They may look like clutter or trash to you, but could be worth thousands at an auction.
Keep a particular eye out for Apple computers. "Perhaps your father bought an Apple in 1977, which really isn't that long ago," says Eric Silver, an appraiser for "" and director of . "A first edition Apple was bought for $900,000. It's not technically antique, but it can be worth a lot of money if it was built in, say, Steve Job's garage." Bonus points if it's in working condition.
That old guitar in your attic could strum up major bucks. "Guitars, especially, can bring in a lot of money," says Silver. "A 1960s Fender Stratocaster that was never used because someone didn't like it, could be worth a lot." It doesn't have to be antique: Something used in just the last 60 to 70 years (think your grandfather's old instruments) can have a surprising amount of value.
Surprisingly, the perfume itself doesn't really matter — but the bottle does. "There are auctions devoted just to perfume bottles," says Silver. "It's possible that someone in your family once got a really great perfume bottle, perhaps by a company like Lolique, and the glass itself or the glass maker could be important. Or the actual perfume itself may have had a rare, custom-made bottle." If you find a gem in storage, check out the .
If land deeds have been passed down through your family for generations, research if it ever passed the hands of someone notable. "A lot of people have these types of papers, but it can't just be for a cornfield," says , head of the Appraisal Department at auction house in Philadelphia. "It has to involve someone famous." War commissions as recent as World War II can also be valuable, so long as they involve notable individuals such as a well-known general.
Plenty of families have old dolls that have been stowed away as children grow up, but the most valuable Barbie is the first edition. If the doll is in the box with its original pieces still attached, it increases in value. "If your mother or grandmother got one and played with it and threw away the box or a shoe fell off, that diminishes the value," says Silver. "But an original one in perfect condition in the original box can be worth $9,000 to $10,000."
It's not just diamonds and pearls that can earn you a big check at an antiques auction. "Costume jewelry, depending on the maker, can be worth as much or more than real diamonds or precious stone jewelry," says Silver. "There are plenty of recognized makers, such as Miriam Haskell, whose costume jewelry can sell for thousands of dollars."
Check out what books your grandparents or great-grandparents may have passed down to you. If you find a first version of a popular book, you're in luck. "If you have the first edition of a book, rather than the 10th copy, it could be valuable, even if a relative found it in a bookstore and paid $5 for it," says Silver. Take the of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," published in 1997, which could fetch about $33,000. There are about 500 books, and they have a typo in Harry's list of Hogwarts school supplies (which lists "1 wand" twice).
Think about who you, your parents or grandparents went to school with. Anybody notable come to mind? "High school or college yearbooks that might be autographed by someone famous that was in your graduating class could be valuable," says Silver. "Check your parents' or grandparents' yearbooks too." Even if they weren't famous at the time, your mother's biology partner who went on to do big things could add major value to that yearbook.
Silver suggests always getting paintings appraised if you're not sure how much they're worth. "Sometimes people have shown up with something their family was give by a painter living down the street, and it turns out that it was a very prominent painter," he says. "At the time, the artist might not have been famous, and it could have been a gift or possible birthday present." Even if you weren't crazy about the gift, it's worth checking out paintings you've stowed away over the years, and taking them to an appraiser.
Antique banks from the first quarter of the 20th century may be valuable, especially if they involve a mechanical component. "One mechanical bank involved putting in a coin, and a young child would go down a slide," says Parenti. "That was found in someone's attic, and it actually sold for quite a high price." These banks are typically made from iron and painted.
It's incredibly specific, and may seem like garbage to most people. But just a lamp base alone can rack up big dollars at an auction. "One time, someone came into the roadshow with the base for a Tiffany's lamp that they had bought at a thrift shop for $5," says Silver. "It was only the base, but it was worth $25,000." It's best if you have the lampshade too, but the base alone can hold surprising value.
Pens are obviously a lot more common than, say, an original painting, but there are collectors for just about everything who are willing to pay for a precious item. "There was one fountain pen that sold for $950," says Silver. "Valuable pens could have been used by the president to sign proclamations or laws." But remember, coming across any old fountain pen doesn't determine value — just about everybody used a fountain pen before ballpoint pens were created.
If you have shoeboxes of personal belongings from your ancestors, take a close look at who they were writing to or who the journals involved. "We came across a diary kept by Thomas Jefferson, but it could even be a postcard or personal letter," says Parenti. "People also often have a lot of postcards, and those can be a value, especially if they're pre-World War I Halloween cards and postcards that have been handmade from the Victorian era." If anything, you might just gain a better understanding of your passed loved ones.
Plenty of folks have old Christmas ornaments stuffed in their attic, and some may be worth more than you think. "The material they're made out of, like hand-blown glass, could make them very valuable," says Silver. "One blown-glass ornament was listed at $1,700. There's another called a Kugel, which is German and pear-shaped, which is $18,000." Kugel ornaments were made in Germany from 1840 to the early 1940s.
Toasters in vintage, pastel colors are making a comeback, but the one already sitting in storage in your home could be worth far more. "For every item that you have in your house, some version of it might be very valuable," says Silver. There are even trade associations for toaster collectors, so don't discount your old appliances.
Still have Grandma's vacuum hanging around in your attic? Just as with toasters, there are particular collectors who may be looking for vacuums specifically. "There are collector societies for everything, even wacky things," says Silver. "You could spend all day looking up vacuum cleaners and there could be a rare one worth thousands of dollars."
Think back to some of the books you've inherited from relatives. "People have a lot of books, but they don't always look through every book," says Parenti. "You should be thinking about if you have a book someone signed, because that will absolutely raise the value." It'll raise the value even more if it's signed and a first edition.
You may want to thank your grandmother for never tossing your dad's baseball cards — because they could be worth a home-run amount now. "Oftentimes people have baseball cards, and with those, the market really drives the value," says Parenti. "For that particular genre, the value would be in baseball cards prior to 1950. Or, in cigarette cards from the early part of the 20th century."
Books aren't the only item worth more if they're signed. "People will have autographs often that perhaps they've been given by their parents," says Parenti. Even if an autograph is by an only somewhat notable person, if it is from the 20th century, it can be worth a reasonable amount. Look for signed cards, notes and other papers. You may need to take it to an appraiser, however, since sometimes secretaries signed papers for their bosses.
When it comes to valuables, look for period pieces from the early 1800s or late 1700s. "If it's the Chippendale style, or maybe the Federal style, there's going to be a story with it and that's going to be more valuable," says Parenti. "When you get into Victorian, that market has been quite soft for quite a long time, and I don't know when it's going to come back."
Though prints are typically not worth as much as other art, such as oils and watercolors, signed editions can still be valuable. "If it's a print and there's multiple editions, it should be pencil signed by the artist," says Parenti. "It's also usually numbered on one side, so it might be edition 10 out of 200 that were printed."
"There are even collectors societies for firecracker packages," says Silver. It may look like trash if it's stashed in your attic, but wrappers and packages from firecrackers can be worth a decent amount to the right buyer.
"You wouldn't think technical books would have a market, but they do," says Parenti. "We once saw a book about the anatomy of melancholia. So an old book doesn't necessarily have to be a novel to be valuable." Engineering and technical books can especially have value if they were published at the time of a new technology, such as a 1950s book on computers.
"People often inherit silver," says Parenti. "It would be valuable if it's from a company such as, say, Tiffany or Gorham. If it's much older or a flatware service it'll also be worth more." The more complete the set is, the more valuable it will be.
If your grandparents voyaged across the seas to America, their trunk could be filled with value. "Louis Vuitton trunks could be worth thousands," says Silver. "They can be very cool because they will often still have the labels from the ships that they went on."