What is it? What’s It Worth?

Since its introduction in 1984, the column “What Is It? What Is It Worth?” has been a favorite of Country Living reader. With the help of our panel of antiques experts, we’ve assessed the value of nearly 2,000 items, ranging from upscale pieces to dumpster dives. The most popular item? chair. The oldest and most valuable item? Gold coins dating back to AD 117-161! Here, we’ve gathered our favorites worthy of the “What Is It? What Is It Worth?” haul of fame. (You know we never pass up a good pun.)

19th Century Lehnware Bucket

What to Know: “Your wooden bucket (probably white oak) is called Lehnware, after Joseph Lehn (1798-1892), a Pennsylvania artisan who painted everyday woodenware with repetitive floral and geometric sequences,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman.

What It’s Worth: $22,000 (appraised Nov 2001)

Market Report: “In today’s auction market, extreme rarities are breaking records left, right, and sideways. Pristine rare pieces by known makers, such as this Lehnware bucket or the Tiffany lamp (below), continue to rise in value.” — Appraiser Helaine Fendelman

Tiffany Lamp

What to Know: “Your table lamp appears to be a late-19th-century piece made early in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s career,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman. “The lead stained glass shade is original; however, the finish on the copper base is not. It is highly polished and exhibits little evidence of any aging or patina. It is possible to have an artificial patina applied, but value declines dramatically—by at least 30 percent—when a new surface is added.”

What It’s Worth: $12,000 (appraised Nov 2004)

Circa-1920 Adirondack Chair

What to Know: “In 1903, Thomas Lee created the very first versions of the popular Adirondack chair for his family’s use at their Upstate New York home,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman. Later that year, Lee shared his design with his friend, carpenter and shop owner Harry Bunnell, as a favor to help Bunnell bring in extra money during the off-season. Bunnell began making and selling the chairs, but—without telling Lee—also applied for and received the 1905 patent to manufacture his friend’s design, which he did under the HC Bunnell name for the next 25 years. Your piece was likely made around 1920 and is an early form of American Art Deco with roots in European Cubism and constructivism. “Because they were used outdoors, these chairs rarely survived,” says Helaine. “Yours still has most of its original paint, which is also rare.”

What It’s Worth: $15,000 (appraised July/August 2018)

America’s Cup Oil Painting

What to Know: British painter Charles Gregory (1810-1896) was renowned for his realistic yacht portraits. “His work typically sells in the $3,000 range, but this one is worth more due to the scene it depicts,” says Marsha Bemko, Antiques Roadshow executive producer, who consulted with show appraiser Aaron Bastian. Your painting shows the America’s Cup yacht race in 1870, during which the United States’ magic defeated the British vessel Cambria. (The victory began a US winning streak that lasted until 1983.)

What It’s Worth: $10,000 (appraised Nov 2014)

Circa-1887 Salesman’s Sample

What to Know: “Your salesman’s sample is from the Albion Union Windmill Company of Albion, Michigan, founded in 1876 by LJ Wolcott, an inventor of several windmill designs,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman. “The wooden replica is an exact scale model of one of the 10-foot to 12-foot-tall windmills that farmers used to pump water. Salesman’s samples are desirable and valuable, especially those with their original parts.”

What It’s Worth: $3,500 (appraised Feb 2006)

1930s-1940s Hand Painted Sign

What to Know: Antiques Roadshow executive producer Marsha Bemko shared your family treasure with appraiser James Supp of Coronado Trading Co., who tells us, “Until recently, hand-painted signs were everywhere, from storefronts to the sides of buildings. The style of your wonderful sign dates it to sometime around 1930 to 1940. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about the painter of the sign, Fayer, but this is not uncommon, as most of the painters were trade workers. Advertising art is still a very strong area of ​​collecting, and hand-painted signs have always been in high demand. The most sought-after—and most valuable—are signs from known businesses or historic locations and, for Boston, you can’t get a more historic shopping location than Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where this sign for your father’s cousin’s meat stall hung.”

What It’s Worth: $3,000 – $4,000 (appraised Nov 2020)

Market Report: “Appraiser James Supp recently told me that using advertising signs as home and business decor has opened up a whole new market for dealers and collectors, with demand far outstripping supply. He says even 1970s and ’80s signs are rising in value.” — Marsha Bemko, Antiques Roadshow

Victoria-Era Crazy Quilt

What to Know: “Crazy quilts are easily recognizable because of their various pieces of cloth in irregular shapes, sizes, and colors sewn together in what appears to be random patterns,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman. “Swatches of cotton, wool, and silk were collected—an early form of recycling—and joined together by hand-sewn embroidery, then sewn onto cloth backing.” Dates, initials, and decorative elements such as flowers were often embroidered or appliquéd onto the individual cloth pieces. She also tells us there was an intense interest in these crazy quilts from about 1876 to 1900, and then again in the middle part of the 20th century.

What It’s Worth: $2,500 (appraised Oct 2021)

Mid-1900s Mechanical Horse

What to Know: The first mechanical horse appeared about 1932, and by the 1960s, horses like yours were fixtures in front of shopping centers around the country, according to appraiser Bene Raia of Raia Auctioneers. “Merita had a long history of sponsorship of the Lone Ranger franchise, and your horse that was used to promote the radio show seems to be from the late 1940s or early ’50s and in great condition,” says Bene. “Both coin operated and non-coin-operated versions are very much in high demand.”

What It’s Worth: $5,500 (appraised January/February 2018)

Market Report: “When it comes to toys, it’s those that bring nostalgia that have the most collecting value, whether it’s something like this storefront mechanical horse for an older collector, or Legos and Star Wars items for those in their 30s and 40s. For the younger generation, condition, documentation, and having all pieces intact is very important.” — Appraiser Bene Raia

Circa-AD 117-161 Gold Coins

What to Know: You may have hit the jackpot! Heritage Auctions’ Marsha Dixey checked in with colleague David Michaels, who says you’ve purchased Roman coins called “aurei” (the singular is “aureus”). Like all Roman Imperial coins, the obverse (front) of each coin depicts an image of the emperor, his wife, or immediate family (son, daughter, or chosen heir). The reverse (back) of the coin was reserved for propaganda promoting peace, stability, good fortune, and victory in battle.

What It’s Worth: $28,000 for a set of 4 (appraised January/February 2017)

Market Report: “About every 30 years, a new generation of collectors turns the antiques focus to new categories, but measurable genres, such as precious metals like coins, will always remain strong.” — Appraiser Marsha Dixey

Circa 1940s Croquet Wickets

What to Know: “These circa-1940s croquet wickets are one-of-a-kind handmade objects that are considered Folk Art pieces,” says appraiser Helaine Fendelman. The figures stand about one foot high and are mounted on foot-high wire supports. The brightly painted, hand-carved wooden figures were made in Sabetha, Kansas, indicated by the town name on the hats of the postman and policeman. The wickets themselves are one inch thick and painted on the reverse.

What It’s Worth: $1,800 (appraised May 2005)

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