Junk Drawer Treasure
Published in the Summer 2014 edition of Vintage KC Magazine
Written by Michael and James Fry
While working in the estate sale industry, our daily task is twofold: to organize the entire contents of a house, and to price every single item according to it’s value. With every estate sale we set up there is the inevitable encounter with the infamous “junk drawer”. This is a drawer (at times more than one) located in a cabinet in the office, underneath the craft table, or in a desk in the basement. It was used to house all the items that didn’t otherwise have a home. It’s a five sided net catching the loose change and pocket lint of life. Often the collective value of every item in the drawer is less than a cup of coffee. However, we do run across occasions when the contents of a single drawer can surprise us, both with its interesting collection and its high value. We’ve decided to take our years of junk drawer experience and pass it along to you. So set aside those broken rubber bands and bent paper clips and we’ll explore the potentially profitable world of the junk drawer.
Coins are one of the most common categories to be found sliding around in the junk drawer. As a general rule when valuing currency there are three main factors to take into account: How rare is the coin, what is its condition, and is it composed of a valuable metal? The composition of the coin is usually the most obvious to discern. All 20th century US coin dollars, half dollars, quarters, and dimes minted prior to 1965 are comprised of 90% silver. This means if you you have a regular Washington quarter (the kind still in circulation today) made in 1964 or earlier, then it is currently worth around $4 instead of just a quarter. A half dollar is worth around $7, and silver dollars around $15. If you factor in rarity & condition, the coins might be worth even more. For example, a 1910 Barber quarter in circulated condition is worth twice as much to collectors, because of it’s rarity, as it is to someone just interested in the silver content. If found in excellent condition the coin could bring over $100. Heritage Auctions has a very helpful beginner’s guide to coin values that you can find at: bit.ly/1pT7UKT
Pocket knives are also common junk drawer fair. There have literally been hundreds of different pocket knife manufacturers over the last century. Navigating the different brands printed on the knife blade can be a little intimidating. A few key names to look for include Remington, Queen, Case, Camillus, Buck, and Schrade. Case in particular is a very highly sought after brand. If you own a Case (marked Case XX) and it has a “stag handle” (made of a deer antler) the knife can be worth from $50 up to several hundred, depending on the age and condition.
Our personal favorite item to find in the bottom of an unorganized office drawer is the often unimpressive looking vintage/antique pen. It’s easy to assume that these old pens hold little value, but if it has the right name printed on the side it can be worth a surprising amount. Parker and Sheaffer are two of the more common brands to find. If it has a curved metal tip on the end (called a nib) then it is a fountain pen or a dip pen. The nibs themselves can also have unexpected value for their size considering that some of them are made of gold. Other brands to be on the lookout for include Waterman, Conklin, Walh, and Montblanc. Last year, at one of our estate sales in Parkville, we ran across a Conklin crescent filler fountain pen that we were able to sell for $125. With potential values in that range, it seems well worth the extra effort to investigate those old pens at the bottom of your drawer.
We’ve just barely scratched the surface of what you might find in your organizing adventures. Each of the categories above could be expanded into an entire article (and in some future issue we might have to do just that). Our goal here was not to tell you every item you might run across with high value, but to make you aware that the small things can often be worth more than they seem. So push past the grocery list from 1974 and the lip balm of unknown vintage to see what you can discover in a junk drawer near you. Happy Digging.
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