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Antiques appraiser works to put history in perspective

Ken Johnston

From antique toys to mysterious Greek pottery, the residents of the Rainy River area kept Dr. John Cooper busy doing appraisals Thursday and Friday.
With an Antiques Road Show type of atmosphere, he entertained and informed people as he looked at 180 items.
Cooper says that rather than focus on the value of an item, first he tends to try and provide an item’s history. “Many people say an item was a wedding gift, but often the item was given for another occasion.” He said that as time goes by families lose clarity on the history of a family heirloom or lose the story completely.
He first asks them what they know about the item and then he confirms if they were right or corrects them if wrong. The very last thing he does is give them a market value of an item.
“I am mostly concerned with where it fits into the social fabric of society,” said Cooper.
Dorothy Lenniger of Rainy River brought in a piece of Greek Pottery. She found the urn when she was mowing lawn at the old Quick residence. “It was buried in the ground. I thought it was a rock and dug it up,” said Dorothy. She then cleaned it up and was not sure if it was worth anything. Someone told her it was Greek, but she still had little other knowledge about it.
Cooper said that the urn was a five piece construction likely made in the 1920s or 30s. “It was likely a tourist item brought back from Greece. He found Dorothy’s story to be “great fun” and “invaluable.” As for the value of the urn he priced it at about $85-$95.
Cooper started as an antique collector and eventually became a dealer to help support his habit. He has been doing appraisals for about 20 years now, long before the Antiques Road Show hit the television in Canada. “I was really glad to see it (Antiques Road Show) on a professional level.
He said that the most common items brought in are household dishes, usually ones that are unusual, like the cheese dish that Pat Borgen of Baudette brought in Thursday. It was made right around the time where fridges were becoming more commonplace. Prior to that the dishes were larger to hold a bigger piece of cheese. With fridges smaller dishes were used to hold the cheese. He said it was worth about $50-$60 which made Borgen happy as she bought it at a garage sale. She also had a toy called a Radio Rex.
Cooper is not an expert in toys so he got on the phone to another appraiser in Winnipeg. He told her that in good condition it would be worth about $250. Her’s was worth about $200.
“About 90% of the things I see are ordinary treasures, 8% a little more interesting and 2% really interesting in age, construction and value. Radio Rex was in the 8% category,” said Cooper.
He said the most interesting thing he ever looked at was a collection of wax medallions from the late 1700s. They were mostly personages and scenes. On average he said each of them was worth about $100 intact.
His personal favourite item to collect is glassware. He has some nice old medicine bottles other glassware dating back to 1400. His second love is silver items.
While he gives a commercial value for items, most dealers will offer about half that value for an item. “An item is worth whatever someone is willing to pay you for it,” concluded Cooper.