relationship between cost and value

My grandmother — father's mother — passed away from pancreatic cancer when I was around five years old.

And even though from time-to-time I think about her and wonder about the kind of relationship we would have had if she had lived through my teens and twenties, truth be told, I only have three specific memories of her.

Mom Mom and Aunt Molly

Mom Mom and Aunt Molly

One is of the two of us in the barn together. She's keeping me occupied by having me strip the hardened kernels of field corn and individually feed them to cows (great keep-Amanda-busy-and-out-of-Dad's-hair-task, Mom-mom!). The second is this beautiful image I have of her in the flower garden she kept on the left side of our porch. She's wearing a skirt, glasses, and the sun is beaming behind her so that there's an angelic, white light radiating from her body. And the third is of me jumping up on her lap — this was around the time she died — and being told to get down because she was too weak to take it.

And then there's the thing that I honestly will always remember the most about her: the money lesson she taught me after she had passed away.

Mom-Mom's Good China

Our farm was the home base for the Grossman's when I was growing up. My uncles, aunt, pop-pop, and my siblings were all raised there. So for the holidays it was assumed that everyone would come back to gather and eat the meal of whichever Grossman wife was living there at the time.

While the food changed from woman to woman — my mother was all about creamed mushrooms, my stepmother was all about creamed onions — one tradition that remained the same was using my Mom-mom's good china during the meal.

It was housed in our buffet, an antique wooden structure made from the old pews at the church up on the hill many, many years ago. Normally it held Dad's spare change, some papers, laundry that needed to go downstairs. But on the holidays, it morphed into this magical food buffet complete with decorations reflecting through its antiquated mirror.

Her china was special. It marked an occasion, and elevated our Easters, Thanksgivings, and Christmases in a way that ordinary plates could not.

And in my mind they were not only a sentimental treasure, but also capable of being this century's next best find on Auction Hunters.

The Plates are ‘Actually Worthless'

One holiday we had a guest whose wealth and finery well outweighed our own. My stepmother asked this guest if she thought the plates were worth something.

The woman held a plate up and inspected both sides. While we all waited around, hot with anticipation, she finally said, “No. These were those plates given away for free in the bank promotions of the good old days. You showed up on certain days and collected all of them. They're actually worthless.”

From a Great Disappointment Comes a Great Lesson

I was 14-year-old-headstrong mad, which means there was a bit of being shattered as well.

I was also disappointed. I thought those dishes were really worth something, like 1914-Baltimore-News-Babe-Ruth-Rookie-Card worth something (hey, a girl can dream, right?).

It took me a few days of mulling over the news to make a solid realization that's stuck with me ever since. I didn't care that those plates had cost my grandmother nothing but time and gas to go pick up. To me, those plates were much more valuable than any Pfaltzgraff or Waterford crystal plate money could buy.

Their value was completely and utterly disconnected from their cost (which apparently had been exactly zero dollars).

Who knows if that woman was correct about my grandmother's beautiful china; we would need an appraiser or to do some research with the exact pattern to make that sort of conclusion. Though of course if everyone and their mothers were receiving these plates for free, then it's likely they've flooded the antique market and have no real ‘value' besides being able to eat off of them.

Years later what sticks with me is that though value and cost surely overlap sometimes, they actually have nothing to do with each other. And my highly sentimental example is not the only one to show this concept of value and cost being two completely different things.

Just look at this guy, who will actually pay people to send in their debt relief junk mail. It's worthless to you, and you likely just toss it in recycling (I know I do). But he's willing to pay you a price of $5 for it because it's got value to him.

Value is in the eye of the beholder, and to each his own.

8 replies
  1. Jennifer Vanderslice (@MoonGlowPR)
    Jennifer Vanderslice (@MoonGlowPR) says:

    Ah yes…as I’m cleaning out my parent’s home while it’s being sold, I understand completely. For me, it’s the pendulum clock that hangs on the wall in the front hallway. My parent’s bought it around 1969 with S&H Green Stamps. It’s priceless to me.


  2. Joy Beer
    Joy Beer says:

    Wow. I think those plates are PRICELESS. In 200 years, I’d find plates for the “common” but decent woman from a “bank promotion” way more interesting than the coddled plates of an established luxury purveyor. In fact, 200 minutes ago I’d care more. I love this story, and the mental image of her building her collection, and pulling them out for the special times. I cannot tell you how much I just completely Love. This. Story. And well told.


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