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    Auction Finds

    Need to find the value of an item? Try eBay, then Google

    Readers often ask me what their items are worth, but I can’t offer them a quick answer because I have none.

    I often wondered why they didn’t try eBay first, since that’s where millions of transactions occur daily. A friend mentioned to me, though, that most people think of eBay as a place to buy and sell, not to assess value. I hadn’t thought of that, because I use both eBay and Google all the time to determine “market value” – not appraisal value for insurance purposes.

    Ebay and Google are the first steps. Here is a guide I developed that offers even further steps you can take.

    family heirlooms

    A close-up view of the embossing of dancing nymphs on the trophy cup/vase.

    When I get questions about value or worth, I check the items that are interesting to me. In other cases, I direct the reader to eBay where they’ll find market prices or Google where they’ll find prices on retail sites along with some history about the item. And to me, learning what you have and its background are a lot more fun.

    Your research shouldn’t be cursory or superficial, because you might miss some valuable information. A most recent example was a woman who sold a blue Duffy Crescent Saloon pig bottle for $1,200 on eBay. According to a bottle auctions website, she had apparently found that a similar pig in amber had sold for $1,500. But hers was one of only two in cobalt blue and very rare. It may be worth up to $100,000, but now that pig belongs to someone else. I feel sad for the woman who lost it.

    I’m not sure how far the seller ventured beyond eBay in her research, but in a quick Google search I learned that Duffy bottles were hard to find and the cobalt blue was treasured. The bottles were made circa 1870s. Hers was embossed “Duffy Crescent Saloon, 204 Jefferson Street, Louisville, KY.”

    Duffy Crescent Saloon pig

    The Duffy Crescent Saloon cobalt blue pig bottle that was sold on eBay.

    A 2012 blog post by a collector itching to buy one of the bottles noted that only one of the blues had been uncovered and sold. That’s a good indication that you have an immensely collectible item, especially in an industry with serious collectors.

    The blue pig is not the type of item you’d list on eBay; it’s one for a well-known auction house with a clientele that will be clamoring for your item and willing to pay top dollar.

    When searching eBay for an item, you should search its Completed Listings, which show what items sold for or didn’t sell at all. Remember that asking prices both on eBay and retail sites are just that. They don’t mean anything if no one’s buying.

    Also, an item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it at a given time. I’ve often seen similar items sell for one price on eBay one week, another price that same week or the following week, and nothing both weeks.

    Here are some questions that could be answered – sometimes very easily – with an eBay or Google search:

    The two Goli Kple Kple masks I bought at auction.


    I have a mask that I’d like to know more about. I’m scared of it. How can I look it up?


    I often come across items that stump me, like a mask with no maker’s name. It’s tough to determine what you have, so more research is required.

    As for the mask, look at its characteristics. Is it an African mask? Or a mask from some other country? What distinctive features do you see on it?

    I will sometimes search using words that describe the piece. Not too long ago, I was researching a black vase with no markings, but the shape reminded me of a trophy. So I first Googled the words trophy, black, onyx and vase. After a few tries, I found out that it was a black amethyst depression cup made by the L.E. Smith Glass Co. in the 1930s. Unfortunately, these loving cups are pretty common and were selling on eBay for $20 to $30.

    This type of research can take time but finally finding an answer makes for a very special moment – like uncovering relatives lost deep in your family history.

    My related blog post on authenticating masks.

    A group of Black Americana matchbooks sold at an auction in 2010.


    What is the value of old Mason Shoe Manufacturing Matchbooks?


    Just a quick check of eBay shows that the Mason Shoe matchbooks are not selling at all – not even at the lowest price of 99 cents.

    For future reference, eBay is the best place to start to find the market value of items, the price someone is willing to pay for it.

    My related blog post on matchbooks collections.


    I have a 1963 Jet magazine covering JFK assassination. Is it worth anything?


    I’ve written several blog posts about newspapers from the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ebay, again, is the quickest way to learn that your Jet mag was selling for about $5.

    My related blog post on Kennedy assassination newspapers.

    A vintage White Mountain hand crank ice cream maker, sold at auction.


    I have an old ice cream maker (hand cranker). It’s over 50 years old. Thanks to my grandmother, we as children enjoyed making (cranking) homemade ice cream. I have often wondered what an old cranker would be worth, as recently my grandmother has passed away. I would NEVER sell it, however, I am still curious on the value of such an old item.


    One thing to remember is that old does not necessarily mean valuable. I’ve watched as people have brought antique items (more than 100 years old) to PBS’ “Antique Roadshow” and anxiously waited along with them as the appraiser related the history of the item, hoping that the owner would get a payoff that would make him or her rich. Then the appraiser dropped the bomb: The antique was worth about $2,000.

    So, your ice cream maker might be old but it may not be worth a lot. Find the manufacturer’s name, and search for it along with the word “ice cream maker” in Google and on eBay.

    My related blog post on hand crank ice cream makers.




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