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HomeMoney Making3 Hot Vintage Valuables That Might Be Hiding in Your Home

3 Hot Vintage Valuables That Might Be Hiding in Your Home


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With 30 years of reselling under my belt, I’m the go-to guy when friends need a quick appraisal. And over the years I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon: The vintage items most people consider valuable usually aren’t, and the things they want to toss are often hot collectibles.

Here’s why: Many of us get our idea of what’s valuable from our parents. But markets change, and new collectors have different tastes.

What disregarded treasures are hiding in your home right now? The answers might surprise you. In this series, we’ll explore hot collectibles you might already own.

1. Wood carvings by Witco

Vintage Witco wood carvings of owls
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

In the late 1950s, tropical-themed bars, restaurants and hotels were all the rage. Quickly, the “tiki trend” made its way into people’s homes and demand for related decor items skyrocketed.

Identifying this new style early, founders of Western International Trading Co. (Witco), a small import company based in Washington State, got an idea: Instead of importing goods from Central and South America, they would launch their own line of handmade tiki-inspired goods.

Witco’s new line — which included furniture, wall hangings and sculptures — eventually got the attention of Elvis Presley. Presley’s Jungle Room at the late singer’s Graceland mansion features many large-scale Witco pieces.

Demand for authentic midcentury modern decor has boosted the value of vintage Witco. On eBay, this 48-inch fireplace tool holder recently sold for $300, and this Witco wall hanging sold for $399.

Pro tip: Most Witco pieces are crafted of a soft wood called Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar). And since Witco is usually unmarked, style and wood type are the main identifiers. Cryptomeria is light-weight, wide-grain wood that usually is finished with a with a dark stain that makes the wood look slightly burnt.

2. Memory jars

memory jars ugly jars
Tom Windeknecht / Shutterstock.com

Memory jars (sometimes called “memory jugs” or “ugly jars”) are a form of folk art with roots in African culture. Originally, these objects were made to honor the life and unique personality of a deceased family member.

To create one, an old jar or whiskey jug would be coated in thick layer of putty, and while still sticky, small objects would be embedded in it. When complete, shells, buttons, coins, and beads would cover the entire surface to form a one-of-a-kind memento/art piece.

Can’t picture it? Check out a few examples from The Decorative Arts Trust.

During the Victorian Era, making memory jars became a popular craft project for kids and adults (thankfully, no dying required) And well into the 1930s and ’40s, the jugs continued to be a favorite way to mark the passage to time.

Today, well-preserved memory jars are highly prized by collectors. This whiskey bottle example recently sold for $99.99 on eBay, and this Victorian Era jug is listed for $850. On Etsy, this painted memory jug is listed for $850.

3. Enid Collins box purses

Vintage Enid Collins box purse
Kentin Waits / Money Talks News

In the 1940s, Enid Collins, a homemaker in the Texas Hill Country, began making purses. But these were no ordinary handbags; they were hinged wooden boxes with simple, pre-made plastic handles attached.

These “box purses,” as they came to be known, featured hand-painted designs on the front. Animals, flowers, cityscapes — often bedazzled with plastic applique “jewels” — made these practical accessories mini works of mobile art.

By the 1960s, Enid’s company, Collins of Texas, was selling purses nationwide through high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus.

Plentiful in thrift stores in the 1990s, vintage Enid Collins purses are seldom found in the wild today. But could one or two be hiding in the far recesses of your closet? It’s worth a look. On eBay, this daisy-themed Collins purse sold for $399, and this box purse from 1972 recently sold for $225. And (hold on to your handbags) this road-runner themed example is listed on Etsy for $499.

Pro tip: When it comes to vintage Collins purses, condition is not everything. An active community of collectors resells parts and pieces to help others restore their wooden wonders.

The hot market for homemade

Woodworking
sercan samancii / Shutterstock.com

Everything we’ve covered in this story is a product of humble origins. Homemade and handmade, these objects transitioned from in fashion to out of fashion, then back again.

If you’re looking to downsize or declutter, remember this: Some of the most valuable collectibles didn’t start life in a factory — they were born in a basement workshop, in a garage, or over a messy dining room table. Look with new eyes and rediscover the one-of-a-kind treasures you already own.

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