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A dilapidated house in Ipswich provided a treasure-trove of historic, valuable, and, in many cases, exceptionally dirty items at a recent estate sale held by John McInnis Auctioneers. Hopeful buyers packed the auction house’s Amesbury storefront, seeking to take home a piece of history.

“It’s really nice to have an estate like that, untouched for generations,” says Daniel Meader, gallery director, of the property, now demolished.

Pricing for an auction is more of an art than a science, Meader notes, as several items expected to draw big price tags sold for less than the minimum estimate, while others garnered far more than anticipated. Once such unexpected windfall came from a blue hand-painted sign that said Fish Market, signed by the maker and likely dating from the late 1800s. With an estimated maximum bid of $3,000, the item actually went for $14,000.

“We could never have anticipated what that item would sell for,” Meader says of the one-of-a-kind item. “It’s really up to the buying public on the day of the sale.” The buying public kept mum on another item that wound up attracting a lot of attention – an antique powder horn sold for $6,000, nearly nine times the top estimate. Other items were less surprising — a rare 1849 California gold rush daguerreotype, depicting teenaged prospectors from Ipswich, brought in a respectable $27,000, very close to the top estimate.

The condition of the estate, with a leaky roof and rodent infestation, did impact the value of several items. Many of the hundred-plus paintings on offer sold for below expectations, which could turn into a windfall for buyers with curating skills. And a badly stained board showcasing original autographs from nearly everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence sold for $11,000, a little over half the estimated minimum.

Overall, however, the heirs to the estate were happy with the results –so happy that a bicycle repair shop sign originally held back as a memento will be sold at an upcoming auction, in the hope it will prove as popular as the Fish Market sign. “The heirs were extremely pleased,” Meader says.