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History center helps antique owners put a price on the past

When Bill Lusebrink began collecting war memorabilia nearly 40 years ago, he did it because he liked the objects, not because of their potential value.

His outlook changed a little on Sunday when he took his prized 16-inch powder horn dating to the Revolutionary War to "Pittsburgh's Hidden Treasures: An Antiques Appraisal Show" at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

Appraiser Richard Wagner, of Sewickley, estimated the intricately-carved powder horn, a steer horn used by early Americans to carry gunpowder, to be worth $6,000 to $12,000.

Not bad for an item he bought for $10 at an auction in Harmony.

"I saved that one because I figured it was the rarest one," said Lusebrink, 93, of Irwin. "I knew this was worth some money."

Lusebrink was among an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people who brought family heirlooms, found antiques, collectibles or items they picked up at flea markets to the history center's fourth annual event. Nearly 50 appraisers assessed the historical significance and value of the items and a conservation expert from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington educated people on how to care for them.

Lusebrink's jackpot, however, was an exception and not the rule, said Mike Thornleaf, of New Castle, an amateur antique collector who attended to find someone willing to part with their prize. Most items couldn't fetch $100, let alone four or five figures as Lusebrink's powder horn, Thornleaf said.

"Most things here might be historically interesting, but they're not financially valuable," he said.

Among the items that were: Ben Franklin-signed land documents; a Roman coin; a baseball bat used by Pittsburgh Pirate Don Hoak in the 1960 World Series; and a 32-inch Penny Playpal doll from the 1950s.

The most unique items people brought to be appraised will be featured as part of a series of 30-minute programs on KDKA-TV later this year. Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center, will host the program with KDKA's Ken Rice.

The goal of the annual appraisal show is to connect people to the objects they bring in, Masich said.

"They're dying to learn more about whatever it is they have. Some people are focused on the value, others have an interest in figuring out their historical significance," he said.

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