What to do with inherited stuff/antiques?
February 23, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I have just inherited about one hundred boxes full of 40-100 year old stuff from 2 or 3 generations. I can't really use any of it and some of it may be very valuable. How can I best assess the values of the thousands of items so that I can sell/donate/throw out everything?

Within the boxes are over one thousand books (many of which are hand bound), many sets of dinnerware (much of which is hand painted and some silver), various pieces of art, old magazines and various random but seemingly quality pieces. This is mixed with a whole bunch of junk that appears to be the remains of hoarders. Its possible, however, that even some of the junk might be interesting to some given its age/quality/category.

I have to do something with this stuff and though I think at least half of it isn't worth anything - I don't know how to begin sorting through it all. There are thousands of items here and I'm afraid to throw anything out because maybe one small piece that seems like "junk" might actually be of value - if not financially, then perhaps to someone.

Ideally, I would get rid of the "junk" and then clean up and sort the rest of it to present to people who might be interested. But this has been difficult for me to do.

Further complications:

- the stuff is full of dust, etc, so at least the initial stages are 'dirty work' that I can't do in random slots of free time - i have to dedicate half or full days so that i don't waste my time cleaning

- I have to move through it relatively quickly because space is limited and the boxes have to be cleared

- The items are in the Czech Republic (so am I) and primarily of Czech and German origin - so besides having no background in antiques, I have limited ways to educate myself in what might have value or how to locate people who might be interested in these items (i.e., i can't google search each item nor do I know if this is stuff for Sotheby's or a Czech version of ebay)

How do people go through this process when someone passes? Is there a best practices for something like this? Any suggestions given the special circumstances?
posted by meantime to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
Usually what people do is contact an Estate Liquidator and have an Estate Sale. Is that an option for you?
posted by CheeseLouise at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2012

My parents had the same problem when my grandparents finally passed -- my mother got the brunt of this, and she took a three-pronged approach.

1. First she called a local antique dealer to go through everything, pick what he wanted, and she worked out a deal with him.

2. Then she called a local....I guess "vintage" store, some sort of resale/consignment/used-whatever place that was one step down from an antiques dealer. They went through and picked what they wanted.

3. Finally, she called the local "junk shop" -- the bottom-rung "it's not antique or vintage, it's just used stuff" kind of dealer -- and had him go through and take what he wanted.

That made sure that the stuff that really was antiques had a fair shot at being appraised properly, but if there was anything that the antique dealer didn't want that was still good, it had two more chances at the next-step-down market before she gave up.

She did still have to do a fair amount of cleaning things, though, so there may be no avoiding that; but having the three different guys come in made sure that the most stuff got sold for the best and fairest price. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:39 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I could see where an antique/curios-reseller/rare books dealer type person/s in the U.S. might be drooling to take it off your hands. If they can manage the cost of importing it, even the humblest of items (kitchen tools!) could have resale value due to the quality of craftsmanship that isn't readily available anymore (and the exoticism to this market!).

Or such vendors further west in Europe?

Maybe cast around in your network ... someone might have a friend-of-a-friend in such a line?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:43 AM on February 23, 2012

An important consideration, because I have elderly relatives who have passed recently with a lot of stuff: At some point, yes, you might be sitting on a few things that are actually worth something. But your time is also worth something. If you can find, say, an antique dealer who wants to come, open up all the boxes him/herself, look through it all and pick out anything potentially valuable, great. If you have to sort, catalog, etc, the things yourself, understand that a lot of people keep things thinking that old=valuable and it doesn't, always. My family a couple years ago would have saved a lot of trouble and heartache if certain people had just accepted from the beginning that after pulling out the few things that obviously had some value (i.e., silver, good jewelry) then the rest probably should have just been put out for sale for whatever someone would pay for it, and some things--oh my god, the magazines--just should have been tossed from the start.

If you have a real *reason* to believe that your relatives may have owned things that were worth, like, what would buy you a new house, by all means, spend the time sorting/cleaning. Just don't pour hundreds of hours into a project that won't get you anything worth writing home about.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:03 PM on February 23, 2012

The lifeboat/firesale rule in Anglophone countries is: if it isn't sterling (forget plate), precious gems, or Limoges, it doesn't have enough resale value to prioritise it when time is short and funds are limited. Family photos, which have no resale value, are the exception to this. I don't know what constitutes the "best" Porcelain in the Czech Republic but someone (pretty much anyone around) will and there will be a distinctive makers mark.

In the Czech Republic, I would additionally set aside all glass items and have them looked at in case they are Czech or Bohemian glass from a collectible manufacturer. You don't need to clean anything for someone to tell you if they are good pieces.

You are not going to be able to do this perfectly. Give up on that. Everything is of value to someone - that is how you get hoarders in the first place - but just because someone, somewhere would be interested in 600 Czech magazines doesn't mean you are obligated in ANY WAY to find that person and get these magazines to them. I frankly think the idea of sorting and shipping this stuff to resellers in the US borders on insanity. I had to do this once, when my antique dealer grandfather died, and just getting the best stuff to two other local dealers was almost more than we could execute.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:53 PM on February 23, 2012

If you were in the US or Canada, I would say "Call an antiques dealer, and he or she will sort through stuff and pick out the salable items." I have no idea if that's a feasible strategy in the Czech Republic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2012

Here in the U.S., there are professional organizers, who will help clean out and organize items, including estates. This group I linked doesn't have any links to the Czech Republic, but there might be some type of a professional organizer there.

Otherwise, Some of the other options suggested might work for you.
posted by annsunny at 2:44 PM on February 23, 2012

Oh, I absolutely didn't mean OP would sort and ship it DarlingBri; I meant someone might want to take it off OP's hands as a lot and do all that dirty work.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 2:49 PM on February 23, 2012

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