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

Updated on June 10, 2019
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.

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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. 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

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. 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

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.

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. 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.


Backstamp

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Sterling Silver Forks

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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 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.

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.

Questions & Answers

  • Does a 12 piece complete set of Princess Elizabeth Red by Myott Staffordshire 2849BU have any value?

    This pretty dishware can be found at online sales and auction sites, usually offered as single pieces, or limited sets. I have seen individual plates offered at ten dollars, and a group of four dessert plates for $35.00. But that is just the asking price. My own single plate in that pattern (I have an odd collection of mismatched pieces of all types) was picked up at a thrift store.

    The demand for floral, lacy patterns is low right now while lots of people are selling. That means that you may find a buyer if you keep your price low.

  • I have cookie jar that is over 100 years old. Where online I could get it valued?

    What makes you think that your cookie jar is over 100 years old? Ceramic cookie jars were produced in the USA in the 1930s. If you are trying to learn about your item, you need to use clear terms in your description. Include the material it's made of, the size, color, and decorative features.

    Look for the maker's mark on the bottom of the piece.

    Before you can learn the value, you need to identify the cookie jar, who made it, and its age. The value will depend on the condition. Cracks and chips will devalue any older item.

    You may find it difficult to get someone else to do this work for free. But you can do this yourself by looking at a book. Older books will not reflect current values but will help you identify your cookie jar. Look in these books to see if your piece is included:

    "The Complete Cookie Jar Book" Schiffer Book for Collectors

    "Ultimate Collector's Encyclopedia of Cookie Jars Identification and Values" by Fred Voring and Joyce Roering.

    There are many books on cookie jars, and you may find one used or you can look in your library. Then, sign up on a site like Replacements, Kovels, or Worthpoint for help in finding the value. You can also look for online sales and check out the sold prices.

  • I inherited two Clay Sketches heron vases. I remember them being on my grandparent's mantel forever. I did some research and saw they are from around the 1950s, and they are still in perfect condition. I am considering selling them. However, I can not find any information on their worth. What do you suggest?

    Cy and Edna Peterson began production of Clay Sketches figurines and vases in 1943 and operated until 1957. California potteries produced many items for commercial, industrial, and home use from the 1930s until the 1960s. The greatest time of production was during and just after the war years as the USA was not importing ceramics or other decorative items due to World War II. Once Japan re-entered the market producing inexpensive knick-knacks, vases, figurines, and kitchenware, US production of these kinds of items declined.

    Clay Sketches often featured birds. To sell these cute vintage bird figurines and vases, they need to be in perfect shape. While I have seen one such item on Etsy for $119.00, that is a high asking price. Look around online for similar sales, and you will see that comparable objects sell for between $10.00 and $40.00. Remember that many of the prices are the asking price, not what the Clay Sketches actually sold for. Sites like Worthpoint will show the selling price if you are signed into the site.

  • I have an Italian marble soap/jewelry/ashtray dish. Who can I trust to value it correctly and where do I locate someone dealing in Italian marble?

    How do you know that it is Italian marble? Take your stone dish to someone who deals in stone. There are lots of stone businesses these days with the popularity of marble and granite for counters, tables, etc. A knowledgeable dealer will be able to tell you if it is marble and, if so, what kind. Visit two different dealers to see if you get the same answer. Most will not charge you for this. If it is very valuable, the dealer may not be able to give you any actual value, but may be able to suggest that it is or is not valuable. (A friend of mine has a counter top business and he is quite knowledgeable and just loves stone.)

    Is the piece newer or old? If it looks dull and has some scratching (look very closely for these) it may be old. Search around online for similar items. Once you learn the material for sure, describe the material in the search bar. Include the item's size, color (both primary and secondary), shape, and any details. A detail would include a wide or thick rim, or indentations for cigarettes. Obviously, if there are indentations for cigarettes, it is not ancient.

    If you begin to suspect that your stone tray is very old or valuable, you should take it to an appraiser. You don't want to do this a first because the appraiser's charge may be more than the item is worth. Find an appraiser in your area by checking out the American Society of Appraisers, by calling your insurance agent, or asking the trust manager at your bank.

Comments

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    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      7 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Jason - considering the cane is made of ivory and the top is gold plated, you may want to take it to a professional appraiser. But first check to make sure that the gold is really gold and the shaft is really ivory. There are tests you can perform at home. Look at the shaft with a magnifying glass to see any cross hatching. Regular lines indicate resin or celluloid while irregular indicate the real thing. If it is the real thing you need to check out the laws that regulate the sale of ivory.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      7 weeks ago

      I have a walking cane it's over hundred years old it was presented to a man named Colonel John E McGowan by the citizens of Chattanooga Tennessee with the date that it was given to him and a small inscription on the side, the handle is goldplated and made in England and the shaft is Ivory from Africa. After services in the war Colonel MacGowan moved to Chattanooga Tennessee for his love of the city and became a chief editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and for his years of service and dedication citizens who highly respected him presented him with this one-of-a-kind walking cane which I am interested in selling but not sure how to get the process in motion I obtained this piece through inheritance passed along down the family line any advice on how to obtain considering it's a one-of-a-kind and age and history would like to know how valuable this piece is and maybe a dollar amount it might be worth and what would be my best options in trying to sell this piece

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      4 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Janice - if the paper is in great condition, you may want to ask yourself if it is a reprint. Older papers, made to be temporary reading material, yellow and brown over the years. There have been thousands of reproductions of the newspapers that reported on this event. Some of the reprints have been aged artificially. And some of the reproductions are, themselves, quite old.

      The first articles that appeared on April 15, 1912 were full of errors and inaccurate details.

      You may want to check the original copy of your articular newspaper. Many can be found online. You can often find the size of the original paper as well as other contents including ads. This may take some time and patience.

      You could check with someone who knows old paper and could see if the paper is actually from the era.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Rogers 1847 is a trademark and does not reflect the date that your spoons and forks were manufactured. Rogers has produced sterling as well as silver plate. Look on the underside for a mark that shows the number 925 or the word "sterling." Sterling is much more valuable than silver plate.

      Look up your pattern on an online site that shows images of 1847 Rogers Brothers silver flatware. Notice the details of your items to find a match. Look for smooth areas, flowers, shape of the edges, lines, etc. to help you make a match.

      Once you are able to identify what you have, you can learn the value.

    • profile image

      Lucia 

      6 months ago

      I havesome spoons and forks 1847 Rodger Brothers it has an engraving of is on the back as a spoons and forks can you tell me the value oh cuz these are antique.?

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 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 

      6 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 

      8 months ago from East Coast, United States

      As your wooden boat was built before World War 2, it is considered an antique. Similar boats built after the war are considered classic. The value of your boat depends on its condition. Restoration can be very expensive.

      Join the Anitque & Classic Boat Society to learn more about your boat. Those beautiful old boats made by Chris-Craft, Riva, Gar Wood, and Century (among others) sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

      When you join the society or check out their website, you can find links to local chapters and links to other similar organizations. Attend a show in your area and talk to other owners. People who own such remarkable boats love to talk about them.

      As you learn about antique wood boats you will also learn where and how to sell them.

    • profile image

      Paul brow 

      9 months ago

      trying to sell my 1930 Wooden Boat

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      11 months 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 

      12 months 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 

      13 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Marty - East Asia seals have been used as personal signatures on documents, or can represent a company's name. They are also used to sign artwork. Sometimes called "chops." the writing can also be a saying or proverb.

      In general, Korean writing features many circles and ovals that can be used with lines.

      Japanese characters feature curved lines and straight lines mixed with curves.

      Chinese characters are more complex than the other two with many sharp angles. Less white space is visible in Chinese characters than in Japanese or Korean.

    • profile image

      Marty 

      13 months ago

      Hello, Im looking for information about an oriental signature stamp, how can i know if it is chinese or japanese or identify the author. thank you!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      21 months 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 

      21 months 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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