How do you know if old stuff is

worth anything?

Ready to part with that tacky collectible? It could be treasure to Rex Newell.

"If something that you have is strange and ugly, it tends to be really valuable," said the veteran antique appraiser. "Strange is good in this business."

Newell will offer his services to attendees of his "Antiques Roadshow"-like program from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, at the Hinsdale Public Library (see Page XX for details). He'll also discuss the latest trends in the marketplace.

"I'm going to tell them what's hot and what's not," Newell said. "And if grandma dies, call me before you get a dumpster."

The uncertain economic times have boosted the return on gold and silver.

"I buy tens of thousands of dollars of silver dollars a day," he said.

Perhaps more surprising is the demand for fine costume jewelry, Newell said, particularly among younger buyers for whom high-end bling is a budget buster.

"It's the things that you think have no value that often have value," he remarked.

Newell's own vintage soul led him at age 9 to learn the antique business from his next-door neighbor.

"She was an antique appraiser, and she started teaching me," he recounted. He studied a nearly 2,000-page guide in one month for a test. "I got five answers right out of 100."

Undeterred, Newell was buying and trading coins at 11 and expanded to art and sterling flatware by 15. Now after more than 20 years in business, he deals in virtually every category. Well, except for Native American and Oriental antiques.

"Those are totally specialty fields, very difficult," he explained. "If I'm not interested in buying something, I can always connect people with someone who is interested."

Newell averages four house calls a day and holds giant auction events in January and April every year. One of his more memorable finds during his career was "a very, very rare book on witchcraft and devil worship" (yes, he found a buyer). He's also come across precious Tiffany lamps and a set of 1950s Tonka trucks. Newell told the seller of the trucks he'd split the auction proceeds. When it ultimately sold a few years later, Newell informed him of the winning bid: $20,000.

"I set the world record for Tonka toys when I sold it," Newell said. "The seller was shocked. He'd forgotten about it."

Old wristwatch? Don't clean it or chuck it.

"It may have parts you can use in other watches," he advised.

And don't reflexively throw a deceased's belongings into storage.

"You may end up paying thousands of dollars and the stuff isn't worth $200," Newell cautioned.

While busy covering a territory stretching from northwest Indiana to the northern suburbs, Newell also finds time to add to his personal collection of African American art and vintage stereo equipment. His mantra is to treat clients fairly, and he delivers disappointing news gently.

"You have to know how to talk to people and how to tell them something has more sentimental value than dollar value," he said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean