Antique Business: Historic Events and Value

To be in the Antique and Fine Arts Business, history must hold some interest for you; enough interest to search out things from the past. Perhaps this business takes you back to those times or the events when the items you’ve discovered were produced, and this is an important connection in your life at some level. When I discover a great painting, I feel as if I knew the artist, because I am holding his work in my hands. Have you ever had that feeling?


The news coverage of this presidential election and the current news coverage of Hurricane Gustav has made me think about other events in our history. People’s memories are often short, but to the Collector of Historical Items, these events are forward in their mind and close to their heart. Those of us in this business have a deep appreciation for history, and this appreciation can help fatten our wallets and help to provide for our families by connecting those items we’ve found with a collector who is seeking them.

So what might be the historical events collectors seek items from?

On my local front, The Chicago Fire caused many stories to be created about its source. Did Mrs. O’Leary’s cow really kick over the lantern that set the whole city ablaze? If you come across items associated with this fire, there are many collectors who’d have great interest in this. How about events in your region of the country?

The Great San Francisco Earthquake is a great part of U.S. Western history. Even today, all the stories about future quakes are compared to that one. I am sure there are great pieces from this era that can only be found by looking in every old trunk you run across.

What could be more vividly etched in our minds than 9/11 or the assassination of President Kennedy? I can’t count the times I’ve heard people reciting exactly where they were when these events happened.

Remember the Martin Luther King letters I told you about? They were found by a friend of mine in a box lot at a local auction house who holds auctions twice a month. He bought them for next to nothing. It wouldn’t surprise me, if today, these letters could bring over $10,000.

How about the original copy of the Declaration of Independence that was found behind a two dollar print? At one time, an auction house estimated this to be worth over $3.5 million. Since that time, this document has been sold at auction, however, I don’t remember the exact hammer price. You can be certain is was quite substantial.

In our hunt for items from history, we should always remember that most of these items aren’t discovered out in the open. Rather, they’re hidden in trunks, basements, attics, behind cheap framed prints, or in scrapbooks or shoeboxes just waiting for us to uncover them. Even if they are out in the open, most eyes can’t recognize them, because many people who see them don’t have the knowledge of history necessary to know their value.

The story of a box of several dozen love letters written by a sailor during the Second World War brought great interest to me recently. The article seemed to infer that these letters would have significant historical value, and therefore, dollar value. Why did this interest me? Because the day I saw that story, we had just purchased 147 letters from a Confederate Soldier written to his wife. If the first letters, written sixty years ago, were considered valuable, how about letters written 160 years ago during the Civil War – one of the most significant events in this country’s history?

Only so many Tiffany Glass pieces or Rookwood Pottery items were produced, but the number of items that have historical content are unlimited. This gives us a great opportunity each day to find one of these treasures, if we’ll only look.

I am sure that you can think of many more events from the past as well as the people associated with them, either nationally or local to your area. If these events mean something to you, they might also have importance to others. And they might hold some surprise value when a Collector wants to buy it from you. Who knows? A Historical Society or Museum might even be interested.

If you have found anything of historical significance, please send me an email describing it and I will share it with the rest of our members.

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