John Saller, a longtime Milwaukee-based eBay seller, often picks through yard sales and thrift shops for items, some of which he sells online. He once bought a bird’s nest salt-and-pepper shaker set for pennies at a yard sale — and then sold it for $250 on his BuyOldStuff eBay site.

If you’re looking to turn your attic or basement junk into cash, Saller advises doing research on your items, which includes asking for expert appraisals and searching eBay for “completed sales.” That’s where you will find what an item similar to yours actually sold for.

Once you’ve gotten to know an item’s value, Saller says there are three options for selling it: at a yard sale; online on sites like Craigslist, eBay or other forums; or with a consigner who will take a cut of the profits when it sells.

Curious to know what “trash” can be turned into treasure? These 10 items are hot on the resale market:

A woman hanging artwork on a wall.
Prints, paintings and art glass sell well because they can give a room a fairly easy facelift. Twenty20

If something isn’t working, it’s not necessarily a deal killer. It depends on what the repair will cost in time and money.


    Costume jewelry from the early 1900s to the 1970s can do well in resale. Meanwhile, fine jewelry, such as sterling silver and gold, is something different entirely, explains Victoria Gerard, owner of Ivana’s Trunk consignment store and frequent estate sale manager. If you are not sure what you have, take it to a reputable jeweler or a trusted reseller and ask for an estimate.


    You may not know whether the gun in grandpa’s trunk is a valuable Civil War rifle, but someone who knows guns could determine that, suggest a price and even line up potential buyers. Military items are sought after by collectors, says Saller, “but not every uniform is worth something.” It helps to have a picture of grandpa wearing the uniform and records that connect it to a specific war or battle.


    Collectors of sterling silver are always looking, says Gerard, but so are shoppers who want nice pieces for a holiday dinner party. Be sure to know what is silver and what is simply silver plate. “Silver plate will not cut it. There is no value to that,” says Gerard.


    Artwork should be appraised by a professional to determine value. Prints, paintings and art glass sell well because, according to Gerard, they can give a room a fairly easy facelift.


    A highboy that dates to colonial times is desirable; your mother’s laminated coffee table likely isn’t. Old Persian rugs retain value and do not have to be in good condition, but be realistic about price when furniture is not in good shape.


    The older, the better. Do you have the original box? That can increase the value. Tin toys and old baseball cards are still desirable. Trains were popular once, but not so much anymore. Explains Saller, “The younger generation is not as excited about them because they didn’t grow up riding trains.”


    Advertising items include a sign from an old store or salesman samples. Beer signs are popular. Collectors like old neon and old product advertisements that light up or feature animation.

  8. TOOLS

    Often, shoppers are looking to supplement their own workshops. Some collectors buy old wooden-handled tools. Take time to clean them. Provide an electrical outlet so buyers can plug in power tools to check if they work.


    Turntables, receivers, albums — all these things will attract audiophiles who like the sound of a record. “If something isn’t working, it’s not necessarily a deal killer. It depends on what the repair will cost in time and money,” Saller says.


    Vintage holiday ornaments may bring good prices. “People hang on to them,” says Gerard, “so you don’t see the really old ones too often.” Old fur coats can earn hundreds of dollars in a clothing resale shop. They should be in good condition and preferably come from a non-smoking home (fur can retain the smell of cigarette smoke).

Do your research, and price your items with an eye to condition. If you go the consignment route, look for a store that has good reviews online or one that is recommended by friends. If selling online, your upfront investment may trim your profits, warns Saller. “You may pay up to 20 percent of an item’s value to eBay. And then you still have all the time you invested to take a picture, list it, answer questions, box it and send it,” he explains. “Not for the faint of heart.” But if you find the right items, it could be worth your time.

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