Antiques and Collectibles: How to Value and Sell Your Old Things

Updated on April 27, 2020
Dolores Monet profile image

After inheriting her grandmother's collection of antiques, Dolores has maintained an interest in the care and sale of vintage items.

Learn more about determining the value of antiques and collectibles.
Learn more about determining the value of antiques and collectibles. | Source


  • Condition influences value
  • Values change rapidly
  • The popularity of certain antiques and collectibles changes quickly
  • How to find resources to help identify an antique or collectible
  • Demand creates value

What Is an Antique?

Many people have valuable antiques in their homes. Whether purchased or inherited, objects 100 years old or older are considered to be antiques. Of course, plenty of people call that 1940s dining room set antique, but it is not. Interesting, desirable, older objects less than 100 years old are collectibles.

Value Has Many Meanings

When we talk about the value of an antique, we can mean several things. I greatly value the things passed down to me from loved ones and would never part with most of them as the sentimental value is too great.

Maybe I never met my great grandmother, but I look at her beautiful Flow Blue china and can touch something that she touched. The family came to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 19th century. My great great grandfather was a laborer. So, I know that this lovely dishware meant a lot to the family. It meant that they had arrived into the middle class, that the family was established enough to spend money on a few fine things.

I remember seeing the Flow Blue at Auntie's house, how it was rarely used, but treasured, set in a bow front cabinet to be looked upon—not touched. This is the most valuable antique of all. It's priceless!

Depression Glass is a vintage collectible but not an antique.
Depression Glass is a vintage collectible but not an antique. | Source

Using Price Guides

We can look at antique books and price guides that document various types of antiques and their values with a grain of salt.

One day, while looking at Depression Glass at a lovely little shop, the proprietor and I checked out a price guide to Depression Glass values. The dealer said that she would never be able to get the stated price because the value of each piece is actually determined by how much money people are willing to pay for it. She said that she could never get the suggested prices, and this was during good economic times.

So, the value depends on the economy, the region where you are attempting to buy or sell the piece, and whether or not someone will actually want to purchase the item and whether a similar item is available in the shop right down the street. Or on eBay.

Selling Your Items

If you have antiques or collectibles (remember that Depression Glass is a collectible as it is not over 100 years old) and want to sell them to a dealer, remember that the dealer will need to make a profit. The dealer must take into account overhead costs as well.

You may decide to sell an antique or collectible on eBay. If so, first you must establish yourself as a reliable dealer on that popular site so that people have confidence in the items you have for sale as well as confidence in your shipping practices. Don't forget that, on eBay, there is a huge group of available buyers, but there may be stiff competition, too.

Gebruder Heubach Figurine—Girl in a Pleated Dress
Gebruder Heubach Figurine—Girl in a Pleated Dress | Source

The Importance of Condition

I have a beautiful porcelain figurine of a young girl holding up the skirt of a pleated dress. Fifteen years ago, I found some information about the figure that was made in the late 1800s or early 1900s by the Gebruder Heubach Company of Thuringia, Germany. The figure can be identified by the look of it and the mark on the bottom, as with most valuable china and porcelain pieces. The mark is a divided circle with a sunburst on top and two over-lapped letters below.

The article suggested that the figure might sell for $500.00 in good condition. And that was 15 years ago.

Unfortunately, someone knocked the figurine's head off some 40 years ago. The head was neatly glued back on, but the damage was done. No way I would ever get anywhere near the suggested price because it is damaged. In addition, changing markets would decrease the value.

Antique Textiles—a 200-Year-Old+ Sampler
Antique Textiles—a 200-Year-Old+ Sampler | Source

How to Take Care of Your Old Things

Take proper care of your antiques and collectibles. Keep them out of harm's way.

Do not attempt to refinish a piece of old or antique furniture. Part of the value of an old piece is determined by its patina, the changes that occur in the aging process. If you remove old paint or finish, you may destroy both the charm and value of the piece. This holds true for high end, very old, or significant pieces by master craftsmen. A damaged, ordinary piece of old furniture may benefit from a restoration or refinishing.

Antique Textiles, Prints, Paintings, and Photographs

Antique paintings, photographs, prints, and textiles can be destroyed by moisture, heat, and lighting conditions. Also, body oils transferred by handling can damage old things, particularly textiles and paper.

Never attempt to frame or remove an old photograph, print, painting, or textile from its frame. This is best done by a professional or an expert who knows how to handle such a fragile piece.

Do not allow someone who claims to be an expert to handle old textiles or such delicate antiques unless they are wearing gloves. If they do not wear gloves, they are not expert in the care and handling of valuable antiques.

This lamp may look old, but it is not.
This lamp may look old, but it is not. | Source

Do Not Assume an Item Is Antique

Just because something looks old, or someone else thinks that it is old, does not mean that the item is actually old.

The lovely lamp shown above may appear to be old or antique to some people, but was purchased at TJ Maxx in the 1980s. Not old.

Often older pieces, or antiques, are copied and sold just because they are so darn pretty. These reproductions can be fun to buy and use but they do not have the value of a genuine antique. Reproductions of old dishes are better to use than the real thing. Today's regulations prevent the addition of toxic elements in the production of dishware. That was not true in the past.

When to Have an Antique Professionally Appraised

Maybe you love your old stuff. I do. Maybe you have no desire to sell it. But it is a good idea to have it appraised for insurance purposes.

If you plan to keep your valuable antiques til the day you die, you want to ensure their safekeeping for posterity. You are treasuring history here. You do not want your dim witted son-in-law to throw the Victorian Renaissance Revival table in a dumpster or ship it off to Goodwill. If the kids are not interested in keeping your antiques, they may earn some cash by selling them, something made easier for them with your written appraisal. You can find an appraiser in your area by checking out the American or the International Society of Appraisers.

Do not have an object appraised by the person you want to sell it to, unless you know and absolutely trust them. An unknown or unscrupulous antique dealer may offer you $150.00 for something which sounds just fine to you. But if they turn around and sell it for $5,000.00, you might not be so happy. And there is nothing that you can do about it.

When selling your antiques through a dealer, it behooves you to establish a relationship with a trustworthy and reputable person.

Antique Flow Blue cup and saucer
Antique Flow Blue cup and saucer | Source

Identify Your Antique

Before you learn the value of a piece, you must first identify the item. If you want to identify an old item yourself be prepared to do some research. If you love antiques, this process can be a lot of fun as there is a lot to learn. Your local library will have a section of antique and collectible guides for everything from old furniture to hardware. These can be a valuable resource. Of course these kinds of books are available to purchase at a bookstore or online.

Online sites like Kovels and Replacements are an excellent resource for the identification of dishware.

There are collectors clubs for almost anything you can imagine. Find one appropriate to your item and check out the group's website. They can be a valuable source of information.

Search ebay with a description of your item to see if something very similar appears for sale.

When trying to locate similar items make sure that you use a thorough description. The more information you have will increase your ability to learn about your antique. Go from the general to the specific.

Look for maker's marks on the item. Dishware, for example, should have an image on the bottom called a back stamp. You can then look up that stamp. There are many types of, say, dishware that appear similar. My Blue Fjord plates may look a lot like the highly collectible Royal Copenhagen but a quick check of the back stamp (shown below) tells me the truth.

Many products have marks that change slightly over the years which can help you learn when the item was produced. Some furniture will show identifying marks as well. An authentic Stickley Morris type chair should have a decal on the bottom.

An example of a backstamp.
An example of a backstamp. | Source
Sterling silver forks.
Sterling silver forks. | Source

More on the Value of Antiques

Certain types of antiques hold their value even in a recession or in hard economic times. Metal such as bronze statues, silverware or other antique metal items can earn you a tidy sum of money. Of course sterling silver is worth much more than silver plate. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver. Silver plated flatware, trays, coffee pots, sugar bowls, creamers, and trays can be picked up at thrift shops for very low prices.

Religious items may not get you what you want. Old things are often valued due to scarcity. People keep religious items and pass them down for years. Also, may religious people feel uncomfortable selling a religious painting or statue, especially if it has been blessed.

Just because an object is attractive does not mean that it is valuable. A friend of mine was selling off some pieces and found that a very ugly old lamp sold for an impressive amount of money. The fact was the piece was rare and in demand by collectors.

The popularity of various items vary over time. Something that may have been a hot commodity in 1999 may have fallen out of fashion. Demand sets value. If lots of people are hunting for a particular item, the value will rise. Today, people like mid 20th century furniture and dishware so they can be quite expensive.

Design trends change the demand for antiques and collectibles. Modern buyers often look for the cleaner lines of minimalism. Overly ornate Victorian furniture does not fit that look. That means Victorian furniture, dishware, and decorative items may be cheaper than it was twenty years ago which is good news for buyers but bad news for sellers.

Modern trends favor Arts and Crafts styles with clean lines and simple forms in furniture, dishware, home decor, metalwork, and pottery.

If you bought an item because a company promised that it would eventually become valuable that does not mean that it has actually increased in value. Think about it - if everyone and their brother ran out and bought, then hoarded tons of say, Franklin Mint plates, then all decide at the same time to sell them, they will not be worth much. No one can see into the future so promises of an increase in value are meaningless.

1902 Adjustable chair by Gustav Stickley in the Arts and Crafts style
1902 Adjustable chair by Gustav Stickley in the Arts and Crafts style | Source

Selling Your Antique or Collectible Item

Selling Your Antique or Collectible to a Dealer

Do not have an object appraised by the person you want to sell it to, unless you know and absolutely trust them. An unknown or unscrupulous antique dealer may offer you $150.00 for something which sounds just fine to you. But when they turn around and sell it for $5,000.00, you might not be so happy. And there is nothing that you can do about it.

When selling your antiques through a dealer, it behooves you to establish a relationship with a trustworthy and reputable person. Talk to people you know who can recommend an antiques or collectibles dealer that they have done business with in the past.

Selling Your Antiques and Collectibles on eBay

If you plan to sell your antique or collectible on eBay, you better know what you are doing. You can't just show up one day hoping for a bonanza, but need to establish your own reputation as an honest and trustworthy seller, especially if you do not have a bona fide appraisal to go along with the object that you are trying to sell. Learn the ins and outs of ebay auctions and always use PayPal.

Create a buzz for the antique that you wish to sell by hawking on other sites including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Draw interest in your product by advertising, or writing articles about antiques, featuring the types of antiques or collectibles that you wish to sell.

Selling Your Antique or Collectible on Craigslist

I know plenty of people who have arranged successful deal s on Craiglist both buying and selling. But there are horror stories too. If you must ,arrange to meet the buyer in a public place for your own safety. Only accept cash. Of course, you can't sell a Victorian armoire and meet the buyer in the parking lot at Denny's. Well, maybe you can, but it may be a bit cumbersome and kind of ridiculous.

Selling Your Antique or Collectible at a Consignment Shop

Most consignment shops will arrange to pick up and item at your home. They generally charge 1/3 of the selling price. Pay attention to the contract and their sales practices. Some consignment shops lower the price drastically if the item does not sell in a specified amount of time. You want to be sure that you are comfortable with the lowered price.

Selling Antiques at Auction

An auction can be a good resource if you have a large collection of smaller items or one real good item. Auction can be good for you if you want to move a piece quickly, but you might not always be happy with the price.

The Antique Liquidators Association can provide you with information on reputable firms in your area. Liquidators will help you sell large quantities of items. If you have an entire house full of goods from an inheritance or if you are downsizing, these are the people for you. As they get a percentage of each sale, it behooves them to sell at the best price.

That's my chair!
That's my chair! | Source

Provenance

In the case of a very valuable antique, significant art, or a historically significant antique, you may want to establish provenance. If you want to sell the piece as an important artifact, you will have to do so. Provenance means that a paper trial has followed the item throughout the years. Receipts, letters, and other documents that have been handed down along with that item will serve that purpose.

Face it, anyone can say that George Washington ate off a particular plate. Someone's say-so is not proof. Some sites claim that a photograph can show provenance. A photograph may help but to say that just because you own the same chair shown in one of Mathew Brady's Abraham Lincoln portraits does not mean that your chair is the exact one shown in the picture.

Questions & Answers

  • I have a $2 bill and I want to know what the value is?

    Two dollar bills have been issued since 1862. Printing stopped in 1966 due to the unpopularity of the bill. It was brought back in 1976 for the U. S. Bicentennial. Another new series was printed in 1996. The two-dollar bill with Thomas Jefferson and a green seal on front; an engraving of a painting by John Trumball and Declaration of Independence 1776 on the back is a current bill. It is worth $2.00.

    There is a perception of the rarity of two-dollar bills. After the Bicentennial printing, people kept them as souvenirs. The collecting craze of the late 20th century encouraged hoarding of the bills as a kind of investment.

    Two dollar bills are often used at the horse races because the minimum bet is two dollars.

    Valuable two dollar bills feature a red seal and were printed between 1928 - 1966 and are valued between four and twenty dollars.

    For more information about paper currency, check out the website of the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

  • I have a collectible metal sign. How do I find out worth?

    As old metal signs are very popular now, many sites offer to identify and value them. Look for a site that has information on your particular sign. Include the size of the sign in your description. Collectors Weekly features some information on the topic.

    The value will depend on demand, rarity, and the condition of your piece. Many old metal signs were lost to World War II scrap drives, and many deteriorated due to weather or sloppy storage. Remember that during the collectible craze of the late 20th century, many reproductions were created as decorative pieces and were popular wall hangings in restaurants.

    Is a price listed on the sign? If so, it is probably not authentic. As prices change and a sign is an expense and not easily altered, stamped or painted on prices may mean your sign is a repro. Hold a magnet to the sign. An older sign has a greater chance of actually being old if it attracts the magnet.

    An old sign will probably show some damage including small dents, rust marks, fading, scratches, or chips. A tiny hole or small dent will show some rust around it.

    "Vintage Signs of America" by Debra Jane Seltzer is a new book published in 2018. Older books will not reflect current value.

    If you have the sign of a product produced by a company that is still in business, you may learn some information on their website. For instance, Coca-Cola has a page on memorabilia, trays, and signage.

  • I have a set of teacups that my grandmother gave my mother but I can't find anything resembling these cups. They have heavy iron handles and an iron clasp around the bottom and the print is just strange. How can I identify my unique teacups?

    You may have Russian tea glass holders or a set of podstakannik. Produced since the 18th century, podstakannik became more ornate during the Victorian era. Some versions are quite plain while others can be very elaborate. Twentieth-century podstakannik often featured political symbols such as a hammer and sickle or other symbols of the USSR.

    A glass is set inside the metal and filled with hot tea. They are made of nickel or cupronickel which is an alloy of copper and iron. The print may be Cyrillic or Russian script. Though not as popular at home, they are still seen on railways as they are handy for keeping the glass of hot tea steady on a moving train.

    Google images both terms to see if something comes up that resembles your items.

  • Is carnival glass worth anything?

    Carnival glass has an iridescent or rainbow-like quality. The glassware was used for prizes at carnivals in the early 1900s. Many companies manufactured carnival glass. Though originally cheap, some collectors do look for certain types. Northwood is the most valuable. Look for a capital N inside a circle.

    Marigold, an orange color, was the most common color. More unusual colors like red and light blue will be more valuable.

    In the 1960s, many reproductions were created for the newly emerging collecting craze. These are not as in demand as the older, original versions.

    Find some books on the topic and learn about your collection. There are tons of such books available online and can be quite inexpensive if you buy a used one. Once you identify what you have, then you can search prices.

  • I have a pair of old firedogs and was wondering what year they are from and what they are worth?

    Firedogs or andirons are supports used to hold logs in a fireplace. The supports are made of iron but many have decorative details made of copper, brass, or bronze.

    You can find a general age of your andirons by looking closely at how they were made and the materials used in construction. Most older andirons will show some wear. Value depends on condition, age, and details.

    Learn more by checking out some books that can help you judge the age of your firedogs:

    Early American Andirons and Other Fireplace Accessories by Henry J. Kauffman and Quentin H. Bowers

    An Encyclopedia of Small Antiques by James Mackay

    If there is brass in the decorative elements you can try:

    The Brass Book: American, English, and European 15th Century to 1850 by Peter, Nancy, and Herbert Schiffer

    After you learn as much as you can about your andirons, you can hunt for something similar at online auction sites or online antique dealers to approximate a value.

Comments

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    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      8 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Before you can get an idea of the value of your set, you need to identify the pattern and maker. Search around the internet to see if you can find something similar. Honeycomb water pitchers and pitcher sets were made by many companies over the years including:

      Fenton Art Glass produced a pretty green honeycomb set that showed clear green with a green opalescent top

      Jeanette Glass made a Florescent Green Uranium Honeycomb or Hex Optic pattern

      Anchor Hocking's "Georgian" is often called honeycomb

      Hobbs Brockunier made a lovely honeycomb pattern in the 19th century

      Honeycomb patterns were also produced by Viking Mosser, Flint Glass, Gillinder & Sons, and many more.

      Once you identify your pattern, you can hunt around online for sold prices. Some sites want you to join the site for sold price information while others do not.

    • profile image

      Coleen Meredith 

      8 months ago

      I have a vintage honeycomb water pitcher set with 5 glasses and want to no how much it is worth

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      10 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi sidetracked1 - your chairs may be created by the technique known as intarsia. Find and contact a museum that has a collection of Islamic art. Talk to someone in that department and ask for information - how you can learn more about intarsia furniture, if they can suggest contacts that can help you. I tried this once years ago while trying to learn more about an item and the person I spoke with was quite helpful. Good luck!

    • profile image

      sidetracked1 

      10 months ago

      Hello! I inherited a pair of very interesting folding Middle-Eastern or Northern African wooden chairs decorated with inlays. From looking around on line they would seem to be from perhaps Egypt, Morocco or Syria. They are in need of some repair and restoration.

      My parents had these for at least 50 years, maybe more. I believe they were a gift, but have no further idea of their history. I have no idea how old they are, or if the inlay is real mother of pearl. I wondered if you had any suggestions as to how to research their value and/or their history. My local antique dealers are stumped. Thank you!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      10 months ago from East Coast, United States

      I am wondering if part of the lettering is obscured. Could it be "YUGOSLAVIA" ? Furniture made in Yugoslavia can be found at online auction and sales sites. Look for something similar to your own piece to get an idea of what you have.

      Such furniture was made in mid century modern or Danish modern styles as well as in "Early American" styles. Beech was the most common wood used by Yugoslavian manufacturers. If you know someone who knows woods, maybe they can help you with that.

      Danish modern or mid century modern furniture is most valuable when it was made by a well regarded furniture maker, or was produced in a Scandinavian country. Well made examples were also produced in Italy and France.

      I can not tell you exactly what your rocker is, but only suggest that you follow my advice for further research. Once you get an idea of what is is that you have and its value, then consider any added insurance. You would have to speak to your insurance agent to learn about riders or added insurance for special, vintage, or antique items. If, say the value of the chair is $100.00, you would not need added insurance.

    • profile image

      K. Bixler 

      10 months ago

      I have an old wooden rocker. I was cleaning it, when I noticed on the underside of the seat some lettering in a circle. Only part of it is visible. It is all in capital letters, and is as follows: GOSLAVIAVIII. Would this have any significance as to where, or who made it, or if it is an antique? I purchased it from someone on facebook marketplace for $50. I love it and if it is an antique would love to insure its proper value.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      12 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Most trunks were made in the U.S.A. between the 1860s to the early 1920s. Most were covered with leather, canvas, or decorated tin. There are a few aspects that can help you narrow down a date. For instance belt like closings usually date before the 1870s. Canvas was used as a covering from 1880 - the early 1900s. Most canvas was painted, usually green.

      I am not sure what you meant about the slats. If they go from front to back it was made after 1880.

      You know the old adage: one picture is worth a thousand words? Why don't you find a book so that you can really look at various old trunks and read the many details that can help you date it.

      "Antique Trunks An Identification and Price Guide" by Pat Morse and Linda Edelstein can be found used online. Disregard the price guide as that information is outdated.

    • profile image

      juststacyhere 

      12 months ago

      So pleased to find your article. I have done some research on a trunk I found at a thrift store. It has most definitely never been restored, and is somewhat well preserved because the canvas is still intact. It has a low profile, flat top with the slats on top going horizontally, rather than vertical. It has metal slats with some type of bolts on the edges. It has no latches and no indicators that it ever did. It does have a lock and what looks like leather straps (like on a belt) where the latches would normally be. I found info that stated latches were patented in 1872. Can you help me date this piece. I am at a dead end. Thank you!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      20 months ago from East Coast, United States

      If you are looking for a specific item for sale (for price comparison) online, remember that inventories change quickly and often. So you might want to check daily for items similar to your own.

      Scandinavian mid century glass is very popular these days so you should have no trouble finding a buyer. Most of the glassware that I have seen made by Afors (or Kosta Boda) includes higly polished art glass, vases, and decorative bowls. Prices range from $90.00 - $190.00.

      Ernest Gordon designed for Afors between 1953 - 1963. Tulpan means tulip!

    • profile image

      Dumpster01 

      20 months ago

      Hello... My wife and I have a large set of distinct mid-century hand blown glass, stemware and barware from the Scandinavian Afors factory (now Kosta Boda). It was designed by Ernst Gordon and is called 'Tulpan'. We have scoured the internet trying to find current prices of this particular set... we've even e-mailed the factory but haven't heard back from them. We can find nothing on any of the antique glass sites, auction sites, eBay, etc. Can you suggest something we may have overlooked? If they were common, I'm sure we would've found them online by now.

      Thank you.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Angel - Clay Sketches figurines were produced in California from 1943 - 1957. Popular during and just after the war years, when the USA was not importing knick knacks or other decorative items, the company and others like it folded in the 1960s when cheap imports became available.

      I am not sure why you think that the bird figurines are rare or valuable. I have seen many items by Clay Sketches priced from $30.00 for a set of three birds (that's $10.00 a piece) to about $40.00. In order to sell your herons, they need to be in perfect condition.

      You can try to sell them at an online auction site or to a local dealer or consignment shop. Of course if someone else sells them for you, they will want about 1/3 of the selling price. The selling price depends on local demand. I have seen many of these cute items in shops that sell vintage items but have never seen any for the $119.00 asking price shown on one ebaby item.

      When attempting to find value by looking at ebay asking prices, remember to ignore the highest prices. People often attempt to sell items by claiming that they are rare in order to inflate the price.

    • profile image

      Angel 

      2 years ago

      I have inherited 2 beautiful heron vases that are signed on the bottom Clay Sketches Pasadena Southern California. I remember these being on my grandparents fireplace mantel for my entire childhood. I did try to do some research on their value but I couldn't find much except they are considered rare and valuable they are from about the '50s and most of what I am seeing it looks like they usually come as one not in a set ? I live in Maryland and I'm looking to possibly sell them, do you have any ideas where I would go or if there would be someone online that would be interested??

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Jennifer - with your time constraints it would be impossible to do this yourself. Hire a local estate sale liquidation company. They will charge a percentage so the more you make, the more they make. Check local firms with the Better Business Bureau. When a friend of mine sold the contents of a deceased relative's home, he found that a piece the family considered an ugly, ridiculous lamp was worth quite a lot. A pro will understand what you have and price accordingly. Good luck! (Sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. Remember to keep a few items for yourself as a reminder of your mom and the things she loved.)

    • profile image

      Jennifer 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for the info. My mother recently passed away and her house is full of primitive antiques, dolls, bears & nick nacks. My sister & I both live out of state and we will only be in town for about a week to get the house emptied out. I would like to try to sell the antiques ahead of time if possible. Any suggestions would be appreciated. She lives in South Florida which does not seem to be a popular antique area...

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