Ephraim Historical Foundation Hosts Antique Appraiser Mark Moran

Jim Reeve of Ephraim and Muskego was pleased that his Regina coin-operated music box manufactured in Chicago about 1900, one reportedly used in a saloon in Hurley, was appraised between $12,000 and $14,000.

“This is about what I thought it was worth,” he said. “I was happy to learn that it has retained its value during the past few years.”

Reeve was one of about 60 people who gathered in Ephraim’s Village Hall on Aug. 4 to learn, what’s it worth? The Ephraim Historical Foundation sponsored the one-man antiques road show of Iola, Wis., appraiser Mark Moran, who set values on 30-some historic items.

Moran is the author or co-author of more than 25 books on antiques and collectibles. Moran also serves as an appraiser for the popular PBS series Antiques Roadshow. He is on the road with Antiques Roadshow this month, Aug. 10 in Kansas city, Mo., and Aug. 17 in Richmond, Va.

“I imagine my mother having a good time with her friends,” said Jane Wilson of Wheaton, Ill., as she took from its original 1920s Marshall Field’s box a flapper’s metallic mesh bag made by Whiting and Davis. She envisions her mom meeting the brother of one of those friends and marrying him – actual family history.

Wilson was “surprised but pleased” at the $50 appraisal. “I intend to give it to my daughter,” she said, “and she will give it to her daughter.”

Grandfather purchased Chinese swords during his 1906-10 Naval service and left them to JoAnne Rankin (Ephraim and Kenilworth, Ill.). Moran corroborated the information that she had received from an Asian art expert at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, the assumption that the three swords had probably belonged to wealthy warriors. In sharkskin scabbards they were valued at $1,400.

“I was delighted to know these beautifully made family heirlooms had such a good value,” she said of her inheritance. “I don’t like thinking to what horrible purposes they might have been used,” she added, “but prefer to regard them as works of art.”

Linda Neeck Smith’s antique Bedouin necklace was purchased at a shop in Baghdad at the conclusion of World War II. Made of old coins embossed with silver with red and green cabochons, the jewelry appeared to be one of a kind. As Moran had never seen a piece quite like it, he set the value at $300.

Smith, who lives in Sister Bay, might occasionally be seen wearing her elaborate antique necklace, she said.

Moran provided professional information, often locating comparable items on the internet to validate his assessments, but with good humor, sometimes gently telling the owner of a garage sale find that maybe a zero could be added to the original purchase price.

He advised caution in engaging internet appraisal services, telling one woman that her bargain painting was of relatively recent vintage and worth about what she had paid for it, that it was not a 19th-century work worth $1,000, as a cyber-based “expert” had told her.

Collectibles have declined in value, he said, as young people have little interest in collecting. Roseville pottery was one example, and another, Depression glass; he joked that it could be used for skeet shoots. Unfortunately, he is skeptical that these categories will ever return to their original worth.

And tastes change, too. Decorative hair wreaths displayed in shadow boxes now are found unsettling, Kirsten Peil of Baileys Harbor learned. And her cigar boxes and molds from an early hometown enterprise have local value only.

Some family pieces have only sentimental significance, such as the 1913 print belonging to Dave Smith (Sister Bay), a copy of a painting depicting Shakespeare and Ben Jonson playing chess. Or the Egyptian ring, broaches, shawl, along with a spoon collection, all belonging to the grandmother of Coro Fox.

Fox (Baileys Harbor) found the appraisal a letdown. “To me the auction value comes down to who is at the auction,” she said, “and how badly someone wants the item.” Nonetheless, she was “Glad I went” as now she “can cross off my wondering about the objects I had from my list of things to do.”

Kevin Free, program and marketing director for the Foundation, said the event was “a really neat opportunity for people not only to be entertained but be informed about historical items, and their values in so many ways.”

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