This is the perennial question on all ends of the vintage sale business. Many of us grew up listening to our parents and maybe even our grandparents say, “Someday this will be worth a lot of money!”
I can’t count how many times my mother patted some object and say, “Hang on to this after I’m gone because this is really old. ” Actually, I could probably estimate because I happen to own quite a number of things that were going to make me rich.
Around 1965, my mother (Pearl) decided to refurbish her baby grand piano, a gift from her deceased father. That’s actually another story in itself because I wound up paying $300 to have it lugged away in about seven years ago. But Pearl was attached to the piano because of sentiment even though it wasn’t what she really wanted. So she sent it away and had it entirely rebuilt inside and refinished on the outside. The old piano bench was deemed unsuitable for the new upscale piano and my mother set about finding a victorian stool with brass claws and glass balls.
The search involved months of scouring antique shops, garage sales, estate sales – which for anyone else might have been fun but my mother made it out to be a grueling task. She found some that were unaffordable – in the $200 range but was willing to drop $100 if she could find one that low.
I’m too lazy to look up the value of $100 in current time but you can imagine it was a lot. You didn’t just drop $100 on something in those days. She finally scrounged up a genuine victorian piano stool that had been painted over completely in a shade of turquoise that we all found hideous.
The irony is that I see many vintage items for sale online that have been spray-painted in that same shade or other bright colors. Even ten years ago, I would have gone into shock at the sight and shaken my finger. Now I say: why not? If someone enjoys it in a new pretty color and will display it in their home, more power to them and the one that painted it. It beats leaving it to sit in the basement or garage or attic.
My mother was ecstatic that she could get this stool for around $50 – still expensive considering the condition. She bought it and took it to an upholsterer after having the paint professionally removed. I don’t know how much all that cost but she absolutely hated what the upholsterer did with the cushion. The rest of it was extraordinary – you would never know that stool saw a speck of paint. The brass was shiny and glass balls gleamed. But the seat – well, it wasn’t *that* bad and so she did not insist on getting her piece refinished as she’d asked. She wanted a fringe of velvet cords around the seat but for some reason, the upholsterer left her with a pleated ruffle sort of affair. In fact, I can even furnish a picture of it because I happen to still own it.
Note the cigarette burn (my mother smoked constantly). The cover is stained and the ruffle is still not *that* bad but what is sad (for me) is that my mother’s dream of inflated piano stool values did not come to pass. The brass is corroded although I haven’t tried to polish it.
What she could not know in the pre-Internet age is that they are not at all rare. Not one bit rare. My most recent research still shows people asking an average of $75 for them – and not getting it.
I have put the piano stool in garage sales several times. I’ve asked $75 for it and as low as $50. I just can’t bring myself to go lower – but no one has ever asked me either. I believe that it would sell better if I spray-painted the entire thing turquoise or teal. Maybe radiant orchid or freesia yellow since those are the hot spring colors.
The piano stool is only one story and it took longer to tell than I intended. My husband’s side of the family is worse when it comes to inflating the value of their heirlooms (which in his family means anything ever touched by a relative). Periodically, my late mother-in-law would suddenly unveil a piece of jewelry or doodad never displayed before. She’d tell me how valuable it was (that’s a real amethyst there!) then either squirrel it away again or make me take it home. I tried to appreciate and use/wear many of these items but…most of them are on their way onto Etsy or Ebay. Really sad part is that she rarely used them herself but just kept them in the back of a cabinet or closet for a special occasion that never occurred.
Trying to list these pieces circles back to the post title: what is it worth anyway? Often, I have no idea the real age or era and it doesn’t necessarily add to their value just because I know the piece is older than me – and I’m an antique! I assume I do my research like other vintage sellers and buyers both. I perform google-fu first, check the images and on lucky occasions, find the exact same object or something very similar. I check the online auction sites and there is always, always one bum that has it listed on ebay for $1.99 buy it now free shipping included.
My children’s generation is just now showing interest in vintage stuff. There is a big interest in sixties through the nineties. The nineteen nineties – I still can’t believe it. My son and his girlfriend do great business selling stuff from eighties and nineties. Their peers have little interest in nostalgia except for the Mad Men phenomena which has romanticized late fifties and sixties fashion and decor. I’m trying to take advantage of that as best I can but of course, I didn’t hold onto my mother’s things from that era because – she didn’t tell me to! Besides, she’d already unloaded most of it because it was so dated and out of style (she died in 1983).
Back to the piano stool. You would not believe how hard it is to get that upholstery off. That guy did his job in that department. But when I do get it off, I’m going to decoupage the entire thing with antique sheet music. Although I also plan to make sheets available on Etsy for crafting since I have enough of it to build a shelter. Maybe my next project!