Sylvia Webb used to visit her great-Aunt Vera and sometimes sit on the pretty burgundy Victorian sofa and chairs in her parlor. Her great-aunt lived in a very old house in Columbia that was surrounded by magnolia trees.
The older woman had a radio on a table, and would sit on the sofa beside it listening to the BBN (Bible Broadcasting Network). Webb can still see her sitting on the sofa, holding her hand up to implore her grands to be quiet so she could hear the radio.
Webb's late mother, Minnie Duncan Kanapaux, inherited the furniture from her aunt, then Webb inherited it from her mother.
"I have it in a separate room and sometimes I just go in there, put my feet up and think about the times we used to go there as children," Webb said. She had expected to pass it on to her adult daughter.
"It was Aunt Vera's and you'd just take care of it," she said. But things have changed.
Selling a flat-screen TV or a stereo to a pawn shop when times are tight is difficult, but parting with family heirlooms or items with sentimental value can be devastating. And the money in return doesn't come close to matching the value of a personal item's memories.
The beautiful set the Webb family treasures is being sold because of current economic difficulties. Sylvia Webb and her husband are moving in with their adult daughter and granddaughter, she said. Combining households will make things more manageable for both.
In addition, selling the parlor set and other antiques will enable them to make some repairs to the daughter's home.
"Aunt Vera was very practical," Webb said. "She came up in hard times and there were things that she had to do.
"I honestly think she would say 'Honey, if you need the money, go ahead and sell it.'"
Sign of the times
One auctioneer knows the heartache people face when selling items with memories.
"Unfortunately, a lot of that is going on, selling family pieces," said Linda Page, auctioneer and owner of Page's Thieves Market in Mount Pleasant. "Most of what they are trying to sell, they are selling at the worse possible time."
Some of them are things they would never have considered selling before the economic downturn because they have sentimental value, Page said. "That is the highest value you could have."
"They are parting with all of these things they have valued for years, and they are not really worth anything," she said. "It's such an embarrassing position to be in."
When Elizabeth Cramer grew up in Ohio, there was a big, ornate mirror in the barn on her family's farm. One of her earliest memories is looking into the mirror and thinking that she could walk right into it.
"It is extremely old and has been in my family for at least five generations," said Cramer, who is selling the mirror. "I will be needing to move because of the economy," Cramer said.
The mantel mirror, about 4 feet wide and 5 feet tall, is visible behind Cramer's parents in their wedding picture, she said.
"I have sold silver. I have sold jewelry and other antiques. I am selling many, many items and getting about half of what I thought they were worth."
Making ends meet
For many years, Sue Balanger acquired antiques and collectibles. These days, Balanger, once a bank manager in Rhode Island, is selling them. Not at a profit, but at a loss.
"I'm just trying to make ends meet in this economy," said Balanger, who has multiple sclerosis and a husband with muscular dystrophy. When she and her husband moved to Summerville six years ago, they bought a new house in a subdivision. Today, they live in an older, much smaller home, in a not-so-nice part of town.
She's been selling her possessions, including a tiger oak book case and her son's guitar to supplement their Social Security income, Balanger said. The co-pays for their medical bills have eaten up a lot of their income.
So far, her efforts to raise money have been disappointing. She expected a couple of items to sell for hundreds of dollars, but they didn't. A watercolor dating from the 1600s sold at an auction for $40. And a white porcelain compote from the late 1700s went for $30. She asked to put the items up with a reserve (minimum) price, but the auction house would not accept it under those terms, she said. After she paid sales commissions on the items (percentage), she made next to nothing.
To make matters worse, Balanger said, someone called claiming to be from Nigeria, posing as a buyer, and tried to scam her. She had learned to spot such games when working in a bank, however, and did not fall for the scheme.
But she's probably not done selling personal items.
"It's hard to give up what you have," Balanger said. "I will give up whatever I have to give up."
She said, though, she'll hold back on parting with pieces inherited from her mother and mother-in-law "until the last shot is fired," until they're about to be out of a home.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.