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Antique Appraiser Comes to Massapequa

They came bearing swords and knives. They came bearing china and diamonds. They came to the Bar Harbor Library in the hopes that their precious possessions would be declared valuable, would net a king’s ransom on the auction block.

Eddie Costello, a spry octogenarian and certified appraiser, and his wife, Jean, put on Massapequa’s version of Antiques Road Show. Twice a year the two come to the library offering free appraisals—a single item per customer. More than 50 people gathered in the basement, bringing possessions from around the world, some passed down through generations and some found in the trash.

Before starting the two-hour event he warms up the crowd with his stand up comedy routine. Then he begins a short lecture on the best place to sell antiques, but cautions that some appraisers are not honest and warns people about fraud by both buyers and sellers, especially on eBay.

More than 20 years ago Costello was an assistant to the vice president of marketing at AT&T. His boss knew him to be an avid collector, so when the need arose for an in-house appraiser he sent Costello to be trained in the evaluation of museum-quality pieces. A new career was born.

Upon retiring in 1986, Costello continued to educate himself in the appraisal field. He travels around Long Island appraising at libraries and clubs, visiting 62 venues last year. When asked for an unusual appraisal story, he tells how one appraisal broke up a nine-year relationship.

“I was doing appraisals at North Shore Towers and this young girl came in with this vase I appraised for $23,000 that was her grandmother’s,” he said. “She was bringing it to the back and I heard a crash. [Her boyfriend dropped it and] it broke to smithereens. She came up crying to me, I took one of my business cards and gave it to her to let her insurance company know that when I appraised it, it was in one piece, this is how much it was worth. I got a call from her boyfriend two weeks later. She threw him out [after] nine years.”

Costello was impressed with the collection at Massapequa. “There were some very unique and unusual pieces here that we don’t see often,” he said. “Some I had never seen before and I had to use my experience to appraise then.”

Two of his favorite items that night were a Nazi dagger and a silver-plated china tea set.

As each person was called up by number to have their piece evaluated, they told Costello about how they came to own the piece. Many spoke of how they saved items from Hurricane Sandy.

One such couple was Julia and Ed Smith, residents of Massapequa for 46 years, who came with a gold watch and a Dresden clock that miraculously did not get destroyed by the sea water, even though their house did. As Smith displayed her clock, she told a story about one other item she had that she treasures more than anything else and carries it at all times.

“After Sandy, a total stranger came to my door and I must admit I was skeptical because during that situation we were all very vulnerable,” she said. “It was a nice young man who was a neighbor living north of Merrick Road. He handed me an envelope that contained a gift certificate for $25 to Target and he said,  ‘Please use it for cleaning supplies or whatever it is that you need.’ When I asked him his name he was reluctant to give it to me because he didn’t want to be thanked.”

Reaching into her purse she pulled out a small red card that said: “Hang in There.”

“I carry this with me always to be reminded of the kindness of others,” she said. And what might that treasure be worth?  

She smiled, “Priceless.”