Identifying treasures

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and those tastes are changing in the collectible trade, said Mike Ryerson at the fourth annual Hemken September Antique Appraisal Fair on Saturday in Williams.

The event was held at the Hemken Collection Museum and Ryerson of Ryerson Auction and Real Estate of Eagle Grove was again appraising mementos, treasures and heirlooms for the public.

Several years ago, Iowa was the ultimate destination for treasure hunters who were seeking oak and walnut furniture, said Ryerson. Today, the most sought after items include metal signs, Asian statuary, old farm items such as metal chicken coops and collectibles from the 50s and 60s.

“What you and I know about antique furniture has completely changed,” said Ryerson. “Sixties merchandise on EBay is selling better – like Hassock fans”.

Antique collectors are no longer searching for the stately oak or walnut secretaries, he said.

“It’s 60s junk,” said Ryerson, noting that a Sputnik wall clock may fetch $50 or the ceramic fish that once adorned a bathroom wall in the mid-century will now bring $14 for each piece.

The reason for the decline in traditional collectibles is because market tastes and demands are changing with an older generation moving on, said Ryerson.

“Model T’s are going down in value because those guys are gone,” he said.

The public was invited to bring their treasures and collectibles and during the morning and afternoon sessions with Ryerson appraising each item, offering a little history lesson and also providing insight in collecting and maintaining heirloom items.

“Now the thing about jewelry,” said Ryerson, after pricing a pair of costume jewelry earrings, “It is not about whether it is good or bad. It is if the woman likes it”.

The same holds true for any heirloom. It may not hold any value to a stranger, but to its owner, it is priceless.

Hot properties now in the collectible market are items with brand names such as wooden pop cases with Coca Cola or Pepsi on them, said Ryerson. He noted a 1969 Pepsi sign with 98 percent of its original paint intact would bring $450 in the current market. A leather Studebaker sign would bring $2,000.

Books, just like furniture, are in a downward spiral in the collector’s market.

“The computer has killed the book market,” said Ryerson. “The only thing your mother’s dictionary is good for is flattening wrinkled cash”.

With only a few exceptions, Ryerson cautions people to never throw away anything until the auction is over.

“That is the fun of cleaning out an old house,” he said. “People always throw away all the good stuff”.

Spotting a box that held someone’s treasure, Ryerson said the contents of the box paled in value in comparison to the 1960s era box which sported a photo of golfer Lee Trevino.

“That’s a cool box and could bring $10,” he said.

The only thing Ryerson encouraged people to throw out were National Geographic Magazines.

“Except for the Coke ads that you might want to rip out, every house has a truckload full of them,” he said of the market saturation.

While studying heirlooms, Ryerson offered helpful tips on preserving and restoring them.

Ryerson advised owners to identify and date all mementos such as a christening gown and include that information in storage with the item. He cautioned owners about cleaning heirlooms.

“I’m completely against washing anything because I’m a man,” joked Ryerson. But if cleaning is necessary, he suggested gently handwashing an article in diluted white vinegar. This process will clean it without destroying the fabric.

For walnut furniture which has been marred by a water ring stain, Ryerson suggested mixing cigarette ashes with water and rubbing it into the wood grain.

Despite the depressed furniture market, Ryerson said rustic furniture is still in vogue but it needs to be in its original state.

“Leave old, ugly paint on furniture,” he said.

He cited an auction where an old cupboard which once held oil cans in the garage sold for $1,200.

“The more original, the better,” he said.

The Hemken Collection has sponsored the September Antique Appraisal Fair for four years.

“I think it is a lot of fun,” said Hemken Board member Ann Hemken. “It is always so interesting to see what people bring in”.