Today's Treasures: What People Want to Buy from Estates


Today's Treasures - Today's Treasures: What People Want to Buy from Estates: multiple empty colored picture frames stacked against one another

Every week I walk through homes and talk with people about their families' belongings. We look at fine antiques, lovingly accumulated collections of knickknacks, and rooms filled with revered memories and heirlooms from previous generations.

And every time, I am the bearer of the new reality of the secondary market. Things are worth only what someone is willing to pay, and often it is not much. Still, there can be some surprising "Unexpected Treasures."

The market for used personal possessions has changed dramatically. Baby boomers now in their 60s and 70s (and their long-living parents too) are parting with heirlooms and houses full of stuff. Often to their surprise, their children and grandchildren do not want much.

The market in the Bay Area is flooded with antique furniture, art, sets of fine china, brilliant cut glass, silver-plated coffee sets and trays, collector plates, figurines, fine linens, and older but still useful household stuff. Baby boomers and boomers' parents are divesting lifetimes of accumulations, family heirlooms from previous generations, and the memories associated with their things. Young people, for the most part, are not interested.

Today's buyers are young adults. Their lifestyles and tastes are different from their parents'. They are busy and casual (note the disappearance of formal dining rooms and dens). They value dining out over entertaining at home. They are on the go and busy. Their taste is dominated by stores like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Family heirlooms are out. Simplicity and usefulness are in.

Treasures of Today

Buyers today want a "look" that is streamlined, practical, simple, and easy to care for.

  • Mid-century modern furniture from the 1950s-60s like Danish and Scandinavian teak, Herman Miller, Eames

  • Minimalist lighting, rugs, and décor

  • Dinnerware and glassware that is easy care and can go into the dishwasher and microwave

They want well-known expensive names in everything from kitchenware (All Clad, Dansk, Le Creuset, Kitchen Aid) to purses and scarves (Hermes, Kate Spade). It must be in good condition. If vintage, they want to be able to use or wear it.

  • American Indian jewelry

  • Vinyl records for young collectors of jazz, rock & roll, Beatles, Grateful Dead

  • Musical instruments, especially fine guitars

  • Fabrics, buttons, trims for sewing

  • Men's fine wristwatches

  • Architectural salvage like wrought iron and California tile

If valuable, there are good buyers.

  • Silver and gold coin collections

  • Fine jewelry

  • Anything relating to local or Western history including early Silicon Valley

  • Museum quality Asian furniture and decor

  • Historic scientific instruments

  • Anything old, rare, fine, and in excellent condition

Condition is extremely important. Items that are stained, scratched, cracked, repaired, or marred in any way may have little value.

Remember: Don't throw anything away before it's been reviewed by a knowledgeable seller or appraiser.

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Judy Johnson has been intimately involved with estate sales and custom liquidation for 30 years. Her skill as a professional organizer and project manager is enhanced by her background in historical and antiques research with the Oakland Museum, DeYoung and the Legion of Honor.


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