Clayton library puts past on display

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans


Jonesboro resident, Verna Muthoni, got a deal a few years ago when she purchased a small, black pot at a Goodwill Store in San Diego for just $2.95.

There is not much about the pot that stands out at first glance. It looks like a miniature witch's cauldron, standing about two inches in height. Muthoni, an antiques collector since the late 1960s, knew it was worth much more, though. The tell-tale sign was on the bottom of the pot -- a mark which identified it as a piece of Roseville pottery.

Roseville pieces were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she said.

The actual value, according to Muthoni, of the pot -- which is no bigger than the palm of a person's hand -- is between $60 and $100.

"Most times, there is nothing there [at the Goodwill Store] of any value," Muthoni said. "But, every once in awhile, you find something on a shelf that's really valuable. No one there recognizes its value because they are not trained to know how to identify valuable ceramics and glassware."

Muthoni, who said she is certified in California to do antiques appraisals, has loaned some of the antiques in her personal collection to the headquarters branch of the Clayton County Library System to be put on display throughout this month.

The display includes several pieces of ceramics, and porcelain, such as a small Rookwood vase that was made in 1895; old editions of books, like an 1850 edition of Edward Bulwer Lytton's "Last Days of Pompeii," and a mantel clock from around 1900.

They are on display, Branch Managing Librarian Sherry Turner said, to promote the library's upcoming, second annual "Antiques on the Lawn" event, which will be held at the library branch on June 5. The library is located at 865 Battle Creek Road, in Jonesboro.

During the event, which will last from 9 a.m., to 4 p.m., local residents will be able to rent a table for $10 to sell their antiques. Muthoni will also do appraisals for patrons, for $5 a person, from 9 a.m., to 12 p.m. All of the proceeds from the table rentals, and the appraisal fees, will go to the Friends of the Library group, which uses the money to sponsor programs at all of the library branches.

The event is funded, in part, through a grant from the Grassroots Arts Program of the Georgia Council for the Arts, and also by the Friends of the Library, Turner said.

"The way it came about was that because of the shape of the economy these days, people are now looking in their homes for stuff to sell," Turner said. "We've had a lot of people coming up to us and asking, 'How much is my stuff worth?' We just thought that whenever we have a lot of questions from the public on the same topic, it's time to have a program dealing with that subject to answer everybody's questions."

Muthoni moved to Jonesboro six years ago, after retiring from the librarian profession after 38 years in library systems in San Diego and San Bernardino, Calif. She said she became interested in collecting antiques in the 1960s, when she took a night class on antiques at a high school, and then began looking for items to fill her home.

She said she does not do as much collecting or appraising anymore, however, because she spends a lot of her time traveling around the world.

Muthoni said one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the value of something is based on age.

"The notion that, if it's old, it must be worth a lot of money, is the general misconception a lot of people have about their items," Muthoni said. "There are many factors that have to be taken into account, though. Take an old book for example. Its value depends on how many copies were published, and was the author well known."

Another misconception Muthoni said people have about their antiques is that they are worthless if they have a chip or a crack or are broken.

"That's not always true," she said. "It depends on what the demand is, and how rare the item is. Some things are so few and far between that even if they are chipped or broken, they still carry some value. Supply and demand rules the collecting world."

Muthoni said that because of the variables which play a role in determining the value of an antique, or collectible, the value of an item changes as the variables change.

Still, as was the case with the Roseville pot that Muthoni found at the Goodwill Store, sometimes people set a price for an item without checking the item's value beforehand. For as many stories she has about paying hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars, for an item at an auction or antique shop, she also has a story about buying valuable items for only a few dollars at a flea market.

Such was the case when Muthoni purchased a German-made Meissen Dragon Ware teacup, with a matching saucer and side plate for a total of $25 at a flea market in San Diego. The set was white with red and gold, oriental-style dragons painted on the pieces. The trio was actually worth more than $100, Muthoni said.

"The girl who sold it to me didn't know it was valuable. She just wanted to sell it and make some money," Muthoni said. "It's true, you really can find some treasures for only a few dollars at a flea market."