A steady stream of treasure hunters weaved through more than 100 booths filled with antiques, collectibles and crafts during Sunday’s Knights Ferry Gold Country Peddler’s Faire.
While shoppers searched for rare finds and hoped to spot the perfect pieces for their personal collections, the event’s often-talkative dealers shared their knowledge and passion for old and not-so-old stuff.
Many folks, dealers agreed, don’t realize how coveted some items they have squirreled away really are; others think their family heirlooms are worth far more than their actual value.
So here are some tips for recognizing what’s hot and what’s not when combing through closets and cupboards looking for antiques:
“The things that are very plain-looking were usually the first of their kind made,” said James Alexander of Modesto, illustrating what he meant with a basic – but very old – bottle touting the word “poison” in capital letters. He said items with fancy decorations and inscriptions usually were produced later in a product’s history, but often it’s the unadorned early versions that are more valuable.
Alexander shared his knowledge of antiques with customers at the Veterans Incentive Project booth. His group sells donated goods to raise funds to assist veterans in nursing homes who don’t have family members to care for them.
“There are a lot of duplicates out there,” Alexander warned. Some people mistakenly think they own something valuable, but it’s just a copy. He suggested studying the backs and bottoms of items to find identifying marks or words that can help verify when things were made.
When it comes to boring-but-valuable, it’s hard to find a better example than cast-iron skillets. Such old-school cookware is a hot seller for Keith Hansen of Merced. He said those heavy black frying pans grandma used to use can fetch as much as $100 these days.
“Yuppies want it to cook with,” Hansen said. “We buy them and clean them, as long as they’re not so rusted that there’s pitting in the iron. We can sell 45 to 50 pieces of cast iron in a day at the right show.”
While such common old household items now are valuable, other items once marketed as collectibles are not.
“Any of those Bradford Exchange plates or Beanie Babies are not worth anything,” Hansen said. “You can’t hardly give them away.”
Old glassware can be worth a lot, but it depends on the type and condition, advised Angie Fowler of Turlock.
“It’s the colored glass that’s valuable, like the orange, red and yellow ‘carnival’ glass,” said Fowler, who works at the Blue Goose and Petal on Wheels collectible shops in Modesto. “A long time ago, you could get this stuff at the Stanislaus County Fair. They gave it away at the coin toss” if your dime landed atop it.
But only perfect pieces are in demand: “If it’s chipped or cracked, it’s not worth nothing,” Fowler warned. She said fancy clear glassware isn’t valuable these days, either. “You can’t sell it.”
Books are another once-common item now sought after, according to Antonio Rodriguez of Lodi.
“Anything from the early 1900s or before” could be valuable, Rodriguez said. He shakes his head thinking about how many old books are being discarded as people these days switch to digital media. “People are just tossing them out.”
By contrast, Rodriguez said, some people wrongly think “some of the movie collectibles they have are worth more than they really are. Kids born in the 1980s don’t know what ‘old’ really is.”
Antiques dealer Michael Nicholoff of Modesto is among those who understand the value of old items. Example: Metal mechanical banks and coin boxes from the early 1900s are worth more than many people think.
“The more mechanical movement it has, the higher the value it will have,” explained Nicholoff, noting the specialty market for such banks. “There are some hard-core buyers out there, and that’s all they collect.”
It’s a lot tougher to sell family heirlooms.
“A lot of people think their old family Bible from the 1800s has lots of value, but it usually ends up having only sentimental value,” said Nicholoff, who teaches special education classes in Ceres.
And sometimes once-treasured antiques simply slip from fashion.
“The marketplace is changing all the time,” said Stanislaus County antiques dealer Hank Clark. “Things go out of style.”
As an example, Clark pointed to a well-crafted bookcase from about the 1880s. The towering piece of furniture was worth about $2,500 a decade ago, but these days he has it priced at just $500.
“Everybody wants Ikea stuff these days,” lamented Clark, noting that furniture from such trendy stores sells for as much or more than antiques handcrafted from much higher-quality materials.