Make us your home page

Selling sentimental items means money for memories

Letting go of things with sentimental value can be difficult, especially your grandmother's wedding dress or your childhood trading card collection. But if you're ready to do so, here are some tips for getting the most for them. Washington Post

Wedding dresses

The generation that grew up shopping for vintage clothes is getting married and looking for retro wedding dresses. Good news if you have your mom's Priscilla of Boston silk gown boxed up under a bed.

"There is a market for vintage wedding dresses," says Rachel Leonard, Brides magazine fashion director. "Mixing old with new is big: It could be a dress or veil, or just vintage shoes or cocktail hat." Two styles she says are very salable: 1950s designs with tight waist and full skirt, and 1930s Hollywood-inspired charmeuse gowns. The hit TV series Mad Men has created a yen for 1960s formal gowns. Not in demand: the 1970s peasant-look or bohemian garb.

At, owner Deborah Burke specializes in high-end gowns, including ones on consignment. She splits the selling price of the gown with the consigner. (Prices are $150 to $5,000.) Burke's caution to would-be sellers: Condition is everything. "No bride wants to wear a wedding gown that has spots and stains and odors on it. Think of yourself as a bride and what you would want to wear."

Trading cards

In 2007, a mint-condition 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card sold for $2.8 million. Fewer than 100 cards of the famed shortstop, considered one of the best players of all time, are thought to exist, so it's unlikely that a financial windfall is sitting in a box in your basement. But if you own a collection of old sports trading cards, they might be worth sifting through.

According to buyers, the sports cards worth the most are from the 1950s and 1960s. Baseball is the most popular sport (followed by football, then basketball and hockey), and names that will bring you the most money include Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax.

Older cards in excellent condition and those of Hall of Famers are the most sought after, says Peter Averinos of Hall of Fame Cards in Potomac, Md., who once sold a 1954 Ted Williams card for $4,000. But expect shop owners to tell you they need to see the cards in person in order to offer a price.

Condition is crucial. Ideally, a card will still have its original gloss, sharp corners and no creases, says Ron Sabino of Ron's Collectors World in Annandale, Va. Cards in poor condition fetch far less. For example, a card that was brought into AJ's Sports Stop in Vienna, Va., might have been worth $5,000, says co-owner Rick Lucian, but a hole in the middle of it decreased its value to about $200.

Although experts say the value of vintage cards has stayed steady during the recession, newer cards have decreased in value. Which raises the question: Does it still pay to buy cards for children the year they are born? Absolutely, says Sabino, who told his brother to buy a $50 set for his daughter when she was born in 1972. Today, he says, that untouched set is worth about $2,000.

Where to sell

The auction Web site eBay ( has a national and international audience, so it's possible that your listing will be viewed by millions each day. You'll pay a fee to list and another once an item is sold. Selling larger items, such as furniture, in such a far-flung venue can be difficult because of shipping, so eBay is probably better for smaller household items, clothing and collectibles.

In most cases, Craigslist ( is a local outlet, which makes it more suitable for selling bulkier items such as sofas and dining tables. Because the transaction takes place in person, the buyer typically picks up and transports the item. Listings are free and easy to set up: Upload a picture of your item, set a price and write a short description. Prospective buyers will e-mail you if they are interested.

Local auction houses are good places to sell a large variety of residential furnishings, household items and vintage collectibles. They are also great sources of information about what you own.

If you decide to sell something at auction, you'll pay the auction house a commission based on the selling price of the item.

Selling sentimental items means money for memories 02/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours