Pricing Treasures Antiquities, Costume Jewelry and Nostalgia on the Rise

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Byline: Deborah Donovan Daily Herald Staff Writer

"Meissen is the best porcelain could be, the most exceptional quality. Look at a tiny little saucer under a magnifying glass and you can see the expressions on the faces of the fishermen. They were fantastic artists. It tells a whole story; that's why it is so expensive."

- Judith Miller

America is antique crazy. Witness the success of television's "Antiques Roadshow" and online auction sites like eBay.

That's why we jumped at the chance to grill author and collector Judith Miller about what's hot and, better yet, what's going to be hot. Where should we put our money and how can we tell if the item of our desire is genuine?

Miller is author of "Antiques Price Guide 2003" (DK Publishing, $35), a 752-page hardback book, which shows color photos of everything it lists.

Her first rule is collect only what you like. We've heard that before, but we always thought that was because if it never went up in value you'd still like having it around.

Miller has another take on this.

"It's much easier to learn about what you enjoy and like," she said. "I've seen loads of banks and know which ones people desire."

And, today antiques have a certain appeal for their investment value.

"I used to warn off buying antiques as investment," said Miller, "but in the last 10 years antiques have done better than stocks."

She recommends doing this research at museums, where you can see the best examples, and at auctions, where you can actually pick items up and study them closely.

And if you are buying something expensive online, go see it first or hire an expert to look at it.

What Miller's watching

- Antiquities. Very old pieces like Roman glass are inexpensive compared to their extreme age, Miller said.

"Decorators are starting to use Roman glass, then it moves on up."

For example, in her book she shows Roman bottles from the first to third century A.D. valued in the $200 to $300 range. A 7-inch Egyptian pottery jar dated from 4000 to 3000 B.C. is listed at $450 to $550.

However, watch for heavily repaired pieces. And forgeries are a risk with all antiquities - Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, Middle Eastern, Oriental and Roman.

- Single chairs. "A set of chairs will cost you a large amount of money, but you can find single ones from the 18th century, certainly the 19th century," she said. "Buy similar ones one at a time cheaply. They can't give single chairs away at auction."

- Costume jewelry. It's going up in price. "It's exceptional design - Joseff of Hollywood, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. They were exquisite designers. My daughter bought a Trifari brooch on eBay for $7. It was a good buy, a very good buy." Miller is working on a price book on costume jewelry.

- Items from '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s. Items from this era are highly desirable. For example, works by Charles and Ray Eames are "going up constantly."

"They were cheap. They deliberately made it that way, thinking it shouldn't be anything less beautiful."

She showed an Eames desk chair in the book for $280 to $340 and an early RAR rocking chair for $1,500 to $1,800.

What Miller collects

- Shipwreck cargoes. In the 16th to 18th centuries ships from China frequently sunk, often near Vietnam. Millions of dollars worth of porcelain was found as recently as the 1980s and 1990s.

"Prices start at $4 for a plain little tea bowl, but some pieces are in the thousands," Miller said. "It wasn't the best quality, the teas and spices were considered the valuable cargo."

- Scottish glass. Monart glass from the 1920s and '30s is very colorful. "I love going into that room in the morning," Miller said.

The most common vases fetch $200 to $700, she said, and special shapes and color combinations can sell for well over $1,500. …