What’s the Value?

With the advent of television shows like Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, All Star Dealers and Pawn Stars the world of the museum curator has changed.  What was once a steady stream of object donations for museums and historical societies has been reduced to a trickle.  People now think that somewhere in the boxes of family mementos is the golden ticket, the untapped treasure that is going to pay for their kid’s college education or build them a retirement home on aCaribbean island.  Sadly, the notion of preserving something for future generations has been overshadowed by the hope for a cash payout.

Every week I get telephone calls from people wondering if their memorabilia has any value.  And while I usually answer “yes,” my answer seldom equates to the cash reward the caller is hoping for.  See…objects and memorabilia have three types of value; historical, financial and sentimental.  Every item has some, but the latter most often tips the scales.

I usually start by asking some questions.  “Is the item from a memorable moment in time?  Was it used by a legend in the sporting world?  Does it have a specific story to tell?”  These questions help determine if the item has historical value.  Is it something a museum would want to exhibit?

The process gets difficult because historical value often leads to financial value.  But not all items with financial value have historical value.  It is complicated.  A signed Babe Ruth baseball may be worth thousands of dollars but have no historical significance other than being signed by the Bambino.  Now the dilemma of what to do with the item starts to take form.  Should it be preserved in a museum or sold for a financial sum?

The process gets even more complicated when the item has been passed down from generation to generation.  Now emotion has entered the picture.  That same Babe Ruth baseball may have financial value for being autographed and sentimental value if the autograph was obtained by Grandpa when he was a kid. Sentimental value is important.  It is the reason why we have boxes of mementos and memorabilia in our attics in the first place.

Ultimately, determining value is very difficult.  Not everything in those attic boxes is going to sell at auction for a handsome sum.  Your father’s knitted Baltimore Colts hat has very little historical or financial value.  It is definitely not going to be that golden ticket.  But its value lies in the story it tells about the person who cherished it.…and in the end that story lasts longer than any reward from a quick sale.


Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.