Non-Profits Turn to Antique Appraisal Days for Fundraising Help

Ray Zyla from Mohawk Arms checks out a pair of antique rifles during the Catskill Educational Foundation’s benefit Antiques Appraisal Day. The event was a success, raising $1,400.

The folks in Catskill, N.Y., had been looking for a new kind of fundraiser to augment their school district’s ever-tightening budget. Their new solution? Old things.

The Catskill Educational Foundation—a non-profit organization that helps the Catskill School District pay for extra resources, programs and educational tools—hosted its first benefit Antiques Appraisal Day last Saturday, and it turned out to be a raving success, drawing several hundred people to the Catskill Elementary School cafeteria, all with antiques or collectibles in tow.

This antiques appraisal fundraiser was not a one-off; appraisal days have become a popular way for educational and other community non-profits to raise money over the last couple of years. The appeal of these events is that people can get an idea about the value of their family heirlooms while helping their local school or church or youth athletic league at the same time. In most cases, local appraisers and auction house and antiques shop owners volunteer their expertise and time, so these events have very low overhead.

“This was a special event for us; we will definitely do it again,” said Roger Lane, spokesman for the CEF. “We had no idea how many people would show up, but we raised $1,400 and we are very pleased.”

For the Catskill event, appraiser Robert Meringolo headed a group of antiques and art experts with hundreds of years of combined experience—including stints at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, in addition to their own antiques, auction and gallery businesses—who do several of these fundraising appraisal events every year. Among those who joined Meringolo last Saturday were Ray Zyla (militaria), Elizabeth Ruszkowski (20th-century art), Paul Chmielewski (silver) and Colin Fraser (stamps). If none of the experts on hand could identify an item, Meringolo said that they had hundreds of other experts available to turn to via the Internet.

“We’ve done appraisal events all across New York,” said Meringolo of the group. “We did one in Woodstock last year for the Saugerties (N.Y.) Tree Commission that had us busy the whole day, from nine in the morning until six o’clock in the evening, without a break. We’ve done events for the Fulton County Historical Society and Museum, the Knights of Columbus; really all kinds of organizations.”

For a mere $5, attendees received a valuation of their antiques, fine art and jewelry. Most of the people who attended knew—or at least had a rough idea—about what it was they were placing in front of the appraisers. Meringolo, owner of Albany & Hudson Valley Estate Sales and Auctions, said that the appraisers were also able to tell some baffled people just exactly what it was they had. In some past cases, they were treasures hidden in plain sight.

“We once found a chair in Northern Lake George (N.Y.) that had a little plaque dated 1906 that stated the chair was once a gift to the Chinese Emperor in 1736 and that was later housed in the Winter Palace,” Meringolo said. “It later sold for just over $1 million.” 

For a mere $5, attendees received a valuation of their antiques, fine art and jewelry. Most of the people who attended knew—or at least had a rough idea—about what it was they were placing in front of the appraisers.

Meringolo said other great finds have been identified at benefit Appraisal Day events, including a 1904 Gustav Stickley corner cabinet found in Rome, N.Y., that later sold for $96,000 through Cottone Auctions. He also told a story of a woman who attended an Appraisal Day event at Tech Valley High School in Rensselaer, N.Y., who brought a book of Japanese prints that belonged to her great-great-grandfather, who was the U.S. ambassador to Japan under President Lincoln. The book realized at $55,000 at auction.

“It is important to let people know that they may have things of value and don’t know what they really have,” said Meringolo. “People will bring in a treasure and we help them find out what it is and, if they want, the best place to sell them. And sometimes the biggest surprises are how some of these items end up where they do. Someone brought us a 24-karat sword that then-Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia gave as a wedding gift to a member of the Royal Family in 1952. How did that end up in Gloversville, N.Y.?”

Lane said that the CEF Appraisal Day will become an annual event, based on the response to Saturday’s results. “Everyone went away satisfied with the information they received, even if they found out that an item didn’t have a lot of value,” he said. “Robert Meringolo and his team of appraisers did an excellent job of helping people understand the value of their treasurers.

So, if your local community is hosting one of these benefit Appraisal Days, by all means, grab Aunt Sadie’s bronze statue and bring it around. It might turn out to be worth much more that the $5 (tax-deductible) investment.

Gregory Watkins is the executive editor of WorthPoint. You can e-mail him at

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