Pottery and porcelain expert David Rago appraised this Thomas J. Wheatley vase that lived for many years in the attic of its owners relative's home. At the 2014 ROADSHOW event in Albuquerque, Rago gave the vase an auction estimate of $1,000.

Time for a clear-out? Here are some expert tips for how to decide if your family's old stuff is worth hanging on to.

On ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, we’ve learned that the most unlikely treasures can be found in attics, closets, basements and garages. But if you’re looking to clear out clutter, how can you determine which items are worth keeping, and which should be tossed? Our experts weigh in on this typical household task.

As Ever, Condition Is Key

“[Things] stashed in the attic or basement often means that such things have not been cherished, and that their condition is poor,” says expert David Rago. Poor condition often causes items to lose value over the years. “Even very good things in bad condition have little value and are even harder to sell at nearly any price,” Rago says. “If you think you have something of value, begin by securing its safety and preserving, at least, the condition it is presently in.” A general tip for storing your possessions is to protect them from the elements; any water, dust, extreme temperatures can be detrimental to condition and longevity.

Antique Housewares & Décor

Silver and old rugs are examples of items that are commonly stored away for long periods of time and are particularly susceptible to damage. “Items that are silver plate will over time tarnish and deteriorate and sadly for the most part do not retain a great deal of their value,” says expert Sebastian Clarke. “If you have silver or silver plate, do not wrap it in plastic, [as] the plastic will deteriorate and bond with the surface of the silver,” Clarke explains.

Unless carpets and rugs are antique and in good condition, “they are often not worth a great deal of money,” Clarke says. Particularly delicate pieces like carpets, lace, and linens need to be professionally cleaned and wrapped before storage to avoid moisture exposure.

Old Toys & Collectibles

What if you’ve got toys and collectibles from yesteryear packed away? Expert Phil Weiss says their value can vary greatly. “Common things that I see in basements and attics all the time are toys, comic books, old sports cards, and fad collectibles such as Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Kids,” Weiss says. “In all cases, the value of common things that are saved is based on the time period they are from and the condition they’re in.”

Weiss explains that the same type of item can have widely varying prices. “For example, if you find a mint condition Barbie doll in the basement from the 1980s or 90s it might be worth under $10, yet if you find a Barbie in the box from the 1950s it could be worth thousands. The same can be said for comic books and sports cards.”

Educate Yourself

If your possessions are in good condition, how do you train your eye for detecting trash versus treasure? Knowledge is key. “The Internet…[can] help determine prices but speaking to professional appraisers is the best way to do this,” advises Weiss. “Another good idea is to check online sources for sales results to get a good indication of what similar things might sell for.” Clarke adds, “If you love it, keep it. Use the Internet as a research tool but don’t take it as gospel. If you think you’ve made a discovery, contact a reputable specialist for information.”

Items to take your time assessing include fine art like paintings and prints, as well as sterling silver. These have the potential for hidden value. “History has proven great discoveries can be made,” says Clarke. “With the increased value of sterling silver on the commodities market you may find that your not-so-attractive sterling silver flatware service from Grandma can be worth upwards of $1,000!”

If you’re unsure about keeping or throwing out an item, remember that there is always time to discard it later. Weiss explains, “I get a call every day from someone who describes a great item only to end the sentence with ‘I did not know what it was worth so we threw it out.’”

Comic books are just one example of collectibles that can see the end of their days in basements and attics if not stored properly. Most are not worth much, but certain copies like these "Superman 7" and "Action 31" comic books can command high value. Philip Weiss appraised these two during ROADSHOW's 2012 visit to Boston for $7,500 to $12,500 at auction.
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