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Antiques Homeshow

Historical Society’s “Family Heirloom or Flea Market Find: What’s It Worth” fundraiser draws a crowd.

We own a lot of stuff. Old stuff. And although we’re mostly clueless about its value, we have hopes. We’ve seen Antiques Roadshow and we can dream.

That was abundantly clear at the  on Saturday. Hundreds of people hauled their would-be treasures for appraisal by a team of experts from Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, who partnered with the for the fundraiser.

The pre-registered crowd was so large — 200 people brought 500 items for appraisal — that a plan to admit walk-ins was scuttled.

And in spite of an offer to take photos and get back to people so they could leave, the appraisers were still hard at work in the fifth hour of the planned four-hour event.

“I had a feeling there was a pent-up demand for an event like this here, and I was right. We’ve had a crazy, incredible response,” said Jean Guarino, Historical Society board member and chair of the fundraiser.

All proceeds ($10 for one item; $25 for three) benefit the Historical Society.

“People bring things with sentimental value, things that have a family history and have been part of their whole lives,” said Emily Janz from Leslie Hindman. The auction house, which operates on a consignment model, donates its time to community events like this a few times a year.

The specialists appraised jewelry, fine art, furniture, decorative arts, and fine books and manuscripts.

“Some things the specialists see often, so they can give a quick and accurate assessment. They also know where to look, so if they don’t know the answers they will take photos, do research, and get back to people,” said Janz.

I brought along my late mother’s sterling silver flatware, a mid-century vase, and photos of a small cabinet that has baffled us for decades.

A very unscientific sampling of participants suggests that most just wanted to know what they had. Is it worth keeping? Is it worth fixing? Is the family history true?

And would they sell it if it turned out to be valuable? You bet.

“We’ve been carrying around these watercolor prints since our marriage,” said Oak Parker Jane Schoen. “Why do we have these?”

“We all have things in our house,” said Deborah Watrach of River Forest. “Do we have treasures we didn’t know we had?”

In Watrach’s case, the painting she brought was worth a few hundred dollars, and her father’s violin turned out to be “not distinguished,” she said. She plans to give the violin away.

“I won’t retire on this but it was definitely worth it just to know,” said Watrach.

A number of items turned out to be less than they seemed, although it didn’t necessary matter. Connie Henderson-Damon’s “brass” lamp was an alloy made to look like brass, and her grandmother’s “pearls” were fakes.

“My grandmother wore this necklace, so it still has emotional value to me,” she said.

Well into the process, the most valuable piece appraiser Mike Intihar saw was a Tiffany vase worth $6,000 to $8,000.

“The owner didn’t bat an eye. People generally know what they have if it's pretty good. When they have no idea, there’s a reason,” said Intihar.

Other experts were on hand to offer free advice on insuring valuables (), framing art (), decorating with antiques (Barley Twist), and repairing and refinishing furniture (Montalbano Majestic International).

Richard Montalbano, who brought along examples of partially and completely restored pieces, believes Antiques Roadshow fosters mistaken ideas about old furniture.

“People think don’t touch old stuff, but that’s a misconception. If it’s more than 100 years old, never used and in mint condition, don’t touch it," he said. "But the other 99.9 percent of old furniture should be refinished and restored. It’s not worth much if it’s broken and the finish is shot. And lots of old pieces are filled with mildew and dust mites." 

He recommends restoring anything with a hardwood frame that’s 20 years or older. New stuff is mostly flakeboard and badly made, he said.

“If it’s worth at least two times what it costs to restore, do it,” said Montalbano.

I won’t be restoring my odd little cabinet, which turns out to be a candlestick phone table from around 1910. And forget that vase. But the silver?

Thanks, mom.

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