Well, get ready to grab your treasures and bring them down to Memorial Hall on Saturday, July 19, from 10 am to 3 pm, where antiques appraiser Tom Tomaszek will fill you in on the use, history, and value of your heirlooms.
The event is a fundraiser for the Historical Society of Wilmington. This is the second year Tomaszek has traveled to Wilmington to share his knowledge, and historical society president Julie Moore says last year’s event was enormously popular and successful. “It was a major hit,” she says. “Last year we went way over our allotted time, and I heard (Tomaszek) was still appraising a couple of items out on the lawn after the show.”
This year, the town’s downtown organization, Wilmington Works, is also sponsoring the event with advertising.
Moore says the appraisal event is a lot like the PBS program “Antiques Roadshow,” in which people bring in items and the show’s experts talk about the item’s history and give an estimated value. With the permission of the owners, Tomaszek will appraise the pieces in front of the entire audience, so the event is as much for spectators as it is for those who bring in the treasures. There’s a fee for each appraisal, and Moore says the historical society’s share of the fee is quite generous.
Tomaszek says he does it for the joy of it, and as a fundraiser for the communities he visits. “It’s very interesting, it’s almost a hobby for me,” he says. “The phenomenal people I get to meet and, as a historian, the history I get and the stories people relate is very rewarding; history you can’t get from a book. It’s really a learning experience and it’s enjoyable.”
One of the things Tomaszek says he enjoys about appraisal events like the one at Memorial Hall is the variety of items that come in. “One person may have an autograph collection, another may have a coin collection, sometimes people bring in paintings, etchings, books – you never know what’s going to come in,” he says. “Last year in Wilmington we had terrific paintings come in.”
Although it may be possible to stump Tomaszek, it’s not very likely. “You can’t know everything,” he says, “but I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m well-versed on most antiques.”
One of the most unusual pieces Tomaszek has been asked to appraise was brought into an event last year. “It was a Mayan jade mask that had been given to the owner by a wealthy Mexican for watching his children. It was from about 1,000 AD.”
At another event in Stratford, CT, someone from Maryland showed up with 35 pieces of Continental currency, a type of paper money authorized by the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War and printed by the states. The currency quickly lost value, and by the 1790s was virtually worthless. And that’s what the owner of these bills thought they were still worth, until Tomaszek told her they were worth at least $100 each, with some fetching substantially more. “I asked if she had any more of them, and she said there was about a hundred more. Her father left a trunk full of them, and they had bills from almost every state.”
Not every item turns out to be such a treasure, however. Tomaszek says some people bring in things that were inherited or purchased and thought to be of great value, and sometimes he has to break the news to them that their item isn’t as valuable as they were led to believe, or worse, that it’s a fake. “About 80% of people are happy with what they learn about their item,” he says. “About 20% are disappointed.”
Tomaszek recalls an appraisal of documents that once belonged to Albert Einstein for a woman who was related to the famous scientist. “She had loaned the documents out sometime in the 1970s and, when they came back, she put them in a safe. When we looked closely at them, they turned out to be photocopies.”
Tomaszek says people should bring any antique they’d like to know more about – as long as they can carry it in and carry it out. People can bring up to five items, and each appraisal takes five to eight minutes. “If you bring more then five or six items, I’ll ask you to queue up separately for the additional items.” If people want to sell their items Tomaszek won’t buy them, but he’ll refer the owners to reputable auctioneers – it would be unethical for him to buy something he has appraised, he says.