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

Updated on December 13, 2016
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.

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

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.

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 - Vintage Collectible but not an antique
Depression Glass - Vintage Collectible but not an antique | Source

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 items is available in the shop right down the street. Or on EBay.

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

Value and Conditon of Antiques and Collectibles

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 1800's or early 1900s by the Gebruder Heubach Company of Thuringia, Germany (Gebruder being German for brothers). 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 very close to me (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are) 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.

Which brings me to:

Antique Textiles - A 200 + Year Old Sampler
Antique Textiles - A 200 + Year Old Sampler | Source
Antique Landscape
Antique Landscape | Source

The Condition of Antiques and Collectibles - 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 it's 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.

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

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

This lovely lamp may appear to be old or antique to some people, but was purchases 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.

Why 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Face it, people don't throw Jesus in the trash can. So there are a lot of old religious items around.

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.

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 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.

Dear Readers - please do not put your name, phone number, or any personal information in the comments section. If you do so, the comment will not be seen as it will not be published. Remember that any kook could pester you by finding your personal info in a public forum. Also, I am not here to help you sell your items. You can do that on ebay, craigslist, or another site.


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    • profile image

      Shannon 5 weeks ago

      I recently came across a old punch bowl of my mother's that has been packed away since my father passed away 25 years ago, just curious of its worth. It's a bowl and 6 cups, it's Tom E Jerry.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Shannon - Tom and Jerry does not refer to the cat and mouse cartoon but to a warm, eggnog type drink popular in England, later in the US, in the late 1800s. Tom and Jerry punch bowl sets were also popular in the US in the 1940s. Obviously, a set from the 19th century will be worth more than a set from the mid 20th century. I've seen a wild variety of prices for the mid 20th century ones, from $25.00 to $125.00. I saw one recently on ebay for over $300.00, but they are not going to get that. On auction sites always check for the sold price, not the suggested price.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Jean Hamilton - if, by trinket, you mean a piece of jewelry, take it to a jeweler for identification and value.

    • profile image

      Jackie Schmidt 3 weeks ago

      Hi, I have my great-grandparents dining room set, complete with the two arm chairs, they have leather seats otherwise all wood, my mom restained them a few years ago, then she passed them on to me, what i was wondering is if the chairs would be worth something? or if not would it hurt just to make something out of the chairs to give away to family members as a memory thing with the wood from the chairs. I am keeping the buffet and dining room table intact.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Jackie Schmidt - if you are looking for information on specific furniture, you will need more detail. If the chairs are very old, it was probably not a good idea to redo them as the patina of age adds to the value of antiques. If you are looking to find the age of furniture, you also need to be more detailed. If you are 80 years old your grandparents could have been born in the 19th century. However, if you are 20, your grandparents could have bought their furniture in the 1960s. It all relative you see! There is nothing like sentimental value. I'm glad you kept the buffet and table!

    • profile image

      Charles Banks 2 weeks ago

      I have some Big and small beautifully carved 5ft. Wood pieces by slave owner, Dr., planter, historian, political Democrat JGM Ramsey. Also with his name carved in each one of them from the late 1700s, 1800s. You can tell these were used by the slaves he owned and perhaps maybe his self. Sure he tried them out. In perfect condition. Was wondering if I have anything worth something?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Charles Banks - old farm implements are popular collectibles and often used as decorative pieces for people looking for a rustic feeling in and around their homes. However, the fact that these pieces were owned by an historic person would add to their value. I wonder if the EastTennessee Historical Society would be interested. Maybe you should give them a call.

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      Dominique 2 weeks ago

      Hello dear friends! I have a very nice vase made of glass but very hard to break and it has 6kg of weight, that given by my grand father who passed out in 1998. I don't know how to sell it, can you help me to get certification of my vase or buyer?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 12 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Monique - hi, if you are trying to understand the value of an item, you must first attend to detail. The word "picture" is rather vague. It could mean a photograph, an oil painting, an etching, an ad, or any number of things. If it is, say, an original painting, what is the artist's name. See what I mean? I had to chuckle at the cooking oil. I have a friend who keeps 2 jars of pickled peppers in her fridge that have been in the family since the early 1930s! Anyway, try to refine your descriptions and see if you can find something similar online.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 12 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Dominique - hi! Oh dear, did you actually try to break the vase? Please don't! Why don't you take it to your local antique dealer and see what she has to say about it?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 12 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Lloyd - that's wonderful! You have a piece of history there. Maritime souvenirs have quite a following. You might want to contact an auction house that specializes in maritime antiques. There's lots of info online. You may also check collectors clubs or a museum like the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to help find a value for the cup.

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      Anita 10 days ago

      I have a full set of Bavaria Mitterteich (90+pieces) dishes. Where would I sell them? Should I just take them to an antique store?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 10 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Anita - I imagine that selling them on an online auction site would be a pain - can't imagine having to pack and ship and entire set. Why don't you check out prices for your particular Mitterteich pattern at Replacements or Kovels to get an idea of value then call around to antique stores or consignment stores. You won't get the quoted price as any shop needs to account for overhead and profit so may want one third of the final sale.

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      Shirley Boulier 7 days ago

      I have a desk three drawers on bottom, fold down door with solid top. Different size deviders inside. Appraised for 1600.00. Would like to sell live in Northern Maine. Who could I contact?

    • Diane Marie Henry profile image

      Diane Marie Henry 7 days ago from California Bar, Oregon

      I'm wanting to sell a couple of antiques but not sure of there true value .or where to take them.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Shirley Boulier - why don't you check your local antique dealers and see who would be interested. You will not get the appraised value though as a business needs to cover their overhead and profit. Good luck!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Diane Marie Henry - first you need to identify what it is that you have. You may know someone who has some experience with antiques, who may be able to tell you if you do actually have something that is at least 100 years old. Many people call old stuff antiques when they are not. Or you could describe each item into a Google image search and see what comes up. Don't forget details. Take a photograph of each item. Then you can contact a dealer. You don't want to be hauling stuff around without a plan. Good luck!

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      Claire 3 days ago

      I have an antique violin and I didn't read any advice on selling instruments.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Claire - the value of an old musical instrument depends on so many things - when and how it was made, the materials, conditions, etc. You could locate a price guide but that might not be enough help. First, you probably need more information on your actual piece. Why don't you call your local music store. They may be able to put you in touch with an appraiser. You don't want just an antique appraiser but someone who specializes in violins. Also if there is a violin shop or violin maker in your area, they should be able to advise you. Remember that not every old violin is worth $50,000 like on that Antiques Roadshow segment. Old is not always valuable. I hope you have a treasure!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 days ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Melba, if it's from 1975, it's not an antique. Whatever it is may be a collectible.

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