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Many auctioneers volunteer (or are compensated) to conduct, “appraisal fairs,” on a somewhat regular basis. Typically, these are similar in nature to the well-known PBS show Antiques Roadshow where experts tell participants about their items and approximate present market value.

For auctioneers who conduct such events around the country, this allows schools, churches, and other organizations an opportunity to earn money by charging those wishing to have their items evaluated and appraised by experts.

The experts — many times auctioneers — are either compensated directly by the sponsoring organization, and/or gain business opportunities by passing out their business cards inviting future business to be directed to them.

I have conducted such events for many years, including an annual appraisal fair titled, “Trash or Cash: Antique Appraisal Clinic” for the Wood County Historical Center in Northwest Ohio and the Mount Moriah Appraisal Fair held annually in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Outside of shedding light on items for participants, and enjoying discussing where certain items came from or how items were acquired, there is one topic which usually brings a smile to any auctioneer helping with these types of events — how old items are deemed to be.

A typical example … Bob and Phyllis bring in a older oil lamp to have appraised. The conversation will usually go something like this:

    “Hi folks, I’m Mike, and you are?”

    “He’s Bob and I’m Phyllis.”

    “Great, and what do you have here?

    “We have an oil lamp …

    “Yes, you do. How did you come to have it?

    “Well, it was my grandmothers …”

    “It appears to be about 75 years old.”

    “Oh no, it’s much older than that. You see, my grandmother was 80 years old when she died, and that was nearly 40 years ago, so it has to be at least 120 years old …”

    “That’s interesting …”

This is when that aforementioned smile appears. It seems that many people believe that items can be dated in this fashion — as in the case of this oil lamp, it must be as old as the person who owned it.

Of course, this would require Phyllis’ grandmother to have been given this brand new oil lamp on the day she was born, and then, yes, it would be as old as her.

Yet, this is very rarely the case. Almost assuredly, Phyllis’ grandmother acquired this oil lamp sometime during her adult life, and could have even acquired it, as new, only a few years before her death — which could mean it is only a few years older than 40 years — not 120 years.

An even more glaring example was during an appraisal fair some years ago, when a participant insisted that his electric table lamp had to be nearly 200 years old due to his great grandfather having it.

Of course, no electric lamp would be older than the 1880’s and more likely would be from the 1930’s or 1940’s (or after) when electric service became more widespread in homes.

Appraisal fairs are wonderful events for organizations, auctioneers and the general public. Maybe just as important as determining market value, however, is helping people realize the true age of items?

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.