you don’t have something worth a fortune that is mixed in with everything else — these high-value pieces can be sold for you on a consignment basis, either going to a major or specialty auction house like Sotheby’s or Christie’s or to a local dealer that can handle all of the details for you on a commission basis. They can look at the specific nature of what you have, and based on your timeline and preferences, decide the best way to sell. Traditionally house contents were sold at public auction, either onsite or moved to an auction hall. 


With general house contents today, in the current market conditions of much more supply than demand, I find that our clients often do best with a professionally managed estate sale. Unlike an auction, where items sell to the highest bidder (and most of the bidders are gone thus prices are extremely low), at a managed estate sale you can control pricing and get the maximum value for your items. The alternative is often selling for next to nothing or simply giving away or donating. The biggest problem is that so many things which had value 25 years ago are worth much less today, many collectibles, decorative objects and antiques have lost 60-90% of their value over the past 10-15 years. 


Be careful! Items like sterling silverware, jewelry and coins that derive their value from their precious metals content need special consideration to derive the highest benefit to the estate or your family. 


When you sell precious metal items to a dealer, they will take a 2-15% profit depending on the quantity and current demand. When you sell precious metal items on a consignment basis, they will usually not sell for a significantly higher amount but you will pay a 30-50% commission. You will usually pocket the most money from selling items whose value primarily derives from their precious metal content by outright sale to a professional dealer who specializes in those areas.


Above is a beautiful vintage Rolls Royce that was part of an estate sale that we held in 2017. Inflation adjusted replacement value for the car: $100,000 to $200,000. Sale price – $10-15,000.



Estate Sale Services 




Our awesome host Ray posed this question to us. Unfortunately, not really. We have a good relationship with Lenny, owner of Ala Shanghai in Latham (best local Chinese restaurant outside of Chinatown, and as good as anything there too). We asked, “What do young people collect over in China?” He replied, “Young people?! They don’t want anything!” We are now connected almost everywhere by smartphones and the Internet, even in some of the most remote places overseas, and the demographics of people who collect things have fundamentally shifted in recent years. This change seems to be global, sadly. 

 It is certainly a complex puzzle with many factors to consider.




Our fifth caller was George (18:59) in Swanton, VT. He had a patriotic hanging picture of an eagle made of feathers, including a banner with 13 stars, 5 arrows, and an American flag below the whole thing. His question was, is it worth anything? 


These kinds of hand crafted pictures come in many different flavors. Many of them were produced around the time of the Philadelphia centennial in 1876, although patriotic items like this were made well into the early 20th century. Our communal sense of cultural nationalism rises and falls in times of war and peace. The fever caused by both World Wars resulted in production and collection of all types of patriotic wares including flags. This has occured again in our culture after the tragic events of 9/11. 


Most of this type of feathered image in particular were made in Southeast Asia and China in the early 20th century, some of the 19th century production may have been domestic as well. The value depends on the age, size, and subjective appearance; what kind of decorative statement does it make? It should be very easy to find a good home for this piece at a good price.


In the current market, a 16” by 20” example like this might sell for $200-400


Patriotic posters like this were made in great quantity during World Wars One and Two. Generally common and of modest value $10-40, examples with exceptional graphic design and/or by noted American artists like this one by Howard Chandler Christy can sell for hundreds of dollars.


Antique American and European Decorative Arts




Our sixth caller was Michael from Moreau (21:53), with signed presidential commissions for the postmaster general and tax collector of Richmond, VA, ranging from Andrew Johnson to Rutherford B. Hayes. They were inherited from his wife’s ancestor, who was a carpetbagger, someone from the North who went to the South after the Civil War to make a profit. What kind of value could Michael get for these documents? 


Any signed presidential material is collectible and has historical importance. There is always a thriving market for these kinds of items. Certain presidents will be more important or worth more than others, and this is especially meaningful to Michael; he wants to keep the documents signed by Ulysses S. Grant, not only because President Grant has iconic historic stature, but because Michael is associated with Grant Cottage in Moreau. 


The highest values for these documents will be for ones signed by notable presidents, in excellent condition. Interesting and ornate designs that create an attractive and interesting conversation piece on the wall will enhance value as well. A less expensive example might be worth $2-400, a higher-end one in excellent condition (maybe even signed by Abraham Lincoln) could be worth $3-5,000 or more.


Andrew Johnson signed and dated autograph album page $200-300


Abraham Lincoln 1864 Ferrotype Campaign Token $200-400




Our seventh caller was Kurt in Amherst (24:50), with a collection of wooden airplane propellers, including ten dated before 1930 and several WWII ones, some of which are American. These are awesome and beautiful, made from laminated wood, well crafted and turned, works of art in their own right. Like the Russian enamel boxes, their monetary value often does not quite square with how wonderful they are. Of course, earlier ones will absolutely be worth more than later ones. Many of them have serial numbers, which allow you to check the airplanes and even the engines that they went with. The most valuable ones will have been connected with certain famous pilots or battles. 



Historical Memorabilia




During a break from calls and email inquiries, Ray asked: “What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s collected that you’ve seen?”


 Of course, that would be limited to what’s safe to discuss on air. Lol. No brake shoes or old band aids, but we have seen antique mechanical nutmeg graters, interesting pieces of Americana used for garnishing egg nog. (Try the thick style sometime – eggs separated, whites beaten to stiff peaks and folded back in) We’ve also seen 16-inch strips of different kinds of barbed wire. Ray was incredulous at this, “You’ve got to be kidding?!” 


I’ve seen valuable ingeniously constructed old mousetraps, or antique nails – it all depends on what you were exposed to or imprinted with at a young age. There’s an infinite variety of people and preferences out there. 


Rare Collectibles




Our eighth caller (30:37) had a Revolutionary War-era oil portrait of an important ancestor who served under General George Washington. It’s very similar to another portrait of the same ancestor from that era in the Brooklyn Museum by Ralph Earl, but it’s unsigned. They’ve had it x-rayed to look for the remains of a signature, but no luck in finding one. Their ancestor was an armaments supplier under Washington, the sheriff of Manhattan, and a member of Congress. The caller was interested in the next steps toward authentication? 

Normally you would have an expert physically look at it or look at images of it in order to give their professional opinion regarding a possible attribution. American portraits of this period can be worth a substantial amount.; You can contact a major auction house or a local specialized dealer. They may be able to refer you to an expert or do the research for you themselves.. You could also try the Albany Institute of History and Art, a local gem of a museum. They may be able to help. Any good non-profit museum with a well-developed and/or related collection of Americana and American paintings can be a resource, even just to go and look at American portraits from the same period.


Fine Art




Our ninth caller was Ellen from Wyantskill (33:30), with 4-5” delicately carved ivory figurines of people which were brought from the Philippines in the 1940s, which she then inherited. She is aware of the restrictions on selling ivory; would they apply to items as old as these? Before 2015, all elephant ivory items lawfully imported prior to January 1990 were okay to sell within the state of New York. However, in 2015, New York State passed a new law banning the sale of all elephant ivory, regardless of importation date or origin. An exception was made for items with less than 20% ivory by weight like musical instruments. If it’s more than 20% elephant ivory by weight, your only option is to gift it to a relative, for which you also need a permit to follow the letter of the law. 



Oriental  Antiques




Our tenth caller was Elizabeth (34:44), asking if early silver such as that from 1910-1919 is worth more than new later silver. If nothing is different between the old and new, such as any special characteristics such as who made it or how it was made, the answer is no, the only value would be the silver content. I do not like to see beautiful old (or new for that matter) silver items recycled and destroyed, I always try to find a home for them if possible. Even if I am able to save sets, there is so much of this type of material available and so little demand, that the market value often simply reflects the value of the silver content in the set.


A sterling silver set or table service like this can have $1000-2000 worth of silver in it, with silver prices in the $15-20 per troy ounce price range. Don’t forget that sterling silver is only 92.5% pure and that a professional dealer will charge a minimum of 10-15% to handle for you.


Sterling Silver




Our eleventh caller (35:17) asked about their 1820 9-inch Royal Satsuma signed vase. What is the value and where to market it? Unfortunately, the Japanese antiques market has moved in direct opposition to the booming Chinese market. Japan’s frothy real estate and stock market’s crashed in the late 1980s and their economy has never really recovered fully. There is sadly very little market for these items outside of the most exceptional pieces. Satsuma pottery produced in the 19th to mid-20th centuries ranges widely in quality, and was inexpensively made for export to the United States as decorative objects in the first half of the 20th century. The value depends on the quality; an exceptional piece similar to the caller’s might be worth at most $3-500, and a generic example might be worth $5 or $10.


A fine example of Meiji Era Satsuma pottery


This example is nice, but not quite the quality of the one above (the decoration is fun though, with the holy men and dragons)


Art Glass and Art Pottery




Our twelfth caller was Joe (36:23) with a set of 50 year old jade pendant pieces. Given the prevailing Chinese antiques market, where could he get these pieces looked at? We recommended that he email us some images for more information. It’s always tricky with these kinds of things: sometimes it looks like it’s worth $1000 and it’s worth $10, sometimes it looks like it’s worth $5-10 and it’s worth thousands. Have your items looked at by an expert, don’t sell the 2.3 million dollar bowl for $3!



The Chinese Ding Bowl: Could It Happen To You?


Fine quality carved jade pendant




Chinese Antiques




Our thirteenth caller was Susan in South Edgarmont (37:29), with a collection of Chinese postage stamps that she bought at the Peace Hotel in Beijing when China was just beginning to open up in 1981. There were few, if any, tourists in Beijing at that time, so would these kinds of contemporary tourist stamps have any value? 

Although stamp collecting was popularized in the US by FDR in the 1930s and remained popular through the 1960s, today the interest in stamp collecting is low. What’s more, the market was flooded in the 1980s with colorful postage stamps from every little country on Earth sold to whoever would buy them. If Susan’s stamps were rare at the time she bought them, there might be some value, but if they were mass produced it is sadly unlikely. 



Historical Memorabilia




Our fourteenth caller was Sheila in Highland (39:40) with a cupboard full of green depression glass, with cameo designs, all the same. She had just about everything you could need for serving food and drink, from a wine decanter to salt and pepper shakers. After collecting these items and enjoying them for 35 years, do they have any value? 

Unfortunately, as with many things we used to sell 25 years ago, the market has changed, and it’s hard to get anything for these lovely glass pieces. They might be worth $2 apiece. Any glass piece that was rare and expensive 35 years ago would still have good value, but other than that, it’s very difficult as most of these items were mass-produced and survive today. If you look in eBay’s completed sales, you can get an idea of what these items are actually selling for, not just the asking prices. People tend to collect things that evoke a particular good memory or sense of nostalgia. There are some types of collectibles, such as Depression Glass, that have declined in popularity…mostly because the collectors who associated fond childhood memories with those items are downsizing or no longer with us.



Art Glass and Art Pottery




Our fifteenth caller was Pat in Queensbury (43:15) with an Audubon folio which had been gifted to her by a wealthy aunt in 1963. It includes 30 images of birds, along with a text by George Dock. Are these images worth anything? As the images are sized 14” x 17”(small format), and it’s not clear whether it was produced during the 1960s or whether it was produced earlier, it could be a couple of things. If the images are good-quality reproductions from the 20th century, the folio could be worth up to $200, as it has good decorative value. However, if the small format prints are from the 19th century, they could be worth up to $400 each! It all depends on how old they are.




Antique American and European Decorative Arts




Our final caller was Erin in Chester (45:12) who had recently purchased an auto repair shop and diner built in the 1800s. Among the many old items found in the building was a flat top Mule Head brand beer can. A little bit of research showed that the brand was only around from 1938-1940, and that online a similar can had sold for $1,500! Erin wasn’t interested in selling online, and was wondering if there could be anywhere locally that she could sell it. We recommended an excellent local auction house for collectibles, Talk of the Town in Ballston Spa. 



Advertising, Promotional Items, and Bottles




And we can’t let you suffer like that! Please read on as we briefly address callers and emailers who weren’t able to reach us during the show. 


Irene in Jonessville – sterling silver flatware


See above re valuing items whose value primarily derives from their precious metal content.


Mary Anne in New Windsor – hand made nursery rocker in family 4 generations


Unless exceptional due to craftsmanship or maker, antique nursing rockers (rocking chairs without arms) are generally hard to sell and of modest value.


John in Latham – hand carved items from 20s and 30s – any value?


That depends on craftsmanship and/or origin. Can be subjective, i.e. carved by Grandpa for fun and amazing! Or…not so much.


Joyce in Albany – block prints and watercolors from end of WWII


This depends on the artist and edition. There are masterpieces of Japanese Woodblock printing that sell for high prices but more popular ones were reprinted many times, the later ones being less desirable to collectors.


Tom in Slingerlands – collection of old postcards


First popularized during the 1892 Columbian exposition, a popular past-time until World War I, this is an area of collectibles that has declined along with others. They were mass produced originally, there is much lower demand today, especially for holiday related except for Halloween themed.. Look for 1920’s and earlier RPPC (real photo post cards) type, actual photographs exposed on photo paper the size of a postcard. Unusual/historical subjects most desirable, e.g. catastrophes, crashes, circus sideshow, etc..



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