SOMERVILLE, NJ – Seasoned antiquers will tell you it’s the story behind the piece, where it was found, who it belonged to, what it cost that contributes to the value of the item, whether it be a rag doll missing a button eye, an autographed baseball card, an officer’s sword from the Civil War or a vintage Tiffany wristwatch.
Was it a gift? Was it purchased at a garage sale? Is it an heirloom, handmade by a distant relative? Is it marked, or signed?
Treasured and tattered pieces of history – kitchen implements, vintage clothing, gas lamps, first edition books, gilded picture frames – all have their own history, or provenance – even if its retail value sometimes doesn’t quite add up to what it costs for a round-trip train ticket to Manhattan on the Raritan Valley Line.
Gallery on Main owners Michelle Mundt and Shaun Daley held their first Appraisal Day Sunday, inviting Ashley King and William D’Anjolell, both members of the Pennsylvania Antiques Appraisers Association, to evaluate and render their opinions on a variety of items that were brought in to their store by 40 people.
They waited for their turn with the experts, their treasures wrapped in tissue and newspaper, nestled in boxes and shopping bags, more than curious and even more hopeful that what they had would be worth enough to pay for a Caribbean vacation, or help with college tuition.
Each had their story to tell.
The experts listened politely before examining each item.
There’s little that the two experts haven’t seen when it comes to antiques and collectibles. King, owner of The Clock Trader in Quakertown, Pa., specializes in appraisals and restoration of antique clocks, cuckoo clocks and music boxes. D’Anjolell, owner of Imagine Antiques and Appraisals in Newtown, Pa., specializes in American and European ceramics, prints, ephemera, and American metalware.
They’ve evaluated and written appraisals on thousands of items over the years. Sunday’s smattering of heirlooms, attic treasures and oddities included a doll house, a pair of German ceramic crocks, a Marx wind-up tin horse and wagon, ca. 1950s, a late 19th-century lithograph of an engraving in a tiger oak frame, a Perego baby carriage from the 1970s - and a Mountain Dew soda can from the 1960s.
The owners of the doll house said they had paid $500 for the folk art piece, and were told that’s what it was worth. King said it was from the early 20th-century; the owners weren’t so sure. King said the plywood used as its base was a dead giveaway.
“They weren’t using plywood in the 19th-century,” he said.
The owner of the crocks said she had found them while cleaning out the apartment of her recently-deceased aunt, who died at the age of 106; her guess was that her uncle had used them to store tobacco. Both had some minor damage, but enough to significantly impact their retail value, which the appraisers estimated at $25.
The Marx toy was brought in by a Somerville resident now in his 60s who had played with the horse and wagon as a young boy. The experts noted its nearly new condition, and placed a value of $150 on the item.
The lithograph, which depicted the interior of a French cathedral was valued at $180; the matting was damaged, and the experts recommended the glass and backing also be replaced. The owner left the piece with Daley, who specializes in framing and art restoration.
The Perego carriage was the surprise of the day; in nearly pristine condition, the experts estimated its worth at $2,000.
“I still can’t get over the condition of that carriage,” D’Angolell said afterwards. ”I don’t know how they kept it in that good of condition, I really don’t.”
The owner of the Mountain Dew soda can, a construction worker, said he found the can in a house he was helping to demolish; the experts said it was the original design first marketed by the manufacturer, and said it has a retail value of $14.
There was a charge of $6 for each item to be appraised and the owner of the soda can was more than satisfied with his investment.
“Well, that was worth it,” he said. “Now I know what I got.”
Based on the success of the event, Mundt expects the gallery will host another Appraisal Day in the future.