Get a headstart on your spring cleaning and earn some money in the process! Whether you decide to organize your attic or garage, the hunt for buried treasure could be much closer than you imagined. We’ve prepared this definitive list of sometimes surprisingly collectible items that could be in your home right now.
While you are digging through old boxes, you may find yourself asking how much an item is worth. Mearto is here to help! Our online appraisal specialists are able to estimate the current fair market value of every item on this list and more. All you have to do is submit photographs and a short description of the item through our website. We respond, typically within 48 hours or less, with a valuation. Our price per item is $19 with bulk rates available. We also offer opportunities to sell items of a certain value through our auction house partners and an online marketplace due to launch in April 2021.
Let us help you turn all of this old stuff collecting dust in your home into cash:
IN THE ATTIC
1. First Edition Books
If you have a stack of old books at home, it may be worth taking a look at the copyright pages (opposite the title pages) to see if any of them are first editions. The publisher may indicate with the words ‘first edition’ or ‘first printing,’ or you can check the sequence of numbers. If there is a ‘1’ anywhere in the sequence, or if the date on the copyright and title pages is a match, it is likely to be a first edition.
Of course, not every first edition will be very valuable. Rare and “classic” books like Pride and Prejudice, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tend to fetch the highest prices at auction. The most expensive book ever sold was Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester in 1994 for $53.5 million (adjusted for inflation).
2. Christmas Ornaments
A box of vintage Christmas ornaments in good condition could be worth hundreds of dollars. Those most valued by Collectors are German “kugeln” or hand blown glass balls. These were first produced during the Biedermeier period (c.1830) of extremely thick glass, colored with lead or silver nitrate and topped with a bronze cap. Because they were so heavy, they were suspended from the ceiling, rather than being hung on the Christmas tree.
These German kugeln (singular: kugel) are quite rare and likely to turn up in your attic only if they were family heirlooms brought over from the old country. However, even more recent ornaments, for example, Hallmark Keepsake ornaments from the 1970s and 80s, can be worth a pretty penny to collectors. Unusual shapes, references to pop culture icons and, of course, the rarity and condition have a positive impact on value.
3. Ceramic Christmas Trees
Ceramic Christmas trees, big in the 1960s and 70s, were considered “kitsch” for many decades, but are now making a comeback as trendy holiday decor. These trees tend to be green or white ceramic with plastic lights, which are illuminated by a bulb inside the tree. Some rotate or even play music and are a throwback for many collectors to fond childhood memories.
Because ceramic Christmas trees are a particularly seasonal item, you’ll get the best price if you try to sell one in the weeks and months leading up to December 25th, with buyers willing to pay $100 to $300 to snag a particularly charming example of this retro holiday decoration.
4. Vintage Packaging
Whether it’s an old jar of cold cream, a cigarette carton or a cereal box, there is a demand from some collectors for vintage packaging, especially for once-popular products that are still being purchased today, or for “old-timey” messaging that strikes a humorous chord for today’s consumer.
As with furniture, appliances and other household goods, the craze for Midcentury, Mad Men-esque packaging and advertisements has yet to die down, and has been supplemented with a taste for 1980s and 90s nostalgia. Rather than taking an old pile of packages out to the curb, consider listing some of those in better condition on eBay, where you could expect to sell a collectible Kellogg’s corn flakes box for up to $800.
5. Vintage Boy Scouts Memorabilia
Your old Boy Scout gear, whether it’s a complete uniform, sash, set of patches and pins or a handbook could be worth thousands of dollars. Collectors are very interested in complete (or nearly complete) sets of patches from past decades, memorabilia from Boy Scout camps and National Jamborees, as well as personal documentation like photographs, journals and diaries. Award medals can also be quite valuable, due to their intended rarity.
6. Morton / Ozark Roadside “Tourist” Pottery
If your grandparents ever took a road trip across the American Midwest or to the Ozarks, there’s a pretty good chance that they may have this item stashed away among their treasures collected over the years.
Mass-produced and frequently purchased as souvenirs in the first half of the twentieth century, some Morton and Ozark Roadside pottery may be quite valuable today. The highest prices are fetched by unique sets of figurines, “spatterware,” which is characterized by a speckled pattern of brown, green and yellow hues, and pottery with a spiraled glaze. The more common pieces can be found on eBay and similar online marketplaces for $30 to $60, but those that are more rare often sell for hundreds of dollars.
7. Milk Glass Easter Eggs
In the Victorian era (late 1800s), blown glass Easter eggs were all the rage. These festive decorations could be purchased in many general stores and were typically hand-painted, given as gifts between ladies and passed down as family heirlooms. Many of the eggs survive today. Unfortunately, because it was common to use water-based paint, it is difficult to find them with their original illustrations intact. In good shape, one of these antique milk glass eggs may be sold for over $100.
Another variety of Easter decoration that may be found among your family’s collection of old things or stumbled upon at a garage sale is handmade papier-mâché or cardboard eggs, which were popular in Germany around the same time. If stored properly over time, these may be in better condition and more valuable than the glass eggs with chipped and faded paint.
8. Vintage Magazines
If you have a stack of old magazines collecting dust in your attic, it could be time to bring them down and see what they might be worth! Fashion magazines from bygone eras are in demand from collectors who like to see how trends have been recycled and repurposed over time. You may be able to sell a single magazine, originally purchased for $1 or less, for a significant profit, particularly if there is a well-known celebrity on the cover, or if it is a special, hard-to-find issue.
Even a magazine’s advertisements for old-timey or still popular products may be worth something on their own. These advertisements can be clipped and sold one-by-one to maximize your potential earnings from one vintage magazine, so think twice before you toss them all in the recycling bin!
9. Old Documents
Old family documents like letters, autographs and even deeds and bond certificates may have some appeal to collectors, especially if they reference an important historical figure or event. Some just like the aesthetics of yellowed paper and flourished handwriting in ink, or the nostalgia of a soldier’s wartime letter written home. You never know what kind of treasures a pile of old documents might contain.
10. Old Yearbooks
Do your parents love to tell stories about their now-famous high school or university classmate? Dig out their old yearbooks because that photograph of a young and awkward star might be worth something! If the celebrity signed the yearbook before becoming rich and famous, that’s even better. The yearbooks of certain literary and historical figures like former U.S. presidents are in high demand and may be worth hundreds of dollars to the right collector.
11. Old Photographs
While it may seem bizarre to sell your family’s photos to a total stranger, there is a market for old black and white images. Those made with older technology, like tintypes, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes may be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars at auction. The most sought-after and expensive photographs depict famous or well-known people. However, there is also an interest among collectors for portraits of soldiers and group images of children. Age is a factor in determining the value of an old photograph, but it is not the only factor taken into account. The quality and condition of the image also play a role.
As with family photographs and documents, vintage postcards sent from faraway and exotic locations by travelers hundreds of years ago have a certain amount of appeal. Though most may only be worth a few dollars, some that are particularly old or interesting and still in good condition could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Determining the age of a postcard can be quite difficult. The postmark date can give you some idea, but the postcard may have been in production for many years before it was purchased and sent.
So-called pioneer postcards, which often feature advertisements for products and stores, and were sent from the American Old West in the mid- to late 1800s, typically sell for around $400 each. The most expensive postcard ever sold is also thought to be one of the first, posted in 1840. It went for $50,000 at the London Stamp Exchange.
While you’re unwrapping that ceramic Christmas tree or Morton pottery piece, take a quick look at the newspaper that it’s packed in — what is the date and what are the headlines? Though an item like this would be crinkled and therefore not as valuable as a pristine copy of a newsletter declaring the beginning or the end of a war, the results of a presidential election or some other major historical event, it may be worth considering its value before you toss it out.
Many people save newspapers from historic days and with prices for some being in the hundreds of dollars, you may want to consider getting into the habit, as well. A copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as the New York Herald from 1865 announcing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln have been sold for $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
14. Concert / Movie Posters
If you read our page on movie posters, you’ll find some information about the various styles and how value is determined for these large glossy prints. Posters for popular, “classic” films tend to fetch the highest price at auction. Old horror movies from the 1920s and 30s seem to be a favorite among collectors.
Additionally, posters advertising well-known concerts or famous artists, particularly if they are signed by the artist(s), can be quite valuable. A poster from a 1966 Beatles concert sold for $137,500 at Heritage Auction several years ago.
15. Sporting Events Posters & Ticket Stubs
In 2020, Mearto appraised online one of the most expensive collectible items that we’ve valued to date. We estimated the value of a set of three ticket stubs for the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal basketball game at over $75,000 because the American team was led to victory by Michael Jordan, coached by Bobby Knight and consisted of several other big name players. Stubs that are in good condition and posters from historic sporting events hold a lot of appeal for collectors of sports memorabilia.
Of course, not every poster, ticket stub or autograph from a known player will earn you five-figures at auction, but it’s worth looking into your old collection and any boxes of documents that you may have received from your parents or grandparents to see if any gems like this one can be found.
AROUND THE HOUSE
16. Antique Rugs
Because of their rising popularity as a decorative item in the home, Mearto was recently interviewed for Today.com about the process of valuing and shopping for a quality antique rug. If you have previously purchased or inherited a large Oriental area rug or runner with a desirable color and origin, it could be worth quite a bit to a savvy interior decorator. Even if it’s not particularly clean or it comes from a home with pets and / or smokers, the value after professional cleaning can be significant. Such handwoven wool rugs were popular at the turn of the 20th Century and again in the 1960s.
17. Stained Glass Lamps
While most people have seen or heard of the famous Tiffany glass lamps, which were popular in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century and now sell for up to six figures at auction, many are unaware of several other contemporaneous brands that can also bring in serious sums. Lamps from manufacturers such as the Pairpoint Glass Company, Handel, Duffner & Kimberly (D&K) and Gorham are also prized as fine decorative items.
Unfortunately, because many of these companies did not “sign” or otherwise indicate their creation of these lamps, they can be difficult to identify. Look for a heavy base and observe the colors in the leaded panes of glass. Are they soft and refined, or very bold and bright? The latter would indicate a more modern (and less valuable) reproduction.
18. Hubley Door Stops
These once-popular cast iron figurines often take the form of a cat or dog and can be used to prop open a door. Particularly rare examples in good condition (most of the original paint intact) have sold for more than $500. Door stops that depict figures now considered racially insensitive, like the traditional “Mammy” character, on the other hand, typically sell for well-below average estimates.
Modern reproductions also tend to be significantly less expensive. To identify an original Hubley door stop, look for a “makers mark” on the object’s base. Reproductions will also often have a very rough, sandy appearance and may feature a Phillips head screw. Originals are either one solid piece of cast iron, or two pieces held together by a flathead screw.
19. Mid-Century Furniture
Consoles, sofas, chairs, highboards and lowboards… there is no satiating the appetite that collectors and decorators have for Mid-Century furniture, which refers to an item made sometime between the mid-1930s and 1960s and, according to the Spruce, meets the following criteria:
- Functionality is important, as form follows function
- Uncluttered and sleek lines with both organic and geometric forms
- Minimal ornamentation
- An exploration of different traditional as well as non-traditional materials
- The juxtaposition of different, and sometimes contrasting materials
While works by well-known designers tend to have the highest price tags, even those items which may have been mass-produced have a certain amount of appeal to collectors seeking to add this classic look to their home.
20. Federal Style Mirrors
Another item of classic American style that you might have in your home and that could be worth quite a bit of money is a unique kind of convex mirror dating from the Federal Period (1776-1806), which — depending on the specific design — might be called a “Girandole” or “Bulls-Eye” mirror. These objects are typically made of hardwood, covered in gold leaf and may feature an eagle standing on a Grecian column at the top.
The mirror may have arms to hold candles or other embellishments or decorations. Because of their age and intrinsic value, many reproductions and forgeries can be found on the market. It’s best to check with an expert and gather documentation to prove the authenticity of your antique Federal Mirror to get the best price.
Everyone dreams of stumbling upon an original Jackson Pollock painting at a thrift store, or finding a rare Pablo Picasso drawing among their grandparents’ possessions. The odds are not high, but stories of such discoveries are frequently found in the news. How can you know if your work of art is the real thing? Mearto has a special team of experts dedicated to authentication research. Through a three-step process, which consists of a comparative analysis report, provenance research and scientific analysis, we have been able to help customers identify, consign and successfully sell high-value works of art at international auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
What if your artwork isn’t signed and you have no idea who the artist might be? In many cases, we are also able to help with attribution. Submit the item through our easy-to-use platform for online appraisals to get some information and an estimate of the artwork’s fair market value from a qualified specialist.
FROM THE KITCHEN
Most American kitchens would not be complete without a collection of Pyrex cookware. This versatile and hardworking brand has made it a household favorite for many decades and certain patterned pieces have become treasured and sought out by collectors. As with many of the items on this list, the value of vintage Pyrex is determined by a number of factors including, but not limited to age and rarity. It was not uncommon for the Pyrex company to release a fixed number of prototypes into the market, which can now be quite difficult to track down.
It is easy to identify Pyrex by locating the company’s logo on the item in question. However, determining age can be quite another story. While some specific patterns or colors of glass can provide clues, dating is not a straightforward process. Our specialists can determine whether your Pyrex has a collectible value of hundreds or thousands of dollars, or is just another piece of useful kitchen cookware.
23. Upside-Down Mason Jars
Another staple of the classic American kitchen (and every barn wedding that you’ve ever attended) is the Mason jar. While most are quite run-of-the-mill and can still be purchased for a few dollars each, some of the more antique examples, particularly those which are a bit rare, can have additional value.
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