Category Archives: Art

Throw out those old postcards?


In the early 1900s, postcard collecting was quite the craze, popular with young people who traded, saved, and mounted them in albums. While it isn’t exactly a top-rated hobby for today’s youngsters, there are still a lot of collectors out there. So if you have inherited a collection of postcards from your loved-one, don’t toss them in the trash.

Postcards can be dated by a postmark if they were actually mailed, by the subject in the picture (city skylines, cars, fashions), or by the style and information on the back. The stamps may be of interest to stamp collectors.


Get help identifying and valuing yours from dealers at antiques shows, as always, asking more than one dealer and comparing offers. To learn how to identify and value what you have, take a look at and, websites full of information and links to more information. Once you know what you have, postcards can be sold online and mailed to the purchaser in an envelope for the price of a stamp. Easy!

Advertising: Trash or Treasure?

2695tHave you found some old signs (wooden, tin or porcelain enamel) in the attic or among the Stuff you’ve inherited? What about other forms of advertising? Posters promoting movies, travel destinations, theater shows, vaudeville, circuses, liquor, and the like; product packaging (tins, boxes, bottles, medicine); and trays? There are many other types of advertising, such as matchbooks, calendars, or magazine ads, but they seldom have much value unless very old. Certain themes bring the most interest and, therefore, the most money, such as beer, liquor, soft drinks (especially Coke), gas stations, military (like “Loose Lips Sink Ships” or recruiting posters), automobiles, trains, and tobacco.

5245tSome people call advertising “poor man’s art.” Although advertising has existed since ancient days, the collectors most likely to buy your advertising Stuff are collecting things from the late 1800s to the 1950s.

images-1As always, start by identifying your Stuff. Go to and see if there is anything like your item offered for sale. Check the box marked Completed Listings, and see what price those items brought. Remember, half the Stuff on eBay never sells, so you can’t tell much by seller’s asking price alone.

Look in your library for one of the advertising collector’s guides. General ones like Warman’s Advertising and targeted ones like the Encyclopedia of Porcelain Enamel Advertising can be ordered from another library by your librarian; used copies are available cheap on These guides will help you identify and describe what you have. Check the guide’s publication date. If it is only a couple years old, the buyer’s price they assign may be roughly accurate after you halve it to get an approximate seller’s price. If the book is older than a few years,  just use it to help identify your object and then go online for more up-to-date valuations. If the dollar amount looks to be more than a hundred dollars, give or take, check some of the regional auction houses across the country to see if they might be interested in selling the item for you. Contact them online and send a picture of all sides of your Stuff, its measurements, and anything else you know about it.

How to Ruin the Value of your Old Stuff

Want to ruin the sales value of the old Stuff you’ve inherited? Of course you don’t. Read on . . . 

Do not polish, paint, or touch up old Stuff you plan to sell.

If something is filthy, wipe it with a damp cloth, but resist the temptation to use any chemicals or cleaning solutions on it. The value of many an antique or collectible has dropped significantly when misguided owners tried to “improve” its looks. Another consideration: tastes change. When my mother-in-law had an antique desk stripped and “antiqued” white (a popular finish in the 70s that involved applying a layer of stain over paint and wiping it off before it was dry), thereby ruining its value forever. Worse yet, the streaky look was “out” within a few years.   

stripping-paint-cabinet-doorDo not touch up the paint on furniture or art work. Do not strip painted furniture, even if the paint is peeling or uneven or an ugly color. Do not refinish old wooden furniture. If you are certain it is worthless or you plan to keep it, feel free to paint or refinish to your heart’s content. 


Do not “beautify” old coins by using a coin dip or ultrasonic treatment.

Do not wash vintage clothing or quilts or linens in the washing machine with hot water or bleach. Too rough, too hot, too harsh. I know whereof I speak: I once washed a dirty old quilt in the washing machine in hot water and bleach . . . it came out like wet kleenex.

Polish old silver with a mild silver polish and wash with soap and warm water. Never use those harsh dips you see advertised on TV that show the happy homemaker dipping her blackened silver into the solution and smiling as it comes out sparkly. 

Do not wash old glass or crystal in the dishwasher. Wash by hand in the sink in hot sudsy water. 

What are those numbers scribbled at the bottom of my art print?

Is there a genuine signature at the bottom of your print beside some pencilled numbers? That tells you the artist’s name and the number of prints he or she created: 15/50 means you have the fifteenth of fifty prints of a limited edition that were made before the artist destroyed the plate. A print run of 50 means the item is rarer—and more valuable—than a print run of 50,000. That these numbers exist at all tells you the print is probably not that old–late 19th or 20th century. Before then, printers generally made as many copies as they could sell, rather than try to create scarcity (and higher prices) by limiting the number of impressions. (P.S. The number could also be a date.) 

Before you do anything else, examine the print with a strong magnifying glass. If you see tiny dots, it is a photographic reproduction and not worth a pin–unless you like it, of course, and want it hanging on your wall, and then it’s worth the pleasure you get from seeing it every day.

Is your signed and numbered print valuable? Well, it is more valuable than an unsigned print, but that isn’t saying much. It depends on the artist and the quality. You might want to ask a reputable, local art dealer to look at it, but first, research the artist’s name online yourself at sites like,, or Some sites are free; some involve a small fee. Of course, start with the free sites. See if anything made by your artist has sold recently and if so, for what price. Google the artist’s name and see if he or she has a website. If you can’t turn up anything at all about your artist, the chances are slim to none that the work has any monetary value. 

Those Mysterious Latin Words at the Bottom of the Print

Prints often have Latin words at the bottom. These are key to understanding what you have. What do they mean? (N.B. Some of the meanings overlap.)

First, it helps to know that, in the “olden days,” prints were a way to disseminate art. A painting is one of a kind and can only be owned by one person, but an engraver could copy the painting and sell it to the masses by the hundreds or thousands. In such cases, the artistic merit of the print is not in the image itself but in the skill of the engraver or copyist. Of course, prints could be original too, meaning that the engraver was the artist who created the image. 

Before the nineteenth century, when printing in color became widespread, prints were sometimes colored by hand with water colors, one at a time, often by children or women (cheap labor). If you see the word pinxit at the bottom of the print, that tells you who painted it. But they mean who painted the original art that the print is copying, not who colored the printNo one cared who colored the print. 

The words fecit or sculpsit are the most common. They indicate who made (fecit) or engraved (sculpsit or sculpt.) this print. So does the word excudit or its abbreviation excud., which indicates who engraved or printed it. 

Inventor (or invenit, invt., inv.) tells you who did the original work –not who made this print, but who created the original art. Similarly, delineavit (or its abbreviations delin., delt., del.) tells you the name of the artist who drew the original.  

In this example, right, it seems the artist, Vispre, did the original painting and the print. I chose this example because the words are so large, you can read them. Usually, they are quite small. I’m guessing this guy Francois Vispre was very proud of his dual accomplishment. 



Fakes on the Wall

The art most commonly faked are prints supposedly made by Chagall, Miro, Dali, and above all, Picasso. There are many, many more fakes out there than there are authentic works of art, and many of those fakes are accompanied by fancy Certificates of Authenticity—also faked, of course. So if you’ve inherited a print signed by one of these artists, assume you have a fake until you can authenticate it. 

How to authenticate something? You need a certified expert to do that. Ask an art museum or large auction house in your city for recommendations, or do some online research. Check credentials. Just because someone says he is a member of the IFAA (International Fine Art Appraisers) or some such professional organization doesn’t mean he really is. A quick phone call to the organization’s headquarters can make sure. In general, local is better–you don’t have to mail your item. Expect to pay at least $100, although some services do not charge when they don’t have to do any research–when the item is so obviously a fake that they can tell at a glance.

Here’s one place you can start for free: the Chicago Appraisers Association. Send them a good photo of your piece in the mail and they will tell you, for free, whether it warrants further research or not. If so, they will then tell you their fee, and you can decide how to proceed. If not, you know you have a fake and can proudly display it on your own wall and let your friends think it’s original. But don’t try to sell it. Their address and further information can be found at