I don't need the experts from the "Antiques Roadshow" to tell me if I've unearthed a $50,000 pickle jar or a 59-cent Milk of Magnesia bottle. My brother-in-law Dan has acquired a reputation as the family "antiques expert."
Every family has one of these - someone who "knows something about antiques." I'm not sure how Dan acquired his title, other than he's lived a long time and has a jeweler's loupe. At any rate, his opinion is free, which is as low-dollar as you can get, and he usually only laughs for an hour after inspecting one of my finds.
On a recent junk-sale junket, I lugged home a two-level brown crockery thing. The vintage owner had used it as a doorstop for 30 years, as had her mother.
This was a dead giveaway to me that I had something valuable.
The minute you slap the word "estate" on an object, it adds a heap of cachet and at least 50 percent to its value.
"I only paid a buck for this wonderful old strawberry pot," I bragged to my husband.
He looked it over. "That's too shallow to be a strawberry planter," he informed me. "Looks like some kind of light, probably an old transformer."
I pounced on eBay and checked out all the transformers at auction. Not one resembled my 15-pounder, which was growing more rare by the moment.
I inspected it with a magnifying glass. Naturally, it was unmarked, except by filth. I didn't dare clean it and damage its patina.
"I'm heading out to Dan's," I told my husband, as I swaddled my precious crockery in bubble wrap and a box.
I settled the treasure in the middle of Dan's kitchen table as gently as if it were a jeweled Fabergé egg. And then I unwrapped it.
"Why in the world are you hauling around a dirty old chicken feeder?" he asked.
I didn't have an intelligent answer. "I thought you might want to use it for a porch light," didn't sound too bright.
"Oh, you know," I told him, "I just wanted to see if it's worth anything."
"It's worth a lot if you're a hungry chicken," he said.
This is why it pays to have an antiques expert in the family, so you don't embarrass yourself in front of strangers.
Dan has rescued me several times since I decided to supplement my freelancing career with "flea-lancing." He still keeps one of my 25-cent "finds" on display for when he needs a $10 laugh.
I felt confident when I tagged the "vintage ramrod." After all, I'd seen old muzzle-loading rifles with their skinny metal rods. This old ramrod would be a steal at $10.
Fortunately, Dan spied the tagged treasure before it went into my booth.
"So," he asked me, "where's the rest of your umbrella?"
I'd paid a quarter for one spoke of an umbrella.
I'd like to say that I've gotten smarter, but I don't want to overvalue my merchandise. Let's just say that I'm developing quite a thick patina.