Entries in Antiques (2)


Rare Robert E. Lee Photo Found at Goodwill Is Auctioned

Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc. and Richard Schaffer(HARPERS FERRY, W.Va.) -- Some go to Goodwill for jeans, furniture, maybe even some good DVDs if they’re lucky. But when Richard Schaffer of Harpers Ferry, W.V., perused Goodwill he stumbled across a small photograph of Robert E. Lee that looked old enough to be real.

He eventually paid $23,000 for it.

“It looked like s*** honestly and that’s what appealed to me,” said Schaffer.

That was enough to make Schaffer, 45, take a second look. When the photograph was first posted on Goodwill’s online site,, it was only $4.

But then something happened. Suzanne Kay-Pittman, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, said that the price started shooting up.

“In 18 hours, it was above $6,700,” Kay-Pittman said.

Goodwill took the picture offline and to Larry Hicklen, who runs several Civil War antique shops near Stone River battlefield. He dated it circa 1865-1870. He described it as a tin type photograph, probably not an original, but maybe a copy of original. He said that the pose had not been seen before but noted that the image was very similar to the famous “floppy tie” Civil War portrait. This photograph, however, had a slightly different facial expression and faces a different direction.

Good enough for Goodwill, the company reposted the picture on Aug. 31. Several days, 131 bids, and over 40,000 page views later, Schaffer finally acquired the rare piece.

Schaffer, a veteran antique collector, has still not laid eyes on the actual photograph and will not until Kay-Pittman hand-delivers it to him Monday at his Harpers Ferry restaurant, Secret Six Tavern. Then he will have it examined by his own private firm in Washington, D.C.

There are risks. The picture could end up being an absolute fake and be worth less than $1,000. Schaffer says that $23,000 isn’t all that much in the antique world and is just part of the gamble.

“You may win or you may lose,” said Schaffer. “It’s like the stock market.”

But if he wins, he would win big. He estimates that if the picture really is as rare as he believes, it could easily be worth six figures.

And if he loses, it will have just been an auction casualty. He says that Goodwill seems willing to work with him if the picture turns out to be a fake. Even if his money is not returned, Schaffer takes comfort in knowing that his money is going to a good place.

“It’s a very important charitable organization, truly one of the finest nonprofits in the U.S.,” said Schaffer.

Kay-Pittman notes that, through the sale of this one item, Goodwill will be able to train 69 people to go out and get jobs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gold: Seven Things to Know Before You Sell

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Selling gold never has been easier -- or riskier. With prices of the precious metal hitting records almost daily, and with fear and uncertainty continuing to roil the world's financial markets, gold buyers are eager to pay top dollar for any jewelry, coins or bars you care to part with.

Never have there been so many choices on where and how to sell. In Texas, you can pick up a nice steak for dinner and unload your tiara at the same time: Gold and Silver Buyers, the state's biggest buyer of precious metals, has its stores conveniently located inside or alongside supermarkets.

Since May, eBay has been offering a new feature on its site -- a Bullion Center. Spokesperson Johnna Hoff says it was created "to be a one-stop destination" consolidating trade in all types of bullion -- gold and silver coins and bars, primarily. The terms and conditions that apply to the sale of a gold bar are no more onerous than those that apply to somebody who sells a toaster, a football jersey, or anything else on eBay: Small, casual sellers (non-professionals) pay eBay nine percent of the price for which their bullion sells, when and if it does. There's no charge for listing. Small sellers, says Hoff, accounted for about one-third of bullion sold last week on eBay.

Whether you sell your gold online, at a local jeweler or through a pawn shop, it's possible, if you're not careful, to wind up with less than its full value. To avoid getting taken, keep these seven points in mind:

Shop Around. No matter how or where you ultimately chose to sell, start locally. Take your gold to a reputable local jeweler or pawn shop and ask them to estimate its value. That way, you'll at least have a base price in hand before you solicit online bids or other offers. You don't need to worry that you're abusing the good nature of your local businesses, says Dave Crume, past president of the National Pawnbrokers Association and vice president of Wichita, Kansas, pawnbroker A-OK Enterprises. They're in business to give estimates, and they'll give them for free. "Go to three or four stores," he advises, "and compare." To locate your nearest pawnbroker, try the National Pawnbrokers Association website.

Beware 'Rogue' Buyers. Crume cautions sellers about doing business with transient gold dealers whom he calls "rogue" buyers (also known as "hotel" or "pop-up" buyers). They blow into town, run ads promising high prices, and set up shop, say, in a hotel ballroom. After vacuuming up a city's worth of jewelry and coins, they disappear, sometimes leaving their victims un- or underpaid.

Don't Mix Karats. Among the new places to sell your gold are Tupperware-like "gold parties" like those organized by Premier Gold Parties, where a group of friends or neighbors meet to socialize and sell their gold in a home setting. "While gold parties may be a convenient way to make some cash," warns Tucson's Better Business Bureau, "they may not provide you the best deal." Why not? Too many hands in the pot: the company that organized the party gets its cut, and so does the host. At some parties, all jewelry is weighed together, regardless of its karat value, and sellers are paid according to the lowest karat value. Don't accept those terms. Separate your jewelry in advance, by karat, and make sure you are paid more for higher-karat items.

Keep an Eye on the Scale. While the accuracy of scales used by jewelers and pawnshops is verified periodically by the department of weights and measures, the same may not be true for scales used by hotel or house party buyers. The Better Business Bureau advises sellers to pay close attention to how their gold is being weighed: Jewelers value gold not by the ordinary ounce (28 grams) but by the Troy (31.1 grams). While some buyers pay according to the gram, others use a system called pennyweight: A pennyweight is equivalent to 1.555 grams. A seller needs to make sure he's not being weighed by pennyweight and paid by the gram, since that would allow the buyer to get more gold for less money.

Read the Fine Print.
Sell Gold HQ, a website that reviews and compares online gold buyers, advises sellers to compare terms and conditions carefully. "Even when consumers use a legitimate site that buys gold online," says the company in a statement, "it is easy to make a costly mistake by not reading the fine print. For example, some websites offer free shipping to send in gold, but very high shipping rates if the consumer declines the offer and asks for he gold to be returned." Check the buyer's policy, too, on reimbursement if they lose your gold. Many offer only limited liability.

Check Credentials. Ask a potential buyer to show you his credentials: If he's legitimate, he'll be licensed by the state to buy gold. He will also be required by law to ask you, the seller, to produce a driver's license, passport or some other form of government-issued identification. That requirement exists to frustrate money laundering and the sale of stolen property. If your buyer does not ask to see your ID, take your business elsewhere.

Is It Scrap--or History? Before you sell a gold item to be melted down for scrap, make sure it's not worth more in its present form. Brian Witherell, operations manager of Sacramento, Calif., antiques dealer Witherell's, gives this example: A seller brought him an antique item -- a small gold watch fob made in the shape of a railroad spike. "It was a little thing," Witherell recalls, and would not have brought much as scrap. Upon inspection, the fob turned out to have been fashioned out of gold left over from making the famous full-sized golden spike used in 1869 to commemorate completion of the transcontinental railroad. At auction, it sold for $20,000.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio