What's It Worth? Step Away From The Cleaning Equipment
There is a propensity for people bringing things to sell to completely clean and polish the items before they bring them in. In fact, cleaned and polished items may mean (to us) ruined items. Most serious collectors love to find things that are in relatively good to mint condition, but prefer to find them in their original state. The colloquial term for this is “as found” or “newly found;” fresh-to-market items are “barn finds.”
The term “barn finds” started with automobiles, and is now used in every aspect of collecting. Dealers sell barn finds as fresh-to-market, because many collectors don’t want something that’s been traded around from dealer to dealer for years. Some even sell proudly, noting ‘estate dust.’ Sotheby’s and Christie’s, for instance, have sold paintings for us with rips – but told us that potential buyers prefer to use their own restorers, plus it proves the piece is new to market.
There are many things that will be ruined or severely devalued if cleaned or polished. A dull, tarnished Samurai sword, for instance, may bring $1,000- $2,000, but if improperly polished, its value can plummet by 70 percent.
With rare coins, the prognosis is even worse. An untouched 1840s-era $20 gold coin can be worth $10,000. But if that same coin is polished or rubbed, its worth will drop to actual gold value, currently around $1,250 per ounce.
Barn finds are also desirable because the original owner of a watch, clock, vintage car or piece of jewelry may also have original documentation. As discussed in previous columns, original documents can increase value by 5 to 25 percent.
Lastly, bronze sculptures are very desirable with an even, natural patina from mild oxidation; heavily cleaned bronze is rendered close to worthless. Just to be safe, we would add that 99 percent of the time you should never clean an objet d’art, coin, antique or even a tarnished piece of silver without showing it to an expert first.
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