Questions about Antiques
Online appraisals deliver expert opinions on antique furniture values, insurance values and replacement prices
When you’re looking for an insurance value for your grandmother’s Wedgwood china, or antique furniture values for the brown stuff left in your great-aunt’s attic, there are many options available to you.
Sometimes you’ll choose an in-person valuation, including appraisers, auction houses, and even pawnshops. You can also attend an appraisal event, such as the legendary Antiques Roadshow.
The most important criteria to check is the professional credentials of the person you select – and to keep in mind that it’s unethical anyone to offer to buy an appraised item, and you might feel more comfortable dealing with an appraiser who simply provide values instead of buying and selling, and has no reason not to give you a fair valuation.
But what if the piece is too big to comfortably transport, you’d rather not let anyone find out that you’ve got expensive items in your home, or you just want to get a valuation from the comfort of your home?
That’s when you turn to online appraisers. From old Singer sewing machine values to photos, silverware, paintings, clocks and even “whatzits” that you can’t identify without expert help, online appraisers are always available to value whatever you have.
And whatever it is you’re researching, it’s important to remember that values you’ve seen elsewhere for “similar” pieces may have no relevance to your specific item. Also, values trend up and down all the time, sometimes for no apparent reason, as collectors lose or suddenly gain interest.
Further, fakes and reproductions have flooded the market for almost every kind of antique, which drives down values even more. When Martha Stewart started using her Depression-era jadeite dinnerware on her show, the value of these pieces skyrocketed … only to completely collapse when she later began manufacturing and selling reproductions of it.
Here are some of the items that appraisers see most often and which can be highly collectible.
Antique furniture values
When considering antique furniture values, appraisers consider the item's age, style, size, origin, and above all, condition. Some of the more commonly-seen and desirable furniture styles are the most recent:
Arts & Crafts, ~1895-1915: Usually oak, these pieces represented a movement away from the florid Victorian style and feature simple, rectilinear styles. The arts & crafts movement, launched in England, stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms. In the U.S., this furniture is also referred to as Craftsman or Mission.
Art Deco, ~1920-1945: Art Deco is one of the most popular and long-lasting movements in the history of design. The lines of this furniture are crisp, emphasizing geometric forms and symmetrical patterns, with some use of gentle curves. It features functional materials such as bakelite, chrome and plastic, which had just become available at that time.
Modernism, ~1940-present: Furniture designed and produced during the Modernism period is distinctive, as it represents the usage of some new materials, like plastic, aluminum and molded laminates. Known to most of us as Midcentury Modern, or MCM, this U.S. style grew out the Scandinavian modern movement and features extremely simple, functional forms.
The elaborate Victorian style, though long-lived in the 19th century and just beyond, is also commonly seen by appraisers, but it is largely out of fashion in the 21st century, leading to lower antique furniture values than owners often expect.
Old book values
The first thing to note about old book values is that a book isn’t necessarily valuable because it’s old. Common books such as the Bible or encyclopedias were printed in abundance in the 19th century, and generally have little value.
A book’s condition is critical, and book jackets greatly increase value in hardcover books from the 1900s onward. For example, the value of a first edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night with dust jacket is around $6,000, but without a dust jacket only $300.
First editions, especially those signed by the author, are highly collectible. A book by a famous author is worth more than one by a less famous author, but even a book by a famous author that was unknown then and now is worth much less than a famous work.
A book with illustrations by a famous artist can also hold good value, and finally, a particularly striking decoration such as a leather binding or a pictorial gold leaf cover will also drive up a book’s value.
Glass, china and silverware
Many of us have inherited glassware, sets of china and antique silverware. Some pieces can be quite valuable, as anyone knows who has watched Antiques Roadshow. However, those valuable pieces are few and far between – or all of us would be rich!
Fakes and reproductions have made a mind-boggling dent in the value of old glass and china. In addition, the advent of online sites such as eBay and Replacements.com revealed that there are far more antique glass, china and silverware pieces available than was thought before the Internet was born.
Famous European manufacturers, very old China-made porcelain and British sterling flatware or hollowware can be quite valuable, but again, condition is everything. Cracks, chips and dents can drive values down exponentially.
On the other hand, crazing of china and porcelain – the spider web of tiny lines often seen all over these pieces that results from extreme temperature changes causing the outer glaze to crackle – rarely affect value, as crazing is seen on almost every piece of old pottery and china ever made.
Sewing machines, jewelry, and more
Of course antiques aren’t limited to furniture, books and china. Almost anything that’s genuinely old has some value to a collector somewhere, and a good appraiser can even help you find that collector if you wish to sell.
For instance, if you’re researching antique Singer sewing machine values, you may be surprised to learn that old sewing machines have become highly collectible in the 21st century! Great-grandma’s treadle-powered machine could fetch as much as $250-$300 in the right market.
In addition, there is a large collectible market for costume jewelry. If you’ve got a box full of what you think is junk, it’s worth having an expert take a look at it. Makers such as Coro, Ciner and Haskell created pieces that collectors snap up for anywhere from $40 to $200.
In fact, Experts on JustAnswer have valued almost anything you can imagine, including spurs, typewriters, chandeliers, posters, medals, golf balls, swords, and postcards, among hundreds of other items.
When preparing to communicate with an Expert, it's critical that you have good, clear, well-lit photos, as appraisers can only rarely identify and value something from a written description. Take photos of pattern, maker’s mark, hallmarks and any other identifying marks. Photos should be taken straight on, against a plain, light-colored background.
Antiques Experts on JustAnswer are available at any time, day or night, and will help you identify and value your pieces. They can also help you find the right venue to sell, advise you on repairs and tell you what not to do that might harm value.