Writings by Cole Huffman

Assessing Value

Our garage at home currently resembles something like the queue on Antiques Roadshow.  We’ve placed my grandmother’s dining room set in there along with a solid oak S-roll top desk.  These two furniture items, along with a couple other things, are in the garage awaiting sale as soon as I get around to notifying Craigslist.  Recent remodeling in our home has displaced these items from our usefulness.
But what price to ask for these items taking up my wife’s parking spot?  Grandmother’s mahogany dining room set is antique but in need of some refurbish.  The desk, acquired from a family friend years ago in return for helping him move, is also old in the way we like things to be old: handsomely well-built with multiple cubbies and drawers.  It’s the kind of Americana you see in a Norman Rockwell painting, something an avid fly-fisherman would keep his meticulous ties neatly organized in.
Unable to locate a manufacturers’ mark or date on these items, I resorted to looking for similar furniture online and found pictures and suggested prices.  One auctioneer’s website was especially helpful in assessing the value of what I have.  I now have some numbers in mind for what I’d like to get for the buffet and table and chairs, and the desk.  But how can I know for sure that my numbers are right?  I have fears of someone showing up for the desk, let’s say, only too happy to shell the bills into my hand because I way undershot the worth and they know it.  Something like it turns out I have a desk a Revolutionary War hero made and I was happy to get $500 for it.  The guy I sell it to contacts Sotheby’s and sends his kids to college on it. 
Because of this fear, I sought the pricing advice of a recommended antiques store in the area.  Took pictures of the pieces in my garage and loaded them onto my iPad.  Showed up at the store and was first told, flatly, they wouldn’t buy from me.  Fine, I said, I was looking more for advisement anyway—just a ballpark recommendation from those in the know, based on the pictures, what price one-not-in-the-know might ask for his furniture.  But the store was cold to that request, I suppose because it seemed to them like aiding competition.  A glimmer of help finally emerged when I was apprised of an appraiser I could call and provided his number.
I don’t want to call the appraiser though because I don’t want to pay him to come to my garage and tell me what someone else should pay for our items.  So I am going solo on this, for now—no compass, wits against the antique furniture world.  I know what I’ll ask for our items and believe it is a fair price.  And if Thomas Jefferson arranged for the Louisiana Purchase seated at our desk I don’t want to know that after I sell it!
Still, for confidence sake, I wish I had more of this skill of the appraiser I will not hire, this skill of assessing the true value of things.  I’ve long admired those who are really skillful at value assessment (just not enough to pay them for it, right?).  But I’m thinking more of value assessment as a life skill. 
Do I rightly assess the value of the place I work or the people I’m with, for instance?  My kids will sometimes, as kids do, rundown their school in exasperation because they’re tired or disappointed.  Their perspective is limited by their immaturity.  They don’t know the wider world as I do; they don’t know truly how to assess the value of the education they’re getting and how well they have it in the school they’re getting it in. 
We say privileged kids like them should never complain.  Privileged adults like us should never complain either even in a recession.  Have you seen the pictures from Somalia?  And yet complaint is a natural part of life in a fallen world.  It signals that we know something better awaits, not just that we long for it.  It can mean one is only world-weary, not ungrateful.
But like the nicks on Grandmother’s dining room set and the coffee cup stains on the desk, if complaints accumulate over time they can diminish the value of people, places, and things.  We can then adopt a kind of “as is” approach to our lives that is fundamentally defeatist; the value of what we have is lost on us if we think this or that or he or she should be more or better.  I’m not speaking absolutely against improving one’s situation or striving for better in one’s career or attempting something new.  But many have done this only to discover later that the places or people they launched out from were more valuable to them than they knew: they were really loved in that little church; she had the finest of neighbors in the old neighborhood; his salary was smaller but free-time greater with his previous company.
Like Moses asking God to teach him and the people he led to number their days rightly for gaining a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12), I’m crafting a similar prayer for value assessment: Teach me, O Lord, to keenly and appreciatively assess the value in life of all you have richly provided me—familial and vocational, relational and material, experiential and aesthetical—so that I don’t squander or sell off cheaply what is meaningful and good, even priceless, and so that I live before you wise not ignorant, for all my days, until you come.
(By the way, the pictures below are of the actual items for sale: cole@firstevan.org if you’re interested.  My blog readers may be subject to discounts!)

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:31 PM
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