Whether you’re cleaning out your parents’ attic or wading through your own years of possessions, it can be tough to know whether you’re handling priceless antiques or just old stuff. How do you know what to keep and what to toss?
While there are many factors that go into determining a vintage item’s worth, overall quality and current condition affect the value of any item. Quality refers to how well a piece was constructed. Something handmade usually has more value than the same item built in a factory. Condition refers to how it’s been treated since it was made. Your well-loved childhood G.I. Joe doll won’t fetch as much as one still in its original packaging.
Next consider its rarity and the current demand. The fewer available, the more value an item will have. Demand, however, can be a bitter pill. Just because something appraises for hundreds of dollars doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find a seller willing to pay that. The appraised value of an item represents its replacement value. Like fashion, antiques and collectibles come and go in popularity.
There is so much research you can do online. Just type the name of the item you’re investigating into a search engine, along with any identifying markings like the craftsman’s name or the year it was made. Websites like Craigslist and eBay are also great resources, especially for determining price and desirability.
Remember that just because a book is old—or even a first edition—it is not necessarily valuable. Books that are considered classics or have cultural significance are more likely to be worth something. Books should be in their original dust jackets, and in pristine condition. A good used bookstore or your local library will likely be able to help you locate the name of a reputable dealer.
The value of a coin is determined by a number of factors, including the date it was made, the denomination, the value of the metal, its scarcity and its current condition. Proof specimens, coins with errors and coins that have never been circulated are most likely to be worth more than their face value.
Furniture that is well-built, practical and sized to fit in modern homes is worth more than very specialized, oversized pieces. Visit consignment stores and antique shops to get a feel for some of the characteristics common in desirable furniture, as well as a basis for what a piece might be worth. Finding similar items for sale on Craigslist or eBay will also help you determine current demand and asking price.
Just because you don’t have any diamond tiaras to offload doesn’t mean your old jewelry is worthless. The right costume jewelry can be more valuable than real jewels. Look for a signature or some other markings that can help you determine the maker, then type that information in to a search engine to figure out what you’ve got.
China and crystal
This is where a magnifying glass can be helpful. Look for an artist’s signature or other identifying mark on the base of stemware. Many china patterns have a stamp on the back of the dinner plates that will give you a lot of information including the maker, pattern name and where it was made. Once you know what you have, it’s easy to determine current value.
Unfortunately, the value of your old record albums is probably more sentimental than monetary. Even with more desirable records, defects such as scratches or warps on the vinyl itself or any rips, tears or stains on the album cover or sleeve will have a big effect on value.
While there are rare exceptions, most figurines and stuffed toys made to be collectible don’t have much resale value. Build a collection because you like it, not as an investment. Some formerly popular collectibles that have lost value in recent years include Hummel, Lladro and Precious Moments figurines, Thomas Kinkaid prints and Hess toy trucks.
Even if you decide to hold on to your treasures, it makes sense to know what you have and what it’s worth—and be sure your homeowners policy offers appropriate insurance coverage. Happy hunting!
Affiliated with the American Library Association, this site has questions to help you determine the rarity and importance of your old books.
A Guidebook of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman and Kenneth Bressett
Also called The Redbook, this publication is updated annually and lists American coins dating back to the Colonial era.
Did you know that the world’s largest collection of dinnerware is in Greensboro? Replacements, Ltd. specializes in buying and selling china, stoneware, crystal, glassware, silver, stainless and collectibles. The website is a wealth of information on all things collectible.