Leila Dunbar of 'Antiques Roadshow' | Home Front

Leila Dunbar on 'Antiques Roadshow' (Courtesy of WGBH).
Apr 30, 2015

Leila Dunbar will answer questions about how to go through your items and find out what something is worth and working with professional appraisers.

Dunbar is the founder and owner of Leila Dunbar Appraisals and Consulting LLC. She has been a participating appraiser on the PBS series "Antiques Roadshow" since 1996 and is a former SVP and Director of Collectibles at Sotheby's Auction House from 1999-2008.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

We know we all love talking about our stuff, the stuff we love and the stuff we want to get rid of. So today we have Leila Dunbar, founder and owner of Leila Dunbar Appraisals and Consulting. She specializes in pop culture memorabilia and much more and has been a participating appraiser on PBS Antiques Roadshow since 1996. So many questions we can ask her! So let's get going.

Meanwhile here is our question of the day. Which of your collectibles that you are still storing in your attic/basement/underbed storage container are you most reluctant to part with? Mine would be Pez dispensers. So whoever gives the best answer will receive this wonderful book. "Collected: Living With The Things You Love" by Fritz Karch and Rebecca Robertson. Stay tuned to the end of the chat when I will choose the winner. Let's get going. 

Hello Everyone, so happy to be here this morning. Since 2008  I have run my own appraisal company, Leila Dunbar Appraisals and Consulting, specializing in pop culture memorabilia (sports, entertainment, movie posters, animation art, toys, transportation, autographs, comics and a lot more!). From 1999-2008 I ran the Collectibles Department at Sotheby's and since 1996 I have been an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow PBS series. I will do my best to answer your questions today. I have already received a number of them. 

In 2012, I moved to DC after 12 years in NYC and really enjoy it, having a deck, no sirens and being able to see my car from my house! 

House Calls is looking for room submissions. Let us know if you have a room in need of help. Email makeover@washpost.com.

Will modern baseball tickets printed from the internet ever have more than sentimental value? I have one from Jordan Zimmermann's no hitter on the door of my fridge. What about folks with tickets to yesterday's game at empty Camden Yard?

What a timely question. First, what a tragedy in Baltimore, so sad. I have some good friends there and have been checking in on them. Can only hope some good comes from this unfortunate situation. 

Secondly, to answer your question, yes, there are already tickets up on eBay this morning with asking prices of $33 and $36! I guess many more will be offered and the prices will go down as so many people have them. Others may keep them for souvenirs, as this is believed to be the first time this has happened in MLB history. 

Just a reminder that you can now earn 15 PostPoints each time you participate in our Home Front chat. Just record the weekly code that we'll post during the chat and enter it into the PostPoints Web site under Claim My Points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it each Thursday to get credit for participating. Today's code is: HF8312.

I read an article in the Post recently about children not taking their parents furniture etc. and for the most part I fall into that category. I am an only child so it will all fall on me to dispose of my parents furniture at some point. My parents are by no means wealthy, but they do have some very interesting pieces purchased at auctions 50+ years ago that I don't have a clue what they are worth and have not been able to find comps online. I am sure I'll hire an appraiser to help me value them (not looking to retire on the returns), but when do you know it's better to auction a piece vs. an estate sale?

You are one of many dealing with the aging of our population and the stuff we to have to deal with from our parents. Furniture is one of those categories in which some prices have fallen dramatically for what is termed non-descript "brown" furniture, ie there is no known great maker like Stickley, etc. Demand has fallen off greatly.

My suggestion is to have several auction houses come in to give you estimates. Most auction houses do this gratis as part of the cost of doing business. In the DC area there are several, including Quinn's, Potomac and Weschler's off the top of my head. 

I have both a dealer and auction background, but generally prefer auction. You could look into an estate sale. Usually they are on the premises. The first day there are set prices, after which each day they are reduced by a certain percentage. 

Hello! My mom has a pair of Quoizel lamps and shades (they are the fireman lamps shown here: http://blog.quoizel.com/throwback-thursdays/its-throwback-thursday-4/) . Thoughts on where to get them appraised or to sell/consign them, preferably in the Baltimore area?

I am not familiar with Baltimore area auction houses, but can suggest Quinn's, Potomac and Weschler's in the DC area. 

seconds for good quality sheets. I've been using Ralph Lauren for a while. I like the quality. I like the navy blue color with my duvet cover. But I honestly don't care if there is a dropped stitch somewhere or a slightly uneven seam. I used to be able to find seconds at a discount store near my home town, but that was a long time ago. I put my foot through the fitted sheet, so that is all I really have to replace. Local to the DC area or on-line would be fine. Oh, and are all good quality sheets these days made for mattresses that are 18 to 20+ inches deep? Mine is still a very good mattress and I even have a topper on it, but it isn't even close to that thick. So any brands have "old-fashioned" depths on the pocket. Or is there something to use to keep things tight on a mattress that isn't thick enough for the fitted sheet you have?

TJMaxx, Marshall's and HomeGoods are great sources for discounted designer sheets. Also try HomeDecorators.com. I think sheet makers are now making sheets to fit the majority of new mattresses which are thicker. Are your mattresses old? What other sources do you all out there have for discount sheets?

I have a few items that from my parents that have no emotional significance, but that they claim are worth "a great deal." Knowing my parents, I have reason to believe that they are overestimating the value, and I would like to sell these items (mostly dishware/china). How do I know who to take it to and if the appraisal is at all accurate (since they think it's worth a lot and I don't -- someone is going to be wrong) On the other side of things, we have items from my in-laws that we would like appraised for insurance purposes because we love it and want to keep it, and would like to know if we need to account for it separately. It's not a lot and it's furniture (a bit of jewelry thrown in), and we have no idea what's worth although a bookcase by Lindstrom that we have was remarked on my our movers as something that we should insure! A look online made getting furniture appraised in this area look like a more expensive undertaking and our funds are limited. What do we do, other than take it all to Antiques Roadshow?

Families often attach extra significance to items as they have great family histories. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily translate into value and the emotional attachment is often hard to overcome. 

As I mentioned in two of my previous answers, getting auction houses in to review the items is a great first step for items you are considering selling. For items that you want insurance appraisals for, you should go to the Appraisers Association of America (AAA), International Society of Appraisers (ISA) or American Society of Appraisers (ASA) websites, as they list appraisers who have met professional standards of qualifications and practices and their appraisals follow best standards and practices. You want a qualified appraiser to handle your appraisal so that your items are professionally valued. 

I liked the article on planters, and have a few thoughts. Overhead or wall planters are pretty, but if you have to stand on a ladder to get water to the plants it’s not worth the trouble. In winter you can turn terra cotta pots upside down and dump out the contents – that’s what I do and the pots survive Boston winter without my having to drag them indoors. Target has nice garden supplies, including containers. Lastly, you don’t need always need to purchase – a cracked bowl, vase or other household container all make lovely, distinctive planters.

Thank you for this. A lot of great tips. Here is the article on planters if you missed it:

Thank you.

But are Beanie Babies totally worthless?

Ha! They are so cute, how can they be worthless? Like many collecting categories, there are many that are easily found and therefore selling for just a few dollars. And, like many collecting categories, there are a few that are rare and desirable and can sell in the hundreds. The key is to identify which are which. Appraisers do that by researching past sales at auctions to determine what the value hierarchy, ie, what makes the item worth more than another. 

We have one of these from the early years of the Houston Astrodome. Not signed, just the item sold at the games. It's wood, about a foot long. It has good memories, but is it worth anything?

Miniature souvenir baseball bats such as these are generally sold in great quantities. One thing appraisers look at in determining value is supply vs. demand. If there are a lot of them and relative little demand, then the value is going to be lower. Now, if it was a miniature bat from the 1961 Opening Day when the team was the Colt 45s in their first year and you had the entire starting lineup sign the bat, now you have very little supply and much more demand from collectors and that could sell for several hundred dollars. 

I received a number of items from these Games, as I worked in the Village. A number of the coins come with interesting stories - for example, I have one from Libya, although the team was called home by Gaddafi before the Games officially began. How I can figure out the value of these items...and who might be interested in purchasing them? P.S. These are also the "hard to give up" items listed in today's question. Sally

This was the year that the Summer Olympics was held in LA. This is what an appraiser would do. First, we look at the coins and then try to find sales of them online. For this type of material eBay can be a great resource and the first place I would go. Secondly, I would google the exact type of coin to see if any are being offered via retail sites. There are a lot of Olympic collectors who collect duplicates so they can "finance their habit" and there are collector sites that you can google. Third you can look at auctions of Olympic related material, such as those held by Ingrid O'Neill, who has a website. 

Here is a link to my recent story about the stuff Boomers are trying to stick to Millennials who don't really want it.

Click here.

How often would you recommend having items appraised? I own several antiques (art and vases mostly) that have been in the family for generations, and were last appraised 15 years ago. Do the value of antiques tend to increase (significantly) over time?

I recommend having your items re-appraised every five years or so. There is no guarantee that antiques will appreciate. Every market has its own characteristics. For instance, as mentioned previously, a chunk of the furniture market has fallen off, but the art market overall has appreciated tremendously since the crash of 2008-2009. Pottery and vases are mixed, depending on the maker, etc. In Collectibles, top sports memorabilia, cards, and top items in comics, movie posters, entertainment memorabilia, etc. has appreciated with numerous items selling in the tens to hundreds of thousands. Markets are very mixed, so good to see where your items have appreciated, stayed the same, or depreciated, all of which are possible. 

I have some antiques and I don't know where to get them appraised locally in southern NJ. They include a melodeon, an old mandolin, brass cash register, wooden slot machine, and a huge gilded plaster frame around a worth nothing painting. Can you give advice about how to find their value. (I have looked on the internet). Thank you

I can recommend calling Freeman's Auction House in Philadelphia, as they also have an appraisal department. Also, I would recommend finding an appraiser on the member organizations that I mentioned in one of my previous answers. 

I can recommend Caplan's in Ellicott City, MD. I used their services when I had to empty the house of a family member who died ten years ago. http://www.caplans.com/

Thanks for the suggestion!

I'm generally not a pack rat - things have to earn their real estate in our two bedroom condo. I was born and raised here with European parents. My Hungarian father bought Hungarian first day cover stamps for me when I was a girl in the 1970s and 1980s. I have about 100. A few are rarish but they are generally not worth all that much and although he was hoping they would become valuable when he bought them they have a lot of sentimental value.

This is so funny. My Lithuanian born father bought American first day cover stamps!! My sister still has them. I see what you mean.

What can I expect to pay an appraiser for a valuation? Does the fee typically depend on the value of the item, physical size, difficulty of the project, or some other measure - and how do I know I'm getting a fair price?

Appraisers usually charge an hourly amount that can range from $75-$500, depending on the level of valuation needed and difficulty of the project. Most professional appraisers charge $150-$300 an hour. Questions you should ask a prospective appraiser include - what is your background and level of experience in this area? What are some examples of your prior appraisals in this area? Professional appraisers generally have years of  training in report writing, methodology, market knowledge and conniouseurship in their expertise. They also often are members of a professional organization that has set criteria of standards, qualifications and practices that are the industry standard. 

I have had good luck, and one not-so-good purchase, at Tuesday Morning. They have name-brand bedding at a significant discount. Sheets are often a very good buy. Who cares if your sheets are last year's version? I only had the one purchase that wasn't so good, when the fabric pilled quickly. Other than that, I've been very satisfied.

Oh yes. That is a great source for this. Thanks for reminding us. Tuesday Morning is a treasure trove of good stuff.

I have my grandparents early 20th C Chinese rugs, two large and couple smaller. How do I get an accurate insurance appraisal?

As mentioned in my other answers, the best way to find a reputable appraiser is through the member organizations, all of whom have websites and have appraisers throughout the country. These are the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), International Society of Appraisers (ISA) and Appraisers Association of America (AAA). They all have databases that you can search by specialty. So you would look up a rug specialist and contact them directly. 

I have a substantial collection of books, especially relating to art, comics, and animation. Do these typically keep or build much value? I still much prefer the printed page over screen but wonder what the future looks like for printed material that's not in the Gutenberg stratosphere.

A good way to quickly see what the markets may be for your books is to go to the abebooks.com website, where you can search your books to see what other copies are being offered for by dealers. You can also check out Amazon.com and eBay as it sounds as if they are pretty modern. 

What happens to the value of an autographed item when the person who signed it dies?

The basis answer is yes, as the supply of autographs now goes from being infinite to finite. However, it depends on who signed it and how much of a market there may be. For example, when baseball Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle passed away his signed baseballs jumped from $100-$150 to $300-$600 for regular signed examples. However, a non-Hall of Fame player whose signature is far less desirable may not increase upon death. And, there are also Hall of Famers such as Bob Feller who signed so much that even today several years after his passing you can buy his signed baseballs for $25-$50 each. 

Now, if you have someone who died prematurely (and often tragically) and has a high degree of desirability, such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, their signatures can jump significantly. 

I like to think that first editions are potentially more valuable than subsequent publishings. I probably have waaay to many books in my house, but I'd like a suggestion on how to "tag" the first editions to make them easier to spot, which would be the last to go in any sort of purge. Would a colourful sticky-note peeking out on the inside cover be likely to cause any sort of damage in the long run?

I am not an expert in this area, but unless some odd temperature jump happened and caused the color to run, I don't see how it could hurt. 

I have not had good luck with discount sheets. I have not had to pay an arm and a leg for sheets and gotten good sheets but buying at a discount store can be risky. Pay a little more and they last forever.

Thanks for your opinion.

I have done well at Tuesday Morning stores and online at overstock.com.


If you go to Home Goods for sheets, make sure to actually feel the sheets before purchasing. I found 800 thread count sheets there that felt like sandpaper! Later, I read that some companies are artificially labeling the thread count (specific brands were mentioned but I can't remember them).

Good idea.

I have tickets for yesterday's Oriole's empty stadium game, and I plan to exchange them for tickets to another game. I doubt they have much collectible value.

Exactly...the first ones on eBay today are to see what the market may be, but if/when more come out of the woodwork, then the prices will drop. 

Also, wouldn't they have the most value in being exchange for others?

I have a poster directing Japanese US citizens to report for internment. Would any museum want it? I'd be happy to donate - any idea of worth?

The factors in determining value here are: rarity, quality of the graphic image and power of the message, artist (if known), size, condition and any background information, ie, was it from a specific camp on the West Coast? Could be anywhere from tens of dollars into the thousands, depending. I am sure that a museum such as the Smithsonian or Library of Congress or a WWII or West Coast institution would be interested as it illustrates an unfortunate yet historic episode in the US. 

Do all antiques/art get more valuable over time? If not, how do I know when it’s the optimal time to sell my antiques/art?

As mentioned in another answer, no, every market is different and is dictated by a number of factors. Professional appraisers have to constantly monitor the markets in which they have experience in order to have a thorough understanding. They do this by visiting dealers and analyzing auction sales. I have watched the top of the sports, comics and parts of entertainment market increase dramatically for the most historic and rarest pieces. At the same time I have seen the antique golf club market fall off more than 50%, as those collectors have aged out of the market and there hasn't been another generation to replace them. 

Would you hang them, display on a shelf, do a plate rack, use a china cabinet, put them in kitchen cabinets, or something else... what would you recommend? China cabinets just seem outdated and take up a lot of space, IMO.

Well, I'm not sure if these are antique platters that you have just for their beauty and value or platters that you actually use in your daily life. I have some of my brown transferware English platters hanging from stretchy metal plate display hooks on the walls. I have some propped up in my kitchen cabinets. And I have some stacked on a shelf. If you don't actually use all of these, I would not keep them all in kitchen cabinets.

I want to paint all my trim white. Do you have a go-to color that you like? Should it be high gloss? I'm considering an aubergine color for my bedroom - any suggested shade? Thanks so much!

Benjamin Moore Ivory White or White Dove

Judging by the growing numbers of closed shops and malls it appears the antiques market is in serious decline. With the exception of mid-century hip, prices for everything are way down and most dealers I talk to think demand will not return for the foreseeable future. Do you think this is just the normal up-and-down of a business cycle or has something permanently changed?

When my dad started collecting in the 1970's, you would visit dealers, antique shows and flea markets to find stuff. Often the dealers would become your good friends as you had something in common. Most of your knowledge came anecdotally. 

With the advent of the internet, the business has overall become much more web based and relationships are different. There are still antique shows and shops, but many  dealers have to work through the Internet to sell and build their clienteles. 

Ms. Dunbar, Because I've listened and watched carefully, I realize I DON'T have anything of great value worthy of an appraiser, but I wanted to let you know how much I respect you and enjoy your personality on Antiques Roadshow. LOVE YOU!! --fan in Annapolis

Thank you, you are very kind. This summer we are traveling to Tuscon, AR; Spokane, WA; Omaha, NB; Cleveland, OH; Little Rock, AK; and Charleston, SC, with programs airing starting January 2016. I will be manning the sports memorabilia table in the last four venues. Hope to see you there! 

Thank you Leila - that was all wonderful information.

The winner of the chat prize today is the one with the Hungarian First Day covers. Send your mailing address to me at konciusj@washpost.com. Thanks everyone. See you next week with my chat guest India Hicks talking about her latest book and island style.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Leila Dunbar
Dunbar is the founder and owner of Leila Dunbar Appraisals and Consulting LLC. She has been a participating appraiser on the PBS series "Antiques Roadshow" since 1996 and is a former SVP and Director of Collectibles at Sotheby's Auction House from 1999-2008.
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