The advertisement is enticing, and it's meant to be: Bring in your old clothes, toys, rosaries, cuff links--even teeth--and get cold, hard cash. Empty the attic and walk home a little richer for it.
It's a pitch that comes from the Professional Estate Buyers Group, a consortium of expert buyers who are looking for almost everything under the sun, if they can resell it, that is.
Their philosophy--that many treasures likely are hidden away in closets all over the country--drew thousands of Washington area residents to a regional event over the past six days, where ordinary people tried to turn their possessions into fortunes.
Coins, currency and jewelry are the most popular items brought to such events, but the group's buyers are also on the lookout for interesting old autographs, war relics, velvet purses and antiques of all kinds, organizers say.
And at more than 25 such events a year that seem part "Antiques Road Show" and part yard sale, the consortium pays millions of dollars for thousands of items across the country.
"What makes it work is that it's not necessarily easy for the normal person to know where to go to sell secondhand items and things that they may have found in their home," said Dennis Paulaha, a consultant for the Hudson, Wis.-based group. "It helps a lot of people who have no idea where to turn. It provides a place where you can go down and have experts look at your things."
Marysia and Charles Small, 83, of Kensington, walked into the Alexandria show Saturday with a few 1940s-era dresses, several pieces of costume jewelry, a sterling silver Jerusalem Cross, some foreign coins, a Browning automatic shotgun and a few of Marysia Small's gold teeth, the remnants of a bridge that had been removed.
"These were just some things we had in the house, we saw the ad, and we thought we might be able to get rid of some of it," Marysia Small said.
The Smalls walked away with $14 for a few pieces of the jewelry but didn't get far with some other items.
The gold teeth were turned down because they were "white gold," containing an unpredictable alloy. "Oh well," said Marysia Small as she tucked the teeth back into her purse, "If my dentist had kept them, he'd have tried to sell them, too."
The event took up two full floors of a Ramada Inn off Shirley Highway, as would-be sellers were ushered into individual rooms, where they were visited by the consortium's buyers, who appraised items and issued invoices for sales. A central cashier redeemed invoices for cash.
Event organizer Greg Torgerson said 55 percent to 65 percent of all customers walk away with cash. About 600 came each day lugging both trash and treasures.
Torgerson likened the job of sifting through hundreds of items to hunting for a Ferrari in a sea of Chevrolets; the more items they see, the more likely they are to pick out the rare and expensive ones. He said most people, however, don't know what they have until they bring it in, and many use the shows for a sort of appraisal.
Though he couldn't identify any major triumphs during the Washington area show, he said it is not uncommon for people to bring in seemingly mundane items only to learn that they are worth hundreds of dollars to collectors. Torgerson said many of the expert buyers are dealers in their home towns who are shopping for specific items requested by their customers, or they are collectors with very narrow interests.
"You just never know when that discarded item sitting in a drawer is going to be the one thing that someone elsewhere is really looking for," Torgerson said. "A lot of the things we see are ordinary, but other things are quite valuable."
Pat Secor, an antiques mall owner from Clarksville, Ark., gave Gerald Steinberg, of Bethesda, $75 for three hand-carved pipes he brought from his collection. Two of the intricate pipes carried depictions of John F. Kennedy, collectors' items that Secor hopes to offer for sale back home.
"Things are worth exactly what someone offers you, and it doesn't matter what you paid for them or what you want for them," said Steinberg, who has liquidated his extensive Kennedy collection over the years. "I just hope it will get to someone who will enjoy it."
CAPTION: Jewelry appraiser Claudia Richardson examines a ring, one of hundreds of objects people hoped to sell in Alexandria.