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Spring Cleaning? Be Sure You're Not Tossing Something Worth Serious Cash

Now that spring is here, you may be planning your annual spring cleaning. But before you start, take a look at the list below. Even if it's old and unused, something of value could be hiding in your basement or out in the garage. Be sure you're not tossing out something worth serious cash.

Gold and silver jewelry

The real stuff is often thrown in with costume jewelry in a shoebox or dresser drawer. With gold and silver prices so high, even an ugly piece that doesn't qualify as a valuable heirloom can be sold for its scrap value. Since most refiners won't take retail customers, you'll need to get bids from a few gold-buying stores in your area.

Tacky heirlooms

Don't underestimate the value of old stuff (even if it's not to your taste) that can be hidden in an ordinary, modestly priced house. No, you may not find a Tiffany lamp worth $80,000. But a client showed Brooklyn, NY, appraiser Fran Zeman a collection of porcelain plaques she had inherited and thought were worthless. It turned out they were hand-painted in late-19th-century Berlin and worth thousands.

Special magazines

Sorry, most of those stacks of old National Geographic and Forbes magazines are destined for the recycling bin. But there's a market on eBay for specialty magazines like Interiors, a vintage design magazine that sells for $20 a copy, and for general-interest magazines of a certain age, or withspecial covers. A 2008 New Yorker cover featuring a Barack Obama with Michelle once got nine bids and sold for $51 on eBay.

Old posters

Check those cardboard tubes you thought had old dorm-room posters in them. Vintage travel posters, used as advertising for airlines, ships and trains, and movie posters can sell for $500 and up. Rich Meliska, who runs an estate liquidation service in Evanston, IL, found one tube of travel posters in a client's basement that brought $7,000, and others rolled up in the corner of a closet that brought $16,000.

Oriental rugs

Yes, the market is depressed, especially for the deep-red Bukhara carpets that were all the rage in the 1970s and bring only a few hundred dollars now. But don't just roll up all of the carpets and sell them at a tag sale. There could be a Lavar Kerman rug, worth thousands, in your collection. So what if it's old and worn? It could still be valuable. Don't know what you've got? Call in an expert for an hourly consult.

Vases

We don't know why, but valuable old vases often get overlooked. Richard Wright, of the auction house Wright in Chicago, was helping heirs coordinate the sale of their late parents' midcentury furniture collection when he spotted a Venini glass vase the children had planned to put in a tag sale; it was worth $7,000. In another house, Brooklyn appraiser Fran Zeman spotted a matte green Arts and Crafts-style Grueby pottery vase worth $10,000. It was jammed under the kitchen cabinets with glass vases from flower-delivery services.

Old stocks and bonds

Do you have U.S. savings bonds you got when you were born that are now stuffed in an envelope in your home safe deposit box? Check to see if they've stopped earning interest, and if they have, cash them in. If you're helping an aging (and possibly forgetful) parent to downsize, look for uncashed insurance and dividend checks, stock certificates and even cash (in shirt and coat pockets, unworn shoes -- pretty much anywhere but under the mattress).

Vintage sporting goods

Of course not every old bicycle in your garage is going to be worth something, but vintage Schwinn bicycles, from the 1950s or earlier, are now peddled as collectibles for $1,000 and up. Check your attic too. Leather football helmets, wooden tennis racquets, duck decoys, and even old folding kayaks have second lives.