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Papalexises: Making Their Mark on Collectibles

by Mark Jaffe (09/23/08).

John Anderson saw the porcelain figural group on eBay with a mark of crossed swords of a German Meissen collectibles piece at slightly more than $800. The courting scene between a gentleman and a lady made him think it would be a wonderful gift for his wife on their 20th wedding anniversary. The price seemed fair—or was it? This is one of the dilemmas anyone who shops for collectibles and antiques on the Internet runs into.

John, however, is a member of Marks4Antiques.com, a unique Web-based reference service created by Worthologists Alex and Elizabeth Papalexis. Marks4Antiques.com enables subscribers to match identifying marks on antiques and to survey auction prices for comparable pieces. When the mark on the eBay figurine was checked, it turned out to be a recent reproduction. “It was a beautiful porcelain piece but probably not worth more than $150,” said Alex.

Googling doesn’t always get the answer

Some folks may try to Google for information on antiques or collectibles that have gotten their interest on eBay or RubyLane, but often that doesn’t give either sufficient or reliable information. Some collectors rely on books and catalogs—but getting them and staying current can be a chore.

“There is not as much information available out there as people think,” said Elizabeth. “There wasn’t an authoritative, easy-to-disseminate single source.”

Enter Marks4Antiques.com, which offers services for identifying ceramics, porcelain, pottery, china, silver, jewelry and decorative-arts items in general. An additional service offers a price search for antiques and collectibles sold at auction so that members can self-appraise their treasures.

Collectibles hobby becomes a business

All this began with the couple’s penchant for collecting. “It started as a hobby, became a passion and turned into a business,” Alex said. Trained as a physicist and engineer, he had a fascination for scientific instruments—old microscopes, barometers, sextants, quack medical devices and even old HP calculators.

Elizabeth began her collecting with Royal Winton Chintz cups and saucers, service sets and teapots, sterling-silver napkin rings and bonbon dishes. Often, the hunt involved getting up at the crack of dawn to buy pieces out of the back of collectors’ vehicles at what the British call a “car boot sale.” The hunt extended from English flea markets to shops and auctions across Europe and the United States. (For more about various types of porcelain, read Alex and Elizabeth’s blog.)

The couple moved from London to San Francisco’s Silicon Valley when Alex took a post as an executive with a high-tech company. At the same time, the Internet was just about beginning to enter our everyday lives, especially eBay. So, they stepped up their collecting and online sales of fine and antique tableware and decorative items. And that’s when they realized the need and opportunity for better and on-demand reference data. “With the Web, everything moves so fast,” Elizabeth said. “You often need information right away.”

Pictorial galleries

Marks4Antiques.com is an easy-to-use site with visual guides. All marks are presented in photos and are divided in pictorial galleries of shapes or letters. Each library of marks offers more than 12,000 images of identifying marks for pottery, china, ceramics, porcelain, jewelry, silver or silver plate, pewter etc, as well as extra background help. The Values4Antiques site allows subscribers to search a database for all types of antiques and collectibles sold at auction. Type in “Wedgwood plate,” and up pops pictures of recent Wedgwood chinaware sold at auction with dates and prices.

Members of the sites also have the option of sending marks for identification. “When we receive a question, it is like a jigsaw puzzle, and we won’t stop until we find the answer,” Alex said. Once they identify a mark, it is added to the online database. “Our goal is to make the sites as comprehensive and all-inclusive as possible. And, in a way, the contents are a live document that continually grows with updated information” said Elizabeth.

The couple is encouraged that they are moving in the right direction as more and more subscribers from around the world—the U.S. to the U.K. to South Africa and Australia—join Marks4Antiques.com.

“Our members tell us that they feel a special connection with us, especially because we are there for them and reply to their questions when they are about to buy or sell an item. It’s like having an antiques expert on retainer,” said Elizabeth. “You can’t do that with a book!”

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