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Mark Moran appraises antiques and fine arts and will be at the Normal Public Library on Feb. 7.

NORMAL — If you've ever wondered about the history — and value — of an old item passed down through the family or picked up at a garage sale, you might get the chance to find out on Feb. 7.

That's when Mark Moran, an antiques appraiser from Wisconsin, will be at the Normal Public Library. The event is free; preregistration is required. Each person can bring only one item to be appraised.

The idea has been so popular, the initial 40 available spots were quickly filled, said Meghan Rogers, the library's marketing manager. "We had to turn people away," she said.  

The Library Foundation, which is covering Moran's $400 fee, decided to add a morning session, allowing for 20 more people to sign up.

Knowing those spots also likely will fill up quickly, Rogers said the library hopes to have Moran back for another program this fall.

"Even if people can't come to get an appraisal, they can come and watch," said Rogers, likening Moran's program to the popular "Antiques Roadshow" on public television.

"I work hard to make it an entertaining event," said Moran, who has written 27 antique reference books and formerly was senior editor of antiques and collectibles books.

Moran said he talks of his more than 500 antique appraisal programs and some of his experiences.

One of his favorite stories is about a person who brought in a 1950s original artwork for a pin-up calendar. The client had purchased it at a garage sale for $5.  

"Original illustrated art doesn't always survive," said Moran.

Moran suggested it likely was worth $10,000. While Moran does not buy or sell antiques, he can refer people to reputable places that do. The owner of the artwork ended up taking the piece to an antiques auction and Moran said it sold for $16,000.

Only about one item per program ends up being "rare," said Moran, adding, "Most don't care about the value, they want to know if the story they heard about it is true."

One couple had no idea the story behind a copper cylinder they found in a swamp and brought to Moran to appraise. Moran told them it was a funeral urn. The remains were gone — the couple had unwittingly emptied the urn when they found it.

Silvia Schuh, a part-time library employee, came up with the idea of bringing Moran to the library.

"We wanted to offer programs that are historically based," she said.

An Internet search revealed several libraries had hosted Moran's program. Schuh attended one at a DeKalb library and was impressed.

While Moran can only appraise one item per person at the event, he does offer the option of home visits while he is in town. He charges $75 per hour. The visits have to be prearranged by contacting him at moranm1953@gmail.com.

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