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General Interest

Appraisals are best left to the professionals

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Written by TONY REID, (Decatur) Herald & Review   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 08:46
DECATUR, Ill. (AP) – It's easy to get all wrapped up in antiques and then carried away by what we think they might be worth.

Who hasn't seen that appraisal on an episode of the PBS Antiques Roadshow, now used as a promotional segment for the program, where the guy from Tucson, Ariz., brings in a circa 1840 to 1860 Navajo blanket he keeps draped on the back of a chair? Asked how much he thinks its worth, he has no idea. Then viewers can almost see the color drain from his face as he's told between $350,000 and $500,000.

We all want to be that man. Trouble is, ultra-valuable tribal blankets don't gallop along that often, so how are you going to know if you've got one? Or an Old Master painting? Valuable clock? Rare Turkish rug?

Some fans say scoring a massively oversubscribed ticket to a Roadshow episode is tougher than winning the lottery, so not much chance of getting satisfaction there. But local professional help is at hand to tell you how much your old things are worth if you are willing to cross their hands with silver. Just don't bank too much on getting good news.

Decatur-based Edwin Walker is a personal property appraiser who is an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers. You pay him to price antiquities, and he sticks rigorously to an honesty-is-the-best-policy approach, warts and all.

“I would say, in probably 75 percent of the situations, especially when people have me look at one item, like a painting, then 75 percent of the time, I am the bearer of bad news,” he said. “It's about being diplomatic and good-natured and convincing enough to let them down easily.”

Walker, who offers formal written appraisals and cheaper “verbal approximations of value,” said clients are generally more accepting of the verdicts once they see the research and effort that goes into them. An associate professor of art at Millikin University teaching graphic design and computer graphics, he specializes in fine arts himself, but through his professional appraisers association, said experts in other fields are only a phone call away.

At the end of the day, he said, what he's selling is peace of mind. “People then have an idea; they know they don't have the Hope Diamond sitting around at home,” he added. “If they are considering sending stuff to the Salvation Army or whatever, they want to know they made the right choices and no major mistakes.”

Appraisers can be found in the phone book, but be wary of any situation in which an appraiser turns around and offers to buy the item. “That is a serious conflict of interest,” Walker said.

Decatur appraiser and auctioneer Mike Hall has been in the business for more than 40 years and has seen more estates and estate goodies than he could shake a gavel at. In a sad commentary on the state of the American family, he said many of the appraisals he does involve the carving up and valuation of property, antiques and otherwise after a divorce, when people might be arguing over who gets what and what it's worth.

He prefers to avoid showing up at the family home when either party is present. That way, he avoids getting into verbal tussles with some unhappy spouse who insists, for example, that the Indian rug by the fireplace must be worth at least X number of dollars because they'd seen one just like it on TV.

“I usually tell them I charge by the hour, and this is costing you standing here and arguing with me and telling your story,” he said. “Stories which I've heard many times.”

Like Walker, he said the secret to a solid appraisal is fearless honesty, which he seasons with knowledge and lots of experience. He said Internet selling has radically reshaped the antiques and collectibles marketplace, but a real world local auction, advertised to the right specialist buyers far and wide, will still bring top prices if the lots deserve it.

“You will get it sold, and it'll bring what it's worth,” he added.

Appraiser Virginia Cannon said part of the fun of the profession is that you never know what you will be asked to judge the worth of next. She recalls, for example, being asked to calculate the value of giant collections of dead bugs donated to the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois and Illinois State University in Normal.

Add both collections together, and Cannon was faced with more than 13,000 dead insects, but she wasn't creeped out. “No, bugs don't bother me,” she said. “But, with all the formaldehyde, they kind of smelled bad.”

A certified appraiser with the International Society of Appraisers and an accredited senior appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers, she said it helps to have a wide field of expert contacts you can turn to for help on pricing the unusual. The collections turned out to be valued in the thousands of dollars each, and Cannon said people who have valuable things they may never want to sell should still get them appraised for insurance purposes.

“To replace that item, you are going to have to go out to an antiques shop or somewhere and find it,” she explains. “And you might have to pay through the nose to get it.”


Information from: Herald & Review,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-29-11 1027GMT





Treasure divers find antique ring worth $500,000

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Written by Associated Press   
Monday, 27 June 2011 10:29
KEY WEST, Florida (AP) -- Treasure divers searching for a 17th-century sunken Spanish galleon off the Florida Keys say they have found an antique emerald ring worth an estimated $500,000.

The gold ring has a rectangular cut estimated at 10 carats. It's believed to be from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sank off the Florida Keys during a 1622 hurricane.

Divers from Mel Fisher's Treasures found the ring Thursday about 35 miles from Key West.

A spokesperson said the ring's estimated value is based on the stone's 2.7- by 2.5-centimeter size and the value of other emeralds from Atocha.

Also found were two silver spoons and other artifacts. A 40-inch gold rosary was found in March and a gold bar in April.

Mel Fisher (1922-1998) was an Indiana-born treasurer hunter best known for finding the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha on July 20, 1985.



Mel Fisher Treasures:

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-23-11 2324GMT




Last Updated on Thursday, 07 July 2011 09:42

Former Goebbels lake property for sale in Berlin

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Written by DAVID RISING, Associated Press   
Thursday, 23 June 2011 11:23
A view from Schwanenwerder island in Berlin. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

BERLIN (AP) – A posh island property on a Berlin lake where Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, lived for almost a decade and held lavish parties with Nazi bigwigs is up for sale at auction.

Bids are now being taken for the 70,000-square foot plot on Schwanenwerder island, an exclusive area in western Berlin where Goebbels and his family lived from 1936 to 1943.

There is no minimum bid for the property, which has 272 feet of waterfront around the corner from Berlin's popular Wannsee lake beach, and is dotted with tall oaks, pines and other trees.

“The market will decide what it sells for,” Irina Daehne, a spokeswoman for the real estate agency selling the property for the city, said Wednesday.

Berlin reserves the right, however, to decide not to sell if the bids are too low – or to reject the top bidder if it turns out they are somehow interested in glorifying the Goebbels past.

“We want to avoid a Nazi use or anything related,” Daehne said. “We can say no and we will say no; nobody wants the right-wing scene there.”

Schwanenwerder island was first developed at the end of the 19th century, and quickly became home for some of Berlin's wealthiest families – many of them Jewish.

Shortly after the Nazis came to power in March 1933, the local chapter of the brown-shirted SA storm troopers raised a swastika flag atop a water tower on the island to intimidate the Jewish residents.

As they fled over the following years, members of the Nazi elite moved in, including Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, and Hitler's personal doctor, Theodor Morell. Hitler himself entertained the idea of moving there, but never did.

Goebbels bought his property in 1936 from the chairman of the board of Deutsche Bank, Oscar Schlitter, paying 270,000 Reichsmarks – a tidy sum at the time, said Sabine Weissler, who is part of a group of researchers documenting the history of the island.

He lived there with his wife Magda and children until 1943, then moved to a villa near Bogensee outside of Berlin, but returned to Schwanenwerder in March, 1945, in the final phases of the war, Weissler said.

“Then he moved later into the Fuehrerbunker and after that everyone knows,” she said, referring to the Goebbels' decision to murder their six children with cyanide before killing themselves the day after Hitler's suicide.

After the war, the villa on the Schwanenwerder was ransacked first by Soviet, then American soldiers and eventually demolished.

On its foundation was built a modest-looking 7,650-square foot brick bungalow in the 1950s, which still sits on the site. It was the headquarters of Berlin's Aspen Institute, an American think tank, from 1974 to 2010, which rented it from the city of Berlin before relocating downtown.

None of the buildings on the site – also including a large garage and a boat house – are considered historical landmarks, so the new owner can tear them down and begin again, Daehne said.

Bids are being accepted until Aug. 22.

Coincidentally, Goebbels' villa near Bogensee, which belongs to the state of Brandenburg, is also to be sold as part of a larger tract of land, but it is not yet clear when it will go on the market, Daehne said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-22-11 1636GMT

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 June 2011 12:15

Free to good caretakers: Delaware Bay lighthouses

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Written by KRISTI FUNDERBURK, The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.   
Tuesday, 21 June 2011 11:42
A U.S. Coast Guard photo shows the 1913 cast-iron Miah Maull Shoal Light off the coast of New Jersey. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – The federal government is trying to give away some lighthouses.

Schools, museums and other public entities are invited to apply for ownership of three Delaware Bay lighthouses made available through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

The Coast Guard owns the structures.

The 11-year-old act enables the U.S. General Services Administration to offer the lighthouses – for free – for education, park, cultural or historic preservation purposes, according to New England region spokeswoman Paula Santangelo.

“Through the transfer of these lighthouses to eligible entities, we're ensuring that they're enjoyed for many years to come,” she said.

If selected after a rigorous application process, the steward is required to make the lighthouse accessible to the public in some way and must follow the historic covenants associated with the stewardship, Santangelo said. The Coast Guard will continue to maintain the lights, she said.

“Even though there is GPS and other technological devices, these are still needed and still active navigational aides because, of course, (of) dangerous areas,” she said.

Miah Maull Shoal, Ship John Shoal and Brandywine Shoal are the three lighthouses available, all on the New Jersey side of the bay. All are accessible only by boat.

While the Coast Guard no longer houses anyone in the buildings, it still maintains automated lights on top, said Meta Cushing, who is overseeing the Miah Maul Shoal Light transfer for the GSA.

Miah Maull, built in 1913, is a cast iron, 45-foot tall red tower with a black lantern. Its three-story interior is lined with brick. It is one of a series of shoals along the Delaware Bay, sitting 12 miles east of Bowers Beach and southeast of the coast of Fortescue, N.J.

Ship John, about 3 miles east of Bombay Hook in Delaware and 3 miles south of the mouth of the Cohansey River in New Jersey, is the northernmost lighthouse in the Delaware Bay. It was built in 1877 as a marker of a hazardous underwater terrain feature known as Ship John Shoal. The light has a watch room and octagonal lantern.

Brandywine, built in 1914, is 12 miles east of Slaughter Beach in Delaware and 9 miles northwest of the southern tip of New Jersey. It is a cast-iron structure featuring a deck that supports a three-story dwelling.

All three of the lighthouses are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the first year of the Lighthouse Preservation Act, the GSA has overseen 60 transfers, Cushing said. Robbins Reef Lighthouse, off the coast of Bayonne, was the first in New Jersey lighthouse to be transferred after Noble Maritime Collection in Staten Island, N.Y., became its steward.

“If it can't find a steward, the lighthouse may be sold at auction,” Cushing said. A steward could make use of it for field trips, science projects or even create a shore-based museum, she said.

“They're tailor-made for education,” Cushing said. “It just takes someone to commit themselves to it.”

In 2007, a California lawyer and businessman, Michael L. Gabriel, bought the Fourteen Foot Bank lighthouse on the Delaware side of the bay in an online auction for $200,000. The lighthouse is 10 miles off Bowers Beach.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-20-11 1444GMT



Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 12:07

Volunteers work to preserve idyllic Sleeping Bear park

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Written by MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, Traverse City Record-Eagle   
Tuesday, 21 June 2011 10:30
Historic D.H. Day Farm is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park near Glen Arbor, Mich. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – When she signed on with the nonprofit group Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, Patty Byrd couldn't have imagined that she'd one day prune apple and pear trees in an antique orchard or patch the roof of a 19th-century summer hotel on North Manitou Island.

Yet Bryd has done all that and more as one of about 30 work-project volunteers with the group dedicated to preserving the historic structures and cultural landscapes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The group is gearing up for another summer of projects, from removing invasive black locust trees on old farmsteads to repairing the porch on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Blossom Cottage on North Manitou. And it's looking for more volunteers.

“People come and go with different interests and different time availability,” said David Watt, project committee chairman. “We try to look at the park agenda, what we have time to work on, what they don't have time to work on, what's falling apart, and what interests our volunteers.”

Recruits range from summer residents to retired seniors to those, like Byrd, who carve out a few hours around their full-time work schedules. Others are contractors who lend a hand in their spare time. Together they work with park officials to stabilize, rehabilitate or restore some of the park's 366 historic structures and cultural landscape features, including barns, farms, corncribs, schoolhouses, life-saving stations, meadows, inns and a lighthouse.

Byrd is a licensed builder who now works in the oil and gas industry. But volunteers don't need professional experience to help, Watt said. A range of tasks almost always needs doing, from straightforward scraping and painting or hammering nails, to jacking up a building or replacing sills. All that's required is a love of history and an interest in preserving structures with historic accuracy, using salvageable materials whenever possible.

This summer volunteers will continue work on the 1880 Treat farmhouse and outbuildings south of Empire and on the exhibit at the 1918 Charles and Hattie Olsen House, which serves as the Preserve group's office and an interpretive center. They'll also tackle a variety of smaller projects in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

The 3,400-acre district, representative of 19th-and early 20th-century farms in the Midwest, is one of the largest intact agricultural districts in the nationwide National Park system and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Volunteers also will continue work on the Katie Shepherd Hotel called The Beeches. Built in 1895 as part of North Manitou's Cottage Row, the bluff-top building served as a dining hall and inn through the 1930s. Now the goal is to restore it to usefulness, perhaps even as alternative lodging for visitors to the uninhabited island.

This will be the third year the group has worked on North Manitou, which had been a “dream” of members for years, said Watt, a retired high school physics teacher with an interest in woodworking. Volunteers arrive on the island by public ferry or park boat and live in tents or the ranger house, complete with kitchen and running water. They spend their free time swimming, hiking, socializing and reveling in the island's quiet and natural beauty.

“There's certain people, the thought of being away from searching the Internet, it's too much,” Watt said. “There's another group that says, ‘That's cool,’ especially when they're standing looking over Lake Michigan and looking east over Leland.”

Byrd, of Traverse City, is among the latter. Working amid some of the park's most idyllic landscapes “is a way for me to get away from the hustle and bustle of my life,” she said. “It allows me to rest.”

Camaraderie and adventure is the draw for other volunteers, like Watt.

“We're opening up the buildings for the first time in years. We see things people never see, and it's fun imagining history,” Watt said. “There's always a discovery. Sometimes it's rotten wood, sometimes it's something else, like the surprisingly ornamental hinges found on the hotel doors.




Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle,

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-06-20-11 1214GMT

Historic D.H. Day Farm is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park near Glen Arbor, Mich. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Many structures in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District of the park, including the Barratt Pig Barn, are in dire need of restoration. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 11:59
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