BIDDINGTON'S--Gallery and Shopping
BIDDINGTON'S Appraisals & Valuations
How to Liquidate an Estate
Dear Mrs. Biddington,
My Great Aunt Beatrice has just died leaving me her house and its contents; I was her only surviving relative, so I suppose the most likely heir. In truth, we weren't close. I never visited her home--in part because she lived alone her whole life in a tiny town a thousand miles--and no direct flights--away from my own. I contacted a realtor who will sell the modest house; he has offered to dispose of its contents via the local church charitable organization.
The lady lived over 90 years in an out-of-the-way place. I have already missed the funeral. Is there any economic reason for me to waste several days of my scarce free time handling this myself? If I do go there what will I do? I'm no expert. How do I know if something is valuable or not? I've checked, and the nearest appraiser is far away and charges a mileage fee.
My dear Tracy,
Clearly, you are not an enthusiastic heiress. I cannot tell you whether or not time spent liquidating your relative's belongings will be well spent, but I can help you make a framework for your decision:
First, let's do a bit of subtraction: Your great aunt would have been in her 20's during the Jazz Age and in her 40's during WWII. This twenty-year period--ages 25-45-- generally marks ones most acquisitive years.
It might be interesting to discover if the lady kept personal belongings from any of her younger years: clothing, jewelry, perfume bottles, kitchen paraphernalia, linens, some books, photographs & publications. Nearly anything from the 20's through 40's--even modest items readily available at the time--would qualify as collectible today. If you do decide to undertake this task yourself, keep an eye open for these older, ordinary items as well as the obvious ones like furniture, paintings, rugs, glass & porcelain.
If your great aunt was a hoarder, did she save items in good condition? Closets full of moth-eaten, mildewed clothing are of little value. Items guarded from the ravages of pests, moisture and other destructive elements in cedar chests or closets could well be worth reselling.
You might introduce yourself to her former neighbors and try to locate some friends of your great aunt. They will probably be able to tell you if your great aunt particularly valued any of her belongings or told stories related to them.
As you sift through the contents, also be alert to valuable indigenous artworks or crafts that friends may have forgotten to mention because they are so familiar. In the Midwest, it could be quilts; in the Northeast; it could be split-bark baskets, in the Northwest it could be beadwork.
Lastly, look for anything that is "out of place" in an extraordinary way--items that don't fit the context:
I'm reminded of an acquaintance who--when undertaking a mission quite like your own--found a pair of very large, to his eyes, extremely unattractive pottery horses at a distant relative's house in rural Kansas. They were so extraordinary that he carted them back to Houston. The story eventually unfolded of a vague missionary cousin working in China around the turn of the century who had sent the pair of fine Tang dynasty horses to Kansas as a Christmas present.
If you do decide to undertake this detective work, I hope you are as fortunate!
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ABOUT THIS FEATURE
The thrill of the auction is over--for the moment. With art & antiques, pleasure also comes from acquiring the specialized knowledge involved in their preservation. Even experienced collectors may not know exactly how to care for fine art.
At BIDDINGTON'S, upmarket, online art auctions & art gallery, our in-house oracle on fine art preservation and restoration procedures is Augusta Biddington. Mrs. Biddington is an old hand at old things. This series of articles was first published in 1999. Unfortunately, Mrs. Biddington is no longer able to provide answers to specific questions.
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