True money stories from smart people: Tot up your tat to make a quick buck

Published by Jasmine Birtles on 09 October 2017.
Last updated on 09 October 2017

A table full of old tat

Do you ever find yourself mentally totting-up how much your inherited bits of valuables might pull in if ever you needed to sell them?

Maybe a few thousand for that wonderful armoire that’s been in the family for a few generations or even more for a fantastic silver tureen and cutlery caddy?

Well, just get the facts and figures first before you try to liquidate these ‘assets’. You could be surprised.

We recently surveyed our MoneyMagpie readers about how much they had pulled in when they sold their ‘valuables’ to bring in some cash and the results weren’t joyous. Three in four of them had flogged something old online to make a quick buck without knowing how much it was worth, while one in three admitted they could probably have got more with the right research. Some Lovejoy types must be rubbing their hands with glee.

But the problem is that we really don’t know what our possessions are worth because their value keeps changing and things that you thought would see you comfortably into your old age can end up costing you money to get rid of.

Who would have thought 30 years ago that the beautifully-carved, oak furniture made by top craftsmen would be as popular today as a pork chop at a Bar Mitzvah? Cut glass goblets might as well hold your dentures for all the worth they now have. As for china, the Limoges table service sets that used to be the very definition of what you use ‘for best’ have now been pushed off the shelf by competition from new ranges by IKEA, Next and M&S, for goodness sake.

“People nowadays don’t learn history so they’re not interested in genuine antiques anymore,” grumbles an antiques dealer from London’s Gray’s Antiques. “It’s vintage they want – anything from the 1950s onwards.”

It’s true. A recent report by classified website Gumtree finds that the items in our homes that could give us a comfortable retirement are not the silver candlesticks from Great Grandma but the plastic bits of tat in the playroom, such as Power Rangers Dino Charge, Harry Potter Lego, and Bratz, as well as first edition Game of Thrones books or board games such as Jumanji. It’s also the gadgets about the home, such as your Dyson Supersonic hairdryer, your Amazon Echo (does yours even work?) and your Emma Bridgewater portable radio.

It’s nostalgia that sells nowadays, and is likely to do so later on. Not nostalgia for ancient times that we never knew, but for childhoods that we wanted and never had.

I was recently commissioned by Gold TV to work out how much the assets of Delboy and Rodney of Only Fools and Horses would be worth now, and I found that Uncle Albert’s silver cigarette case from the Zulu war was worth the same as Delboy’s 1981 plastic Casio watch: £150. The History Boys would be horrified – it seems that if we didn’t experience it, it’s not historical or valuable anymore.

I blame it on eBay. That site has enabled people around the world to indulge their passions for all things tat, giving a value of thousands to an item that any sane person would consign to the bin once they’d fished it out of their Cornflakes. Like a 1985 Star Wars Yak Face (boxed) which, to my mind, should grace the shelves of the local charity shop, but sold for £57,500.

Personally, I don’t collect anything, apart from dust… and compliments, obviously. But I get a twinge of regret at my regularly ruthless decluttering exercises when I hear of ancient old laptops selling for hundreds to the new breed of collector, or nasty 1980s-style plastic earrings being passed off as ‘vintage’ now. Aargh - I could have cleaned up!

I’m also conflicted about collecting as an investment strategy. I know that a collection can be a genuine retirement fund if you get it right… and yet, the minimalist, stuffocated, thrower-outer in me rails against the very idea of glass cases full of Buffy dolls and Luke Skywalker figurines, even though I know they could outperform the stock market over the next 20 years. Lego creations already have. In the last 15 years, the average value of a Lego set has gone up dramatically with "pristine condition" sets appreciating 12% a year.

So, with a world-weary sigh I say get your valuables valued and, while you’re at it, get your tat on the table too, because chances are, in this topsy-turvy world, your tat will out-bid your Chesterfield table by 50 to one.

Jasmine Birtles is a financial journalist and founder of Email her at

Read more of Jasmine's articles.

Leave a comment