Janet & Sherry the auction hunters: Day 3
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    Auction Finds

    Janet & Sherry the auction hunters: Day 2

    My auction buddy Janet and I picked out five items at auction recently to see how well we’d do against some of the TV auction shows in picking choice items.

    Yesterday, I blogged about a 19th-century gilt Eagle she selected and a Hartmann suitcase that I thought would be valuable.

    Here are our second set of choices:

    Three boxes of vintage New Jersey license plates.

    Janet’s pick

    Three boxes of 1930s New Jersey license plates

    Janet was gloating when bidding started on the boxes of license plates. I had seen them but had ignored them because one complete box was filled with rusty plates that were barely readable. But Janet apparently knew her license plates.

    The bidding took off from the jump. “I told you,” she said as it moved past $25. “That’s for each (box) of them.” When the bidding stopped, someone had bought all three boxes for $50 each or $150 total. Altogether, at least 25 to 30 license plates were in the three boxes.

    License plates appear to be very popular, and like many a collectible, they have their own fan club, the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA). According to its website, the first license plate was issued by Massachusetts in 1903, followed by most other states in the 1920s.

    An FAQ on the site offered some info on their worth: Some plates may cost more because they bear a design that most people like, or they come from states with small populations. Others are more valuable because they are rare or because of their age – older plates tend to be more desirable.

    Prices can run from high to low. On one website, vintage license plates were selling singly for $100 or more – and these were from the 1960s and 1970s. On another site, even earlier plates were selling for as low as $15. So, it was hard to determine how value was assigned to them. I can only assume that it depends on who’s looking for what plates at a given time.

    On eBay, there were 550 pages of listings for vintage license plates, with the highest – two rusty 1915 Utah plates – selling for 2,000. A set of two 1932 NJ plates sold for $112.

    Estimated value: 25 to 30 plates at an average $50 each = $1,250 to $1,500.

    Edison phonograph

    An Edison Cylinder Phonograph.

    Sherry’s pick

    Thomas Edison Cylinder Phonograph with horn

    I was very familiar with the Edison phonograph because I had seen others at auction and knew they were valuable and highly collectible. This one was a winner because it still had its morning-glory horn with hand-painted flowers. It also came with four cylinder records.

    Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the phonograph in 1877, but a man named Eldridge Johnson popularized it. Most of us are familiar with Johnson’s Victor Talking Machine Company trademark of a dog listening to its master’s voice.

    The earlier Edison machines came with small horns that some buyers replaced with the morning-glory style horns, according to the website collectorsworldwest.com. The Edison company started selling them with these types of horns but in black trimmed in gold.

    When I mentioned the phonograph to a woman at auction, she recounted a story of driving to an auction two hours away hoping to buy one of those beautiful phonographs. She had gotten one at auction before and sold it for $300, so she was itching to get lucky this time. She entered a room full of phonographs, but the prices were so high she couldn’t even dip her finger into the bidding. They were selling in the 1000s of dollars, she said, so she left early.

    On the web, I found one Edison that sold for $695 in 2010, while the asking price on several went up to $900. On eBay, they sold for $300 to $500.

    Estimated value: around $300 to $500


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