Art & Antiques with Dr. Lori: Losing money at your yard sale

Yard sale, photo courtesy of Dr. Lori
Yard sale, photo courtesy of Dr. Lori

When it comes to learning how to spot a treasure, the first thing you have to learn is where to look.

My real gift comes from my years of experience in museums and universities, knowing how to identify and spot the real valuable stuff. In my experience, the most common places where valuable antique treasures are hiding are at yard sales and inside peopleís homes.

Many of you have probably heard me say that it is a better use of your time to watch sports this weekend than to schlep all of your unwanted stuff out of your basement or down from your attic and onto your front lawn in order to host a yard sale. Most yard sale sellers have lost as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of the actual value of their unwanted items by selling them at a yard sale.

Yard sales are one of the places where auction houses send out runners and pickers to get inventory for their auctions. Many people donít realize that yard sales are big business. They arenít just an exercise where you can make a few bucks and clear out some space. They are a high stakes game of getting great stuff for cheap. The people making really big money at your yard sale is NOT you!


Major yard sale mistakes

An oil painting by Martin Johnson Heade, a 19th Century American realist painter, sold at a yard sale held in California for $18. The yard sale seller didnít know that it was a masterpiece. The buyer certainly did.

The buyer then resold the painting at auction for $425,000, and it is now in the collection of a major Texas art museum. Is there an old painting hanging around in your basement that you think is ugly but is really worth a fortune? Iíve seen it happen.

A Chippendale table sold at a yard sale in New Jersey for $35. The buyer, who knew the value and origin of the table, bought it for only $35 and then resold it for $3 million dollars at an upscale antique furniture sale. Would you recognize a valuable antique table sitting in your grandmotherís den?

At a Pennsylvania yard sale, I picked up a clearly marked platinum and diamond ring with a $10 price tag on it. When I told the yard sale host what I had found, she argued with me. She told me that the price was $10 firm (even though I had not asked her to reduce the price). I explained to her that I didnít want a discount nor did I want to buy the ring. I wanted her to realize that she made a BIG mistake and that she should take the ring back into the house. After much discussion, she thanked me for saving her from losing a $5,000 family heirloom.

People regularly make these kinds of mistakes at yard sales. And I take the heat from the pickers, resellers and other yard sale runners who donít want me to reveal this kind of information to the general public.

Many people who want to sell off unwanted stuff will have me come through their home and appraise the objects that they want to sell off before they have a yard sale. My motto: Donít host a Yard Sale. You can lose your heirlooms as well as your shirt.

Celebrity Ph.D. Antiques Appraiser, author and award-winning TV personality Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channelís hit TV show ďAuction Kings.Ē Visit,, or call 888-431-1010.