Don't Let Go Of That Family Silver Too Easily

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Shady appraisers and deceptive antiques dealers are a hazard to be avoided when trying to dispose of old — and potentially valuable — family belongings.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the biggest Scottish sensation since plaid. But first, if you have more possessions than you really need, summer is a good time to sell them. If some of them are antiques though, beware. Reporter Alice Furlaud is getting on in years. I don't like to hear that. She wrote that. But OK, she's not a teenager. And she warns her contemporaries to beware of antiques appraisers. The estate sale she had on Cape Cod this summer went well, but she hasn't forgotten the estate sale she wanted to have last summer.

ALICE FURLAUD: I keep rearranging my silver teapot and candlesticks and things on these closet shelves to cover the empty spaces left by an appraiser I'll call Mr. Dodge. Dodge was a tall, burly, jolly man of about 60 and a friend of a great friend of mine. This friend had brought him on a casual visit to my house in 2006. He told me Dodge was enormously rich and just had an antique shop for fun. So last year, when I wanted to sell a lot of things from this shabby old house on Lower Cape Cod, I asked Mr. Dodge to appraise them.

He'd been here for four hours writing down prices on a yellow pad when I got tired and had to stop. Then he said that he charged 300 dollars an hour for appraisals. Stupidly, I hadn't asked him what he charged, and I didn't have 1,200 dollars in the bank. He said he'd take it out in antiques. I'd opened this closet to show him things I didn't want to sell, and suddenly he became rapacious. He got between me and this closet and kept pulling out silver objects. He'd say things like, you don't need four pepper shakers. I'll take two.

Finally, he went off with more than 30 pieces of silver, including a muffin dish my grandmother won playing ping-pong in Berkeley, California, and a large silver ladle sticking out of his breast pocket. I'd have tried to stop him if he hadn't been a friend of my good friend. Also, my cat had liked him. I did call him two days later asking which pieces I could buy back. He said he'd sold them all the next day.

Mr. TOM STERN (Antiques Expert): I'm positive that's a lie. Now, this is a standard thing that someone would say when someone calls up.

FURLAUD: That's Tom Stern who managed my estate sale this year. He has an antique shop in Provincetown and a longstanding reputation for being honest.

Mr. STERN: This is outrageous. This is extortion. To come into someone's house and after three hours and say, you owe me 1,200 dollars. I would have called the police.

FURLAUD: At a sale the other day, Tom managed to sell a lot of my very personal things laid out on long tables in a very impersonal Quonset huttish building.

Mr. STERN: Those are wonderful. Again, Canton, this is another kind of... A dollar for the three, a dollar each, five each.

FURLAUD: That was my doll's house furniture.

Unidentified Dealer #1: Really.

FURLAUD: It comes from England, 1936. Now that's the radiator.

Unidentified Dealer #1: Yeah.

FURLAUD: And it's Chippendale chairs. There's the family dog, Jack, who's a bulldog.

Unidentified Dealer #1: OK.

Unidentified Dealer #2: These are chipped.

FURLAUD: Only dealers were interested in my dear old doll's house things. But they scorned the lovely old plates and cups I was brought up with.

Unidentified Dealer #2: I don't know this - this looks chipped.

FURLAUD: Still pretty, isn't it?

Unidentified Dealer #2: Oh, it has that chip in it though.

FURLAUD: Are you a real person, or are you a dealer?

Unidentified Dealer #2: I'm a dealer. And unfortunately when it has the little chips like that, you know, I just can't get as much money for it.

FURLAUD: I mean, you all - if the Holy Grail was chipped?

Unidentified Dealer #1: It wouldn't be worth anything.

FURLAUD: Back at my house, Tom gave me the proceeds of the sale, $1,953.45. He was still appalled at what he called the extortion by Mr. Dodge, the appraiser who came last year.

Mr. STERN: You don't have 10,000-dollar paintings. You don't have 10,000-dollar pieces of silver here. To pay 300 dollars an hour to get appraisals, you have to be talking about things that are worth that kind of money.

FURLAUD: Looking at Mr. Dodge's price list of what he'd taken from me, Tom Stern was sure these appraisals were much too low, so the appraiser could take more. And looking at Dodge's yellow pad, he saw something I hadn't noticed.

Mr. STERN: On the bill, it was travel time.

FURLAUD: Oh, I didn't see that.

Mr. STERN: Three hundred and fifty dollars travel time.

FURLAUD: No, I didn't see that.

Mr. STERN: Yes, 1,200 dollars plus 350 dollars.

FURLAUD: So, here's a warning to any old folks who are as gullible as I was. Don't sell anything to appraisers. And when you have a sale, don't include any china that isn't perfect. As for me, to help me forget this experience I'm having a cup of calming chamomile tea. It's in an old pink and white cup I love. It's cracked and it leaks just a little into the slightly chipped saucer. I'm glad I never put it in that sale. For NPR News, I'm Alice Furlaud on antique-mad Cape Cod.

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