Dust off your junk – it might just be treasure

David Macgregor

DUST off your old paintings, shine the family jewels and dig out the long forgotten heirlooms – the stuff you call junk may just be worth a fortune.

Over the past few days, two of South Africa’s top arts and antiquities appraisers have been in the Eastern Cape putting a value on all sorts of “junk” – and even a few priceless gems – in the hope of convincing the owners to auction them off to collectors around the world later this year.

Although most of the 50-odd people who patiently waited for valuations at the Port Alfred Museum yesterday did not hit the jackpot, there were a few who walked away smiling.

One pensioner who scratched a silver tea set and tray from a cupboard and a box of inherited watches from a drawer left the goods with expert appraiser Vanessa Phillips after being told they were worth about R100000.

The man – who declined to be named for fear it would tip off thieves to the priceless treasure trove wrapped in paper and packed into cupboards at his house – said he was getting tired of spending hours keeping the gold and silver bright and shiny. “I might as well get rid of the stuff. The younger people in the family do not want it.”

When Ken Alberts unpacked his laughing pagoda figurines with moving heads and hands, Phillips’s face lit up.

“I have never seen a pair this big,” she said. “We sold two small ones like this in February for R70000.”

The 30cm high Dresden ceramic figures date back to 1880 and had been handed down from generation to generation in the Alberts family. Although damaged, the figurines were valued at R50000 to R70000, or more.

Over the past two days Phillips and painting specialist Philippa Duncan have seen more than 350 people on behalf of Strauss and Co auctioneers. They will be in East London today at the Anne Bryant Gallery, doing more valuations.

“Yesterday a client came in with a silver cup and cover and it turned out to be rare Cape silver made by Gerhardus Lotter in the eighteenth century,” Phillips said. “She had no idea what it was and stopped dead in her tracks when she was told it was worth between R60000 and R80000.”

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