By DAVID GREEN
Larry Nelson waited a few minutes before tossing out the first tease to the audience Thursday night at Stair Public Library.
He examined a letter from President Taft, a German violin, a bisque doll and a Teddy bear, then looked over a sword, a music box and a porcelain bowl.
Finally, he couldn’t hold back any longer.
“I keep skipping one item,” the antique appraiser from Tecumseh said. “There is one item in the place that’s probably worth more than the building itself.”
And then he kept on skipping over it.
He moved on to a pair of old pendulum clocks, a Vienna art plate and an Elvis Presley record.
That kept the audience guessing. Would the next item Larry picked up be the big one?
Reaching for an Oriental vase, he said, “Did you think this might be a Ming vase?”
“I was hoping,” said the owner, laughing.
She asked about some odd markings at the top, but Larry wasn’t impressed.
“That’s just where the person got drunk when he was working on it.”
Five dollars is all he placed on the value of the vase.
He picked up a pair of small, red glasses—one with the name “Nellie” and one with the name “Bertha.” Unusual, but Larry had seen these things before.
“They used to give these away as souvenirs at fairs and you could have your name put on them,” he explained. “You’d have to find someone named Nellie and Bertha to get 30 bucks for the pair.”
“How did this get in here?” he asked, lifting up a ceramic pitcher. “Ten cents. It’s the lowest price of anything here.”
Larry put a value of $30 on an old Dietz lantern, and he called a small glass shoe “a nice collector’s item” and said it was worth $75.
Next, he picked up a small sterling silver calling card holder and he really liked what he saw.
“That’s wonderful,” he began. “That’s high quality, very detailed. That’s a great, great piece.”
Is this the one?
“You’d have no trouble selling it for $300.”
Back to the table.
A brass Jefferson clock: $65.
An Italian lamp, with some flowers broken off: $5.
Some really plain Depression glass: $15.
A Victorian brush and comb set from 1909: $25.
An attractive glass bowl: $125.
Earlier in the night, a steel toy was priced at $100 and a toy train (“remarkably good for its age”) was valued at $300 to $350.
Larry said a German violin showing some repair work could sell for $125. He looked over an old Teddy bear and said it would be priced at $65 in his shop.
Up to this point in the program, the most valuable item shown was a 1909 letter from President William Taft that explained why he couldn’t attend a peace conference in Chicago.
“It’s quite a piece,” Larry said. “Taft is highly collected among political and history people and this is one of a kind.”
Ordinarily his signature would bring in about $200, but due to the historical significance of the letter, Larry believed it could bring in up to $800.
A nice price, but it obviously wasn’t the Big One.
After he talked about the blue satin candy dish from the 1940s, there wasn’t much remaining that hadn’t yet been examined.
Suddenly Larry turned to the crowd with a pistol in his hand and a different look on his face.
“It’s amazing this is here,” he said. “These aren’t around, they just aren’t around. This is something you only see in museums.”
The 45 caliber pistol was packed in its original wooden case with the powder horn, flask, etc., still in place. It was a gift from someone who was a member of the Indiana calvary in the Civil War.
“It’s just amazing,” Larry said with obvious reverence for the piece. “All the details, all the carving on it. I haven’t seen a gun this nice in 20 years. It’s a work of art.”
Larry’s wife, Theresa, was busy on the internet throughout the night, checking details and searching prices to help her husband give informed appraisals.
“We did a little research and learned about the man who gave it,” Larry said. “He was pretty famous in the Civil War. This gun is phenomenal. I’d have to do a lot more research.”
From what Larry learned, the value of an item such as this has appreciated greatly in recent decades.
“Back in the 1980s, it would have only been worth $8,000,” he said. “This stuff has taken off so much. You get that to the right auction house, I know it could bring in $50,000.”
And that, he said, was a conservative guess.
Larry asked if he had missed anything and someone pointed out a rolled up document. It was the Declaration of Independence, made to look dark with age.
“Somebody was probably hoping this would be the biggie,” Larry said.
No such thing.
“It’s probably from a trip to Greenfield Village. One dollar.”
So it was the gun, the $50,000 pistol.
As the crowd was breaking up, former library director Liz Stella got Larry’s attention and said, “I have a bone to pick with you.
“You said there was an item worth more than this building and I know this building is worth a lot more than $50,000.”
Larry laughed and his wife came to his rescue.
“He’s better with old things than new ones,” Theresa said.
“And besides,” Larry added, “you know how property values are falling.”
NOTE: The owners of the pistol were quite surprised by the appraisal price. They wasted no time removing the item from their home and having it secured in a safety deposit box.
Trash or Treasure: An overview of some items appraised
Items appraised last week by Larry and Theresa Nelson, owners of the Hitching Post antique store in Tecumseh, included:
• Ice cream maker, probably from the 1860s or 70s.
“It’s one of the earliest ones I’ve seen,” Larry said. “It has dove-tailed corners. They took their time making it. It’s probably in the neighborhood of $200 to $250, maybe up to $300.”
The item was found in the basement of a former Morenci business.
• “Listen! The Wind,” a book autographed by the author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and her husband, Charles Lindbergh.
“The book would be worth $35, but in this case it’s been autographed by Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh.”
Charles Lindbergh did a lot of autographing, Larry said, but not so much with his wife’s name, also.
“It’s a nice thing to have. My guess: $300 to $400.”
• Golden Book child’s reading book.
“$15 to $20 for this one. Some Golden Books go as high as $300 to $400.”
• A bisque doll, with a card attached.
“The one in the photo is worth $500, but this is a knock-off, made in the 60s probably. Just for a shelf piece. It’s a $35 to $40 item.”
• Masonic Lodge Templar lodge sword.
“Fraternal swords aren’t worth what military swords are worth.”
Larry appraised it at $125.
• Music box
“This is a photo album and it’s also a music box. There’s a battleship on the cover and it plays ‘Remember the Maine.’”
Sometimes the photos inside items like this are worth more than the music box, Larry said, but this one appears to have only family photos.
“It’s a nice one and it has historical value. $450.”
• Japanese porcelain bowl.
“It was made to resemble a Ming Dynasty bowl. It’s probably from the 1960s and worth about $15.”
• Gingerbread or kitchen clocks.
There were two pendulum clocks brought in and one was in better shape than the other: $75 and $150.
• Vienna art plate.
“They were real popular at the turn of the century. The ones with advertising are more valuable.”
This one: $45. If it had a Coca-Cola ad on the back, $450.
• Egg scale.
“These used to be a dime a dozen. Martha Stewart must have had one on her show. People just go nuts over them. If you want to sell it, sell it while it’s hot.”
This one is in excellent condition and valued at $65.
• Elvis record album.
They’re hot to an Elvis collector, Larry said, but to anyone else.…
“Watch me be wrong,” he said as his wife searched the internet for prices.
He was right: $5, but maybe $30 if it were still sealed.
• Copper lustre creamer, 1825.
“The condition is fantastic. The copper luster has gone down, but this is worth $125.”
• Old watch.
“It looks like he found it at the bottom of Lake Erie. $5.”
• Gruen watch.
“It appears to be silver but it’s actually 14k white gold. It’s probably from the 1920s, I’d have to check the serial number.”
Items like this are usually filled, Larry said, but this is solid gold.
“This is worth $400.”
• Elgin watch.
“It’s a really beautiful engraved watch. It’s the real thing and it’s worth $400 to $450.”
• Velvet pipe tobacco tin.
“This is in beautiful condition. Some of these old tobacco tins can go for hundreds of dollars. Recently I watched one go for $12,000.”
But settle down; this is worth about 10 bucks. Too bad because the owner has three more like it at home.
• Razor kit.
They were given away in the 1920s with newspaper subscriptions.
“This one, being so clean, is probably worth $60.”
“They used to be hot but they’ve settled down. This one’s pretty rusted. About $12.”
• Elf candy dish.
“It’s funky and the funkier the better. You’d have no problem getting $200 out of it.”
Larry figures it was made in the 1950s or 60s and that appeals to a younger generation of buyers. They don’t want the old stuff, he said, they want the funky stuff they knew when they were growing up.
• McKinley/Roosevelt campaign button.
Roosevelt items are among the most popular political memorabilia, Larry said, but not with McKinley in front of his name. Only about $25 for this.
“Some of these buttons can go into the thousands.”
• Mourning hair necklace.
The long-chain necklace has a small chamber to hold a lock of a deceased loved one’s hair. $250.
• Victorian plate with woman’s image
“Is it true that if it has a breast hanging out it’s worth more?” asks an audience member.
“Well, of course!” says Larry.