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Are You a Curator or a Warehouse Clerk?
by Bob Brooke


 

Dealing with the possessions or collections a loved one leaves behind can be a real challenge. All of a sudden, you have to deal with objects and documents that you probably donít know much about. You may already have a family of your own and little space for these inherited items.



Popular television shows like The Antiques Roadshow and American Pickers do little in helping you understand just how to deal with these family treasures. Do you sell them off or keep them?

There are three directions you can goósell off everything you donít want or canít use, store the items until you figure out what to do with them, or in the case of collections, learn about the items and add to the collections or add the items to your own collections.

What to do with all that stuff
The biggest problem today is that adult children donít want all that stuff their parents collected.

In many cases, adult children have been living on their own and raising their own families. Over the years, they, too, have acquired a number of things. A mother may have a set of fine Lenox or Haviland china that she loves dearly. Her older daughter may also have a set of good china that she purchased or received as a wedding gift. Letís face it, no one needs two sets of china these days.

And what may have held lots of nostalgic memories for parents usually holds none for their children.



The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be usedóand treasuredófor life. Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to show how successful they had become. This continued through the 1950s and 1960s.

Selling objects collected over the years presents serious problems today. In many cases, the market has become saturated with collectibles because so many were produced. As for disposing of antiques, the market is down and the chances of getting top dollar arenít very good. Blundering through this selling process without doing any market research can result in losing money. Because of online auctions, many people take the easy way out, assuming that the sale prices for items are equal to their market value.

Overwhelmed by the shear amount of items they inherit, some people just put them in storage, planning on dealing with them later. But putting off the inevitable only compounds the problem. These people become, in essence, warehouse clerks, storing the items in self-storage units with high monthly fees or shifting the boxes around trying to make a place for them in an already overcrowded home.

Finally, thereís the person who takes an interest in the items or collections and curates them. A curator cares for a collection, inventories it, displays it, and helps it grow by culling duplicate or less valuable items and upgrading by purchasing better ones. In order to curate a collection, you must be educated about the items in it, not just their value but their history.



The problem with inherited collections is that they possesses the passion of the original collector in the type of items collected, their selection, and range. Collecting is a process. For some people a passion. This cannot be transferred to future generations unless theyíre actively involved in the amassing the original collection. For instance, a father might pass on his passion for collecting postage stamps to his son or daughter.

Unless a child accompanies their parent on the hunt and is involved in the selection of items for the collection, he or she has no idea why their parent purchased the items.

Learning about what you have
The first step in disposing of or curating an inherited collection or collections, is to find out what you have. You should generally know what the objects are called and with that you can start your search.

Sometimes, the objects themselves may tell a story. Look for marks and signatures on the objects themselves. You can either search for marks from a particular manufacturer or consult books on antique and collectible marks at the public library.

But getting information about an inherited collection, especially a larger one, can take time. If you know or suspect that the objects you inherited are somewhat valuable, then you should consider consulting a certified antiques appraiser.

Once you learn generally about the items youíve inherited, itís time to take an inventory of it. If the pieces havenít already been catalogued, you should give each piece a number, note itís name and a short description of it. Then as you find out more information, you can add it to each itemís inventory description.

Now comes the fun part. Once you inventory your loved oneís collection, itís time to ugrade or add to it. To raise money to buy better pieces, most collectors sell off lesser pieces, thus upgrading the entire collection. Educating yourself as much as possible about the items you have is an important part of appreciating them.

If you suspect or definitely know that some or all of the items youíve inherited are valuable, you should consider consulting a certified antiques appraiser.

Finding a qualified appraiser
Take care when choosing an appraiser. The field isnít tightly regulated, so just about anyone can call themselves one. However, the International Association of Appraisers certifies its members who generally specialize in certain categories of antiques and collectibles.

Certified appraisers clearly state their areas of expertise up front and will refer you to a more appropriate colleague if necessary. But beware of any ďexpertĒ who seeks to purchase your item or offers to sell it for a commission.

Expect to pay your appraiser an hourly rateómost charge $150 to $250 per hour. For that youíll receive a written report, detailing his or her research, including an analysis of comparable sales data and estimated values for your inherited objects, thatís accepted legally by the courts and insurance companies. While a verbal appraisal will give you an idea of what an item is worth, itís not accepted legally.

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