Allen McIntosh, manager of Richie's Pawn Central in Middletown, Ohio, said he's getting more first-time visitors to his store who hope to unload keepsakes for cash. But often the items' resale value is lower than they expected.
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CINCINNATI - People trying to sell their prized possessions these days are finding that - as with homes or stocks - the market value of everything from baseball cards to antique furniture has tumbled.
Across the country, collectibles dealers and antiques appraisers are delivering bad news, and feeling pain themselves. The reason is simple: Potential buyers are outnumbered by desperate sellers.
That's been dashing dreams of an Antiques Roadshow moment in which the TV show's hosts appraise family heirlooms many times higher than the owner expected.
In suburban Chicago, Ron Anderson put his treasured 1985 Bears' Super Bowl game ball for sale through Craigslist.
"Instead of sitting around and worrying about things, I thought I'd do something," said Mr. Anderson, whose construction contracting business is down. He priced the ball, which was autographed by the late Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and other stars, at $4,500, figuring he'd draw interest from wealthy Bears fans.
J. Louis Karp of Main Auction Galleries in Cincinnati says clients face a 'terrible market.' He's holding a '30s toy airplane.
Al Behrman / AP Enlarge
He was still waiting for an offer a month later.
From an antiques auction house that caters to wealthy residents of Palm Beach, Fla., to an Ohio pawn shop with a blue-collar clientele, similar stories abound.
Families trying to unload keepsakes for cash are learning that an economy at risk of falling into a deflationary period is taking a heavy toll on the value of these assets, just as it is for traditional investments such as stocks and homes.
Pam Danziger, who studies consumer behavior as presi-dent of Unity Marketing, said people who start collections often make a mistake by considering them an investment.
"Even if things are 100 years old, it doesn't necessarily mean they're rare or valuable to anyone else," she said.
While experts generally agree that demand remains high and prices good for very rare and top-of-the-line items, the market for midrange and lower-quality collectibles is down sharply.
The online auction company eBay Inc. recently reported its fourth-quarter earnings slid 31 percent, although its number of active buyers and sellers grew nearly 4 percent to 86.3 million.
At an auction business in downtown Cincinnati that has been around since around the Civil War, owner J. Louis Karp warns clients they face "a terrible market."
He recently told customers to expect $300 to $400 for a sterling silver flatware set. "They said, 'Oh my God! It retailed for $1,500!'•" Mr. Karp recounted.
A Persian rug Mr. Karp would have sold for up to $5,000 just a few years ago will now go for $800 to $1,500.
In Middletown, 35 miles north of Cincinnati, Richie's Pawn Central has been in business since the 1950s. Each day now brings more first-time visitors, said Allen McIntosh, shop manager in the mill city.
The office is lined with vintage Gibson and Fender guitars, some handed down through generations. But dozens of times a day, he turns down offerings he doesn't think have as much resale value as customers hoped.