Today was the “Antique Critique” at the library in Smithsburg. Ashley had a pair of auctioneers from Cochrane’s, a local antique dealer, come and spend a few hours appraising the various family heirlooms brought to them by patrons who had signed up. I wish I had thought to ask Dad if I could have brought his old Western Maryland Railroad lantern. It’s probably worth a little something.
Some people got some very good news. A set of pocket watches was estimated at over $1,000; a carved English table with a meticulously inlaid top, for which its owner paid $125 over forty years ago, was appraised at around $650; a set of dolls produced to promote the original release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 was guessed to be worth as much as $2,500.
Others had less to smile about. One woman was told that her great-grandmother’s rare Victorian portrait dishes were only worth about $65 because they had been broken. One man learned that the odd painting he’d picked up at a yard sale, mounted in a frame constructed to look like the pane of a window, which he’d assumed must have been at least 120 years old, had been painted in 1985 by an obviously untrained painter, and was a charming but worthless curiosity. One woman presented the appraisers with a parchment reproduction of the Declaration of Independence, the kind you can buy at most any National Park, the kind I paid $4 for at the last AAUW book sale. The appraisers tactfully suggested she ask someone with more expertise in old paper. They wouldn’t commit to the price.
But even the disappointed ones smiled. I doubt any of them will sell their heirlooms, even those who learned they had a small fortune sitting in their attic all these years. It wasn’t the money. It was the chance to present that old train set, or that odd photograph that belonged to their grandmother, or the first edition of the book written by their father to someone knowledgeable and be told, yes, this has value. This is worth something.
It was fun to see how the eyes of the appraisers would light up when they saw something especially unique or familiar. One woman brought in a chess set with cast iron pieces that Denny and Joyce, the appraisers, said they had never seen anything like in their 35 years in the business. My favorite piece was an old magic lantern from the 1870s. It was made of tin, and projected glass slides onto walls with the help of a kerosene lamp. Its present owner brought it over with him from England. He wasn’t sure who its original owner had been. I can’t help but wonder.