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Friday, 17 February 2017


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Great reminder Mike, great topic.

In helping my very elderly in-laws move out of their home a few years ago, it was very hard to communicate this trough to them. The M-i-L was very stuck on the idea of "it is old, it has to be valuable". No, no it doesn't. And here's the catch - it may *never* escape the right side of the trough before it is destroyed or lost.

I chased down the value of some confederate money they happened to have. The sad fact is that if somebody had instead placed those small (and common) bills in a simple savings account before the end of the civil war and left it there until now, it would be worth much, much more (orders of magnitude) than current ebay value for this sad, wrinkled and torn confederate bill. (Assuming the deposit was a Union bank, the bank didn't fail prior to FDIC, nobody along the way withdrew the money and account ownership was updated generation to generation - product of those probabilities is small, to be fair).

That might change in a hundred years - but the bill has to be "curated" and cared for until then. Right now, too many samples are still available.

In an interesting twist, a bill from a bank in Florida (back when banks printed their own currency) from the 1830s might be worth the trouble to actually sell as such things are much less common than confederate currency - despite being only 30 years older.

Like almost every other kid in America, we play the hits of our time. In my kid era, we tossed 45's onto our crude players and listened away. I must have bought a dozen copies of Elvis Presley's Hound Dog & Don't Be Cruel cuz we wore them out lightening fast. I thought if had I kept a few of those unplayed, they would be worth a fortune now. But I took a peak on eBay and saw so-called "new" copies selling for very little. I was really surprised by such low values - so either these are pressings made later that are actually newer than the versions I would have played or a hell of lot of folks did what I didn't do and saved a few!

As for computers, as a service tech for a successful small town mom-pop style shop and then operating on my own, I probably have built a ton of machines and handled all the different makes and models spanning about 40 years. Customers brought to me many beautiful machines to recycle (a service I always offered). I could have kept most of them running for many more years and toyed with the idea of keeping what I thought were "classics". But you highlighted two of the key issues - "storage" and "will this become really valuable someday?" The answer to the latter is a crap shoot, plus chances are you keep the "wrong" model :-)

Our thoughts are very much in sync as I posted a strikingly similar topic this morning......www.peinews.blogspot.com

Thanks for providing some food for thought on the issue.

FREE BOATS I worked as a Yacht Broker for 30 years. We had an expression: "If someone offers you a free wooden boat, turn around and run as fast as you can". Here are 11 free wooden boats. Some are very adoptable....Good Luck ! BTW I have called a couple of times, so much for the turning around advice.

My example of a camera which has no value (well, I bought it for $49.00 plus tax) is my Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super BC. It's an early SLR, about 1960-ish, with an unusual interchangeable lens arrangement, a no-return mirror (stays up after the shutter is tripped) and a light meter. The Zeiss lenses are marvelous (mine's the 50 mm f/2.8) and the camera still works just fine. I can think of some other items I own that are worth next to nothing but still work as good as they ever did. I'm sure when I'm gone they will end up in somebody's landfill, even though they are still usable. But what are you going to do?

With best regards,


The value of anything is what someone is willing to pay for it.
The move from metal to plastic lunch boxes was supposedly because some child (kids are baby goats) was hit in the head with a metal box. Plastic was thought to be less likely to inflict the damage that metal could.

The same effect of craftsmanship on survival can be seen at work in painting. There are plenty of truly dreadful old paintings that survive merely because they were nicely framed. Conversely, more than a few brilliant paintings have been lost because they were painted on cheap Upson board or cardboard that disintegrated from acidity within a few short years.
One problem with painting is that you never know when lightning is going to strike. I can't tell in advance if a painting is going to be a success, and therefore worth committing an expensive oil-primed linen panel to it. So unfortunately some of my best paintings are on cheap (and non-archival) canvas panels, while plenty of forgettable efforts have wasted a good linen surface. At least I can scrape them down and try again if it's a total loss.
With photographs by comparison, digital printing saves a lot of grief and wasted money. I have a pretty good idea which prints will succeed based on the image on the monitor and some judicious proofing. So I don't waste too many expensive sheets of cotton rag paper on mediocre photographs.

That same trough could be applied to mechanical watches, which for better or worse, I've gotten "into" the last two years (as if photography and high-end audio weren't enough...sheesh.) As an example, the original Rolex Daytona "Paul Newman" was originally a tough sell when it was new. No one was buying it and it was often discounted by Rolex dealers, which almost never happens with that particular brand. Having gone down the trough and now coming well up the other end, the "Paul Newman" is revered by many as a "grail piece" and is selling, on average, for well over $150,000 in the collectors market.


A few years ago, my twin daughters started school and I (naturally) when shopping for a lunch box for each of them. I expected to find dozens of places offering cheap metal lunchboxes. I couldn't find a single one. I went to Target, Walmart, several supermarkets, dollar stores, hardware stores, any place I could think of. I didn't find a single one. I was completely perplexed. I find it somewhat sad, but also completely perplexing. Frankly, they were quite practical...


A few years ago, my twin daughters started school and I (naturally) went shopping for a lunch box for each of them. I expected to find dozens of places offering cheap metal lunchboxes. I couldn't find a single one. I went to Target, Walmart, several supermarkets, dollar stores, hardware stores, any place I could think of. I didn't find a single one. I was absolutely astonished. I find it somewhat sad, but also completely perplexing. Frankly, they were quite practical...


I've kept a circa 1946 Montgomery Ward Photography catalog because of it's high quality, and because it features a Kodak Ektra 35 mm camera, Kodak's entry into the Leica/Contax market. It had many color photographs printed on heavy matte paper, about 40 pages as I recall. I suppose it is climbing that steep slope after being in the trough many years.

The story about the ax is a variation on the old thought experiment known as the ship of Theseus. Theseus, over the course of his many years of travel, replaces every plank in his ship. Does this mean it is the same vessel, or a different one? (The Wikipedia article mentions the ax story as well, crediting it to both George Washington and Abe Lincoln.)

That most things we own will never have that kind of "resale" value and will never get past the trough reiterates the meaning of the expression about it being better to collect memories and experiences than things (the expression has infinite similar versions).

Based on the idea that most (or, more likely, none) of my photos will ever be worth anything to anyone after I am gone, in the past year I started going through and discarding excess stuff -- keeping all decent pictures of family & pets, but only the best photos of all other subjects. I am no longer particularly concerned about making infinite numbers of backups (and backups of backups) or saving every last image. A couple of copies of the good stuff is enough. It's a relief too.

At some point long ago, one of the famous industrial designers was asked why we could not save all of the stuff people bought. His reply was: Where would you keep all of it?

If one considers how much stuff is manufactured in one year, and you saved everything ever made. We would be buried by it. Imagine every car every made still being around and the space they would take up.

I happen to have the first automatic popup toaster model ever made, serial number 3,333. This is from around 1921-24. Barely a handful still exist. The bodies were cast aluminum and as large as old style cash registers. They were nearly 20 years old when WW2 started. Most of the first model toasters disappeared in the metal drives.

If we saved all of the cameras and photos: where would we put all of them? When would there be time to peruse all of the old photos when billions are generated every day.

Most of it cannot and will not, survive for very many years. Most of it is discarded when it has no use to the current owner. As time passes, a lot of the knowledge of what humanity has manufactured is lost along with the items. As one writer in the antiques field write: Collectors are the best preservers of knowledge.

As much as we are enjoying photography now, can you imagine that in 1,000 years, most of the photography materials that exist from the earliest surviving photo to now, will no longer exist. Including all of us, most nations, and the buildings and structures around us.

"...The move from metal to plastic lunch boxes was supposedly because some child was hit in the head with a metal box..."

Um...that would have been me, circa 1961. I threw my metal lunch box as far as I could which turned out to be about 6 inches before it hit my buddies face. Ouch!

Regarding the quality of log cabins, in 1866 my mother's great-grandfather moved from upstate New York to Minnesota, where he bought land that had a log cabin on it. As he wrote in his diary, it had "nothing to brag of except perfectly free circulation of air." Of Minneapolis he wrote: "Their 500 tenements going up this summer are a humbug There is not fifty good substantial buildings going up there this season tho’ perhaps there are 500 shanties."

If you wait long enough, worthless items will become priceless.

I recently found two unopenened rolls of Kodachrome, both well over 30 years old. To my astonishment, I discovered that they typically sell for £6 - £7 each on eBay.


With classic motorcycles, the more popular machines have risen to such high prices that less popular machines have been pulled along in the slipstream. This means that certain models that were never very good even when brand new are at silly prices.

One example is the Honda 250 Superdream. Built for the 250cc learner bike market in the UK, it was essentially a slightly overweight 400cc motorcycle (that was actually quite good) with a 250cc engine.

This made it into a slow and tedious motorcycle. It was popular, because it looked far too big and heavy (it was) to be a 250. At one time in the practical world of impoverished biking, you literally couldn't give old ones away. Now they are going for about £1,000 to £1,250.

My 750cc bike was in production around the same time. It can be found for sale now for less than the Superdream. It seems to have been overlooked by the classic brigade, and no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.

The value of anything is what someone is willing to pay for it.
No. If at all, the price of anything is what someone is willing to pay for it.

My maternal grandparents were born in the late 19th century. I remember as a child in the 1960s being given free reign to rummage through their attic, and many times in those years looking at and playing with a trove of glass plate negatives I found there. Some were neatly arranged, and some carelessly tossed about. Some were broken, but most were intact. There were hundreds of them. I used to hold them up to the light streaming through the attic window and study them, wondering at the figures there, the men in bowler hats and the women wearing bustles. Many were formal portraits, but some were informal documentary photos, showing houses and churches in various states of assembly. When you turned them at a certain angle you could see the positive image.

Both my grandparents died in the 1970s. I'm guessing most of their glass plate negatives, if not all, were an inheritance from their own parents. I've since enquired with my mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins about these negatives, but no one remembers them. The assumption is that they were thrown away before my grandparents' house was sold. In the 1970s most people would have regarded glass plate negatives such as these old-fashioned but worthless, much as we regard old family snapshots today.

Digital material is far more ephemeral than glass plate negatives. I note with some delight that you have extended the "new or in use" period of your article here by re-publishing it eight years after it first appeared. It's just as good now as it was then. Maybe keeping things in the public eye is key to maintaining value in the digital age.

End table? Stool? Speaker stand!!

I just saw on Antiques Roadshow that in the US antique prices keep falling and falling because of two reasons. The first is that Millenials are living a more urban lifestyle. Preferring to live in cities than in the suburbs like their parents. Less space for all those big antiques. The second reason, which may be a offshoot of the first reason is that they prefer a more "modern" look. Think IKEA. Someone mentioned when the grandparents die or even now baby boomers nobody wants their old stuff, except photographs...

I also wanted to point out that film camera prices have risen significantly in the past couple of years on the wave of film nostalgia. Same with vinyl records and now I hear that cassettes and reel to reel are making a comeback!

Adam - searching for "metal lunchbox" on Amazon, I found that they have many to choose from, for reasonable prices.
Sometimes it's nice to buy something at a local store, but if you have to visit more than 2 stores, it's time to give up and get it from Amazon.

A category to add to "antique, collectable or archivable" - 'newly usable', which applies to many old orphaned lenses since the advent of mirrorless cameras with short flange to sensor distances, and live view focusing aids.

Your post has aged rather well, Mike; demonstrating an alternative measure of value and what is worth keeping.

When I go to antique marts, they usually have maybe 20x20' or some sort of divided spaces for various dealers to sell their wares. I've often wondered, "What from today will be in those booths in 50-100 years?" I can't imagine anyone will want out old electronics.

Several years ago, I took possession of about 400 cyanotype prints taken by my G-G-G Uncle J R Moore between 1897 and his death in 1901. He was a member of the Camera Club of New York, a good friend of Alfred Stieglitz, and had had photographs selected for exhibitions in NY, Chicago, Boston, and London. Some photos had captions, but most did not. I wanted to know more about them so the first thing I did was scan them and put them on the web.

You can see them here:

When Ridgway died, all of his gear, prints, and negatives went to his nephew, Vincent Irick, who shared his uncle's love of photography. I later learned that Vincent had made the prints I had after his uncle's death and taken them to his Grandfather's home (Ridgway's father's home) where my sister eventually rescued them from the attic and gave them to me to preserve. Family history said all the negatives, and other photography "junk" had been thrown out by Vincent's widow after his death in 1949.

Vincent lived in Vincentown, NJ in the Southhampton Township and a number of the prints I have were actually taken by Vincent in and around the Township. That turned out to be critical because a member of the Southhampton Historical Society discovered my website while searching for historic photos of the Vincentown area. We exchanged info by email and I thought that would be the end of the story, but a week later, I received another email from him. Someone in Vincentown had brought a box of glass plate and film negatives to the historical society. Her husband had died several years ago and she was cleaning out the garage. She wasn't sure if anyone would want the negatives.

The historical society sent a request to members for someone to look through the negatives to see what they had. The fellow that found my website volunteered to check out the negatives and the first plate he looked at he recognized as a self-portrait of my uncle from my website. (Yes, people have been taking selfies for well over 100 years.)

Most of my uncle's negatives were there. 200 or so glass plates from the Nipigon River trip were missing. It turns out that Vincent's widow did start throwing the negatives away, but one of her sons saw what she was doing and rescued what she hadn't destroyed. He wasn't a photographer, so he gave them to a friend who was. They sat in a box in the friends garage for the next 50 years or so until his widow turned them into the historical society. Sometimes the photo gods smile on you.

I agree, photos survive if they become valuable to someone. If they can last 100 years, they will usually become valuable enough. The problem with the billions of photos taken today is that virtually all are ephemeral with no artifact to survive. My solution is to print everything important to me and include written documentation. It doesn't guarantee survival, but it sure beats ones and zeros in a phone or in the cloud.

Have I ever tossed a perfectly good computer...this morning I had a conversation with my class about Digital Asset Management and migrating data forward. I told them I still have a Syqyest disk I purchased in the mid 1990s for around $90. It holds a whopping 40MB of data--data I can't access because no one has a Syquest drive. But somewhere, there's a collector of "antique" technology who does.

And craftsmanship: I had a friend in college who observed that people who disliked modern art probably had little to worry about because so much of it was so poorly constructed.


Eight years after your article originally appeared, this from Forbes via a link on the Hemmings Daily Blog:

Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents' Stuff:


linked from this site:


Too bad so many young people are perfectly happy with cheap particle board furniture. But yes, the solid, old furniture is a real bear to move around.

The theme of these comments seems to be the value, or at least the price that curated old things can command, even when the curator was quixotic and now forgotten. I've certainly seen that high shelf surrounding a public room in a restaurant, a diner, a bar filled with trains, cars, even beer bottles. To me the value is that I might look at them, enjoy them, and think about the person to whom they were valuable, even ask for their story. There was a similar high shelf filled with old cameras behind glass around the main showroom at Keble and Schuchat, in Palo Alto, CA, which recently closed. I hear that this was only the tip of a much larger collection, and that the collection will someday soon have its own building. I hope so, and I will certainly try to visit if it happens, but I and many others have already gotten value from the collection.

Similarly, we currently have four paintings, framed simply and on the walls in our not very large apartment. One by my grandmother, one by a great aunt, one found in the trash, and a lovely large watercolor by a no longer fashionable Brandywine School artist. We like them all. I might try to find a permanent home for the watercolor someday, but the rest depend on personal associations for their value and survival. I feel the same about my photos.


[The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, would be interested in your "lovely large watercolor" and you'd surely get a significant tax write-off. It's a great little museum rich in Wyeths and the other Brandywine artists, well worth a visit. --Mike]

I have found that anything I decided to keep has ended up valueless, whereas the things I discarded or allowed to slip away are now insanely valuable.

With this experience I am now fairly sure that I can predict what is worth preserving.

Unfortunately it has taken most of a lifetime to learn, so I shall have been long-dead by the time my present day choices emerge from the "trough of low value"

Love the roll top desk. 50 years ago my mom wanted one but had little money. She searched and finally found one, a real beauty. It was a woman selling it. It was in her basement. My mom being a bit shrewd warned me not to show any excitement if it was nice and what she was looking for. Well it was amazing, with over 50 custom made drawers. I contained my glee. I was 10 yrs young. My mom said, "well, it's not exactly what I'm looking for (a white lie if there ever was one) and offered $100. The woman said oh I can't take less than $200. My mom reached in for her bingo winnings, said I've got $150, take it or leave it. The woman said deal. It broke down into seven pieces and we made a couple of trips with my dad's 1963 blue and white Checker cab and brought it home. It now resides in my sister's home, as beautiful as ever.

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