If shows like Storage Wars have taught us anything, it’s that big bucks can be found in the unlikeliest of places. In fact, the junk gathering dust in your loft or basement could actually be a goldmine waiting to be rediscovered. And should you find a certain Christmas trinket packed away with your decorations then your holidays may just get a little bit happier.
It’s no secret that vintage artworks and ornaments can fetch astonishing amounts of money at auction. Every day, potential buyers spend hours searching for hidden masterpieces in small shops and boutiques. However, some of the most expensive items sold at auction were actually found in the most unexpected places.
While art fairs are often considered the best place to find rare objects, many diamonds-in-the-rough are hiding in plain sight. Just take the case of Teri Horton, for example, who jokingly bought a painting she hated from a thrift store for $5 in 1992. In fact, the ugly painting was a potential lost classic by Jackson Pollock which led to her being offered $9 million for its sale.
More recently, a Midwest metal dealer found a golden egg in an antiques market in 2011. Initially, his plan was to melt it down for the gold value. After doing some research, however, the bargain-hunter realized that the item – bought for $14,000 – was a rare Fabergé egg. Later, he gained 2,500 times its original value after selling his find for a reported $33 million.
Admittedly, it’s remarkable to find such rarities in the home. However, while you’re unlikely to find a Pollock or a Fabergé in your loft, it’s still possible to find small fortunes hidden in storage. Since the founding of eBay in 1995, especially, more and more people have become amateur antique hunters scouring their basements for treasure.
However, it’s not necessarily just famous paintings or long-lost jewels that can gain a lot of interest online. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And what you might consider worthless could be of considerable value to someone else. This is especially true when it comes to the world of ornaments.
Alongside obvious examples like vinyl records and tech from the past, ceramic knick-knacks make for some of eBay’s top sellers. Mass produced, often with very little thought of future worth, these ornaments are a common feature of many homes. Moreover, their every-day appearances often masks a hidden market value.
In 2018, for example, eBay felt a surge in buyers clamoring to obtain vintage Precious Moments porcelain statues. Originally sold in 1979 for a meagre $15, these collectibles suddenly experienced a newfound – and quite unexpected – explosion of demand. As a matter of fact, some of these simple ornaments sold for prices as high as $350.
Other items for sale on the auction site have fetched surprisingly high prices despite a very divisive aesthetic. For some, a teapot in the shape of a cauliflower may not be everyone’s idea of an attractive objet d’art. However, according to financial site, Money Aware, one was sold on eBay for an astounding $162.
It’s apparent then, that the market of mass-produced collectibles is larger than one would initially think. It’s so large, in fact, that it’s even become home to fraudsters and con artists. In 2019, for example, opportunistic eBay sellers in the UK began posting new ceramics worth a meagre £1 at ten times their original value.
If you want to find a genuine collectible on eBay, then, it’s clear that you’ll have to do your research before making a bid. Conversely, anyone wishing to put their items up for auction should first consider what they should expect from a sale. While many collectibles can be worth rather more than you’d expect, however, there are others that can make a killing in comparison.
Writing on his website, Eric Michael Books, the eponymous eBay expert laid down some handy hints for those new to online auctions. Chief among them was continually referring to best seller lists to find trends in the market. “For every hour that you spend picking, you should be spending an hour looking at eBay Completed Listings, so that you know what is selling,” Michael advised.
As you can imagine, these trends change depending on the time of year – and Christmas is a peak time for the sale of ornaments. Come the holidays, a potential seller can often expect a hefty return on collectibles. “My aunt recently found a vintage Advent calendar for $1 and sold it in a week for $78,” wrote Michael as an example.
In Michael’s opinion, this swing in value has everything to do with nostalgia. “Everybody had favorite Christmas decorations and ornaments from when they were growing up,” the reasoned. “Many people would pay a lot of hard-earned cash to replace broken heirlooms or to locate rare items that they find in old family Christmas photos.”
As a result, Michael suggests sticking to specific time periods when it comes to reselling ornaments. For example, boxed items produced by Hallmark in the 1980s can raise a fair price. Meanwhile, collectibles that are tied into film franchises – such as Star Wars – can sell for as high as $50.
And it’s not just elaborate ornaments that can sell for a decent price online. In fact, Shiny-Brite decorations that once graced so many childhood Christmas trees can fetch a respectable amount. However, items like this are usually more valuable in a group rather than individually. For example, a bundle of baubles should usually fetch around $20.
Many of us already have decades-old Christmas decorations tucked away in our homes. However, for those of us who don’t, these tiny treasures can also be “surprisingly easy” to find according to Michael. For starters, thrift stores are often overflowing with surplus decorations while yard sales can be a good source too.
Moreover, those looking to sell these items in person are less likely to haggle over the price. “I can’t tell you how many 20-30 year old ornaments and knick-knacks I have picked out of Free boxes at garage sales and yard sales,” Michael enthused. “I have found dozens more for 10 cents or 25 cents apiece.”
Clearly, when it comes to the eBay ornament market, there are some decorations that are more highly valued than others. However, there are certain items that will raise a steeper asking price depending on the level of current demand. And this can often be where the real money lies.
As shown by the sudden boom in Precious Memories figurines, specific ceramics can experience a surprising surge in popularity. This is even more true of seasonal ornaments and decorations. So with that in mind, what exactly is it that Christmas collectible hunters should be on the lookout for this Yuletide?
Like so many sought-after eBay items, our currently in-demand ornamental object of desire is a festive decoration that was popular many years ago. Originally produced in the 1960s, ceramic Christmas trees were a staple of homes all over America for over a decade. Easy to mold and paint at home, these items were popular with families who fancied adding their own special touch to their decorations.
Simple and unassuming, these decorations were originally constructed out of clay. As a result, they were just as durable and easy to handle as they were charming and fun to paint. Moreover, their design left them capable of surviving years in storage which is why so many items have made it to the present in one piece.
As he explained to the TODAY Home website in 2018, collectible guru Bob Richter recalled that ceramic Christmas trees once took pride of place in many American homes. “Everyone who took a ceramics class and celebrated Christmas made one of these trees,” he said. “People put them on top of the television, back when the TV was a piece of furniture.”
With the popularity of handicrafts in the 1960s and 1970s, plenty of companies put their own trees on the market. In particular, ceramic trees were popular with producers based in the Midwest. Notably, companies like Nowell’s Molds and Shiloh Molds – operating out of Ohio and Arkansas respectively – created their own versions of the ceramic.
Through mass production, these companies were able to add a few extra features that many craft stores weren’t able to offer. Specifically, early models of these trees came with individual light sources that replicated the bulbs strung around real trees. Later, these were updated to trees lit from inside by a single bulb.
Alongside these light-up ceramic trees, certain other models included some additional unique features. For example, some trees were made in the style of music boxes that revolved while quaint melodies rang out. These musical trees – as well as the larger ones – tend to be more valuable, according to Richter.
Nevertheless, even the most popular items can’t hold onto their beloved status forever. In the case of ceramic Christmas trees, interest began to wane with the decline of handicrafts in the 1990s. With more convenient ready-made decorations getting shipped to the States from the East, these Midwestern models slowly disappeared from homes.
Still, many who owned original ceramic Christmas trees couldn’t bring themselves to throw them away. Instead, they put them into storage where they gathered dust for the best part of three decades. At least, that was the case up until recently when loft hunters began rummaging through their possessions and putting the items up for sale on eBay.
In late 2018, news sources began noticing a surge in sales of ceramic Christmas trees on eBay. At first, outlets like TODAY Home reported that some items had sold for as high as $100. But then, as more people were alerted to the boom, the prices began to soar higher and higher.
Scouring eBay’s listings, TODAY Home found another tree that had sold for $149. If that wasn’t enough, they went on to report that another piece had realised an eye-watering $218. However, this was far from the highest price. In fact, Mental Floss would claim that one ceramic Christmas tree had switched hands for a staggering $650.
Coinciding with this surge in popularity, social media users began to document their enthusiasm for the trees. And, in many cases, these fans belonged to a new generation. “This ceramic tree was my Mom’s, and I love it!” posted gobeil_soleil underneath a picture of a white tree on Instagram. “She has a green one as well at her place.”
Much like Eric Michael, Bob Richter believes this boom in popularity has everything to do with a yearning for the past. “Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, my mom had this, my aunt had this, so I want one,’” reasoned the collectibles expert. “Basically, you’re buying nostalgia,” he continued. “You’re buying the memory.”
Richter also had a few useful tips to pass on to those looking to make some money out of memories. If you have a ceramic Christmas tree then the most important rule is to know when to sell. Obviously, few buyers are going to be interested in paying out big bucks for a festive ornament in August.
When it does comes time to actually place the item online, however, it’s worth paying close attention to your sales pitch. Richter recommends a three-day listing and a time-sensitive title such as ‘Get in time for Christmas’ to encourage eBay patrons to hit ‘Bid’. Additionally, attractive online presentation is also vitally important in reeling in potential buyers.
As Richter says, a flattering photograph of the ornament on the listing page can make all the difference. “People don’t like buying something that’s being held by a hand that has dirty fingernails or if there’s a mess in the background,” the collector advised. So, don’t expect to attract many bids if your photographic presentation isn’t up to scratch.
This is all very useful knowledge for those who already own ceramic Christmas trees. But what about those who don’t own these rare items and still want to make a buck? As it turns out, these treasured collectibles are actually fairly easy to source – so long as you look at the right time.
“The truth of the matter is, they’re not incredibly valuable at other times of the year,” Richter explained. As a result, you’re best advised to stock up in the summer while prices are low. “I buy holiday items off-season in July, when you’re sweating at a flea market, because you can get those trees for $10 and $20,” he added.
If you still have a ceramic Christmas tree that you’d like to sell then it’s best to get them on eBay as soon as possible. Currently, some items have been listed for as high as $300. However, it’s also worth remembering that money isn’t always a substitute for the sentimental value that family ornaments can have.
“I think it’s great to turn them into cash,” concluded Richter, “and it’s also great to…plug them in and use them, and tell a story of your grandmother or your aunt or your mother or whoever it was who had them in the first place, because that that’s the true value. It has emotional value, and that has gossamer wings.”
Whether as a vintage collectible or as a family memento, ceramic Christmas trees clearly have a greater value far beyond their unassuming appearance. In fact, it may well make you think about the knick-knacks we have shouldn’t have tossed aside without a thought. So, the next time you’re clearing out your storage space, think twice about throwing away your long-forgotten belongings – they could be worth much more than you think.