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Terry Kovel’s Cautions for Collectors

Terry Kovel’s Cautions for Collectors

For more than 55 years, Kovels’ Antiques has been one of the best-known names in the world of antiques and collectibles. Founded in 1953 by antique enthusiasts Ralph and Terry Kovel, the company has grown over the years from a small question and answer column in The Cleveland Press to an ever-growing array of books, regular publications, and price guides that have become an invaluable resource for collectors around the world.

“Neither of us was trained in art, antiques or writing,” Terry remembers. “We came from Nowheresville as far as the experts were concerned. Maybe that’s why we can write what we write, because we think like beginners and write in plain language.”

Ralph Kovel passed away in 2008, but Terry continues to run the business from her office in Cleveland, Ohio. She took some time to share her insights and advice about collecting for our 2012 edition:

- Don’t buy collectibles as an investment — Public opinion is fickle, and favor for any particular item can be short-lived. “People collect what they remember from grandma’s house for their own children. They rarely collect further back,” says Kovel.

- Don’t buy anything that’s broken, stained, or needs to be reupholstered — Unless it’s a one-of-a-kind, chances are you’ll find a better one down the line. Don’t waste your money on an inferior item. “Don’t buy a broken clock, unless you’re a clock maker. It will probably cost more to fix than you paid in the first place,” says Kovel. Ditto for furniture that needs to be reupholstered or costume jewelry that needs to be repaired. “Jewelry that has been repaired never looks the same. You can always tell something doesn’t belong,” she says.

- Avoid purple glass — Antique shops are awash with purple glass right now. It’s striking to look at, but has no value. The glass has been irradiated to give it that distinctive amethyst color, which means it’s not original. Even if the bottle, itself, is very old, the coloring strips it of its value. “From a decorative standpoint, it’s lots of fun, but it’s not collectable,” says Kovel.

- “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” — “They’re making fakes of everything,” says Kovel. If somebody collects it, someone else has figured out a way to counterfeit it. Sports memorabilia is particularly rife with forgeries. Kovel recommends learning as much as possible about anything you’d like to collect. “Once you know what to look, it becomes easy to spot the fakes,” she says.

- Don’t buy old baby items — Old furniture is highly collectible, and much of it holds up very well over time. Things used to be made to last, and it can be a lot of fun to display a piece that caters to nostalgia for a bygone era. Antique baby furniture, however, is completely off-limits, unless you simply want it for its aesthetic value. Most old baby furniture or accessories — cribs, bassinets, carriages, etc. — have been declared unsafe, and should not be used today. “It’s amazing any of us survived,” quips Kovel.

- Debug everything — Fleas, roaches, bedbugs, mites, moths, wood beetles, and more could be hiding in antique furniture or housewares. It’s better to take steps now to evict them than to find that these pests have taken over your home or destroyed your prized item. Some items have to be fumigated, while others can simply be sealed in plastic for a long time before display. Smaller, non-metal items can sometimes be microwaved to good effect. Ask experts in your preferred collectable category what steps make sense for your collection.

- Measure your house — There’s little worse, in the world of collectables, than buying some coveted item, only to find that it won’t fit through your doorway, or that it takes up most of the room you’d intended it for. To borrow a bit of advice from the world of carpentry, “Measure twice, buy once.”

Be sure to pick up a 2012 Farmers’ Almanac to read Terry’s thoughts on some of the most popular categories of collectibles today.


1 Jaime McLeod { 06.26.12 at 12:08 pm }

Hi Marie,
We did this interview with Terry Kovel, but she doesn’t offer any advice here. You’d be better off contacting Kovel’s at

2 marie strack { 06.25.12 at 2:36 pm }

i have several pieces of some kind of china my mother in law gave to me many years ago, just looked at it and on the back it says (i think) adderley england do you think it is depression glass or was that only made in the US? the dishes are all white with small blue flowers as decoration thanks so much for any help marie strack

3 Kristen { 08.31.11 at 9:30 am }

How do I go about finding someone to look at items I have and either appraise them or give me an idea of if they are “worth anything”? I have an old wooden school desk (with an ink well) and it is of no value to me. I want to sell it, just don’t know where to start! I tried looking on Ebay to find a comparable item but did not see anything like it. Any advice on how to find local antique assistance would be appreciated!

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