Some of us keep old stuff simply because we're too preoccupied with more important things in life to clean house. Others of us though, keep things purposefully, thinking in the back of our minds: one day that’s going to be worth something.
Now, while at My Vintage Lifestyle, we love to say, "sometimes older is just better", the sad truth for those of us who love items from the past is that older does not always mean worth money.
So while most antiques are unlikely to ever be worth anything to anyone (barring their sentimental value, of course), any episode of Antiques Roadshow will also tell you that there are many remarkable exceptions to this rule.
Finding the value of collectible items
So sure, the vast majority of old stuff is just that – old stuff. But how do you know if your old stuff is the good stuff?
As someone who has dabbled in dealing antiques, I put together this post for the uninitiated so you can determine how much your collectibles are worth.
1. Start with the condition of your antique(s)
It doesn’t matter how old something is if it is in disrepair. The best antiques are all in collectible condition – rare is good too, but mint condition is better. Comic books are a great example (it’s no good having a copy of Spiderman No. 1 if it’s badly water-damaged); unread, and stored in a sleeve is best.
The "mint" rule generally applies to all antiques. If you're not sure what sort of condition your vintage collectible is in, some key things to look for are: chips, cracks, staining, refinishing (original = more $), and missing pieces. These can all decrease the value.
2. Find out what your vintage items are made of
This is a vital step in determining if your antique is just a regular household item or truly collectible. Something that’s only a few years old that’s made of a rare material can still be valuable. When you’re considering how much anything you collect is worth, find out exactly what it’s made of. It would be good to know if that coffee table collecting dust in the corner is made of Brazilian rosewood (it’s nearly extinct and very $$!)
3. How old is your antique?
Knowing how old something is can tell you a lot about its value, but I should note that pedigree is an equally important factor when one takes an item’s age into consideration. A fifty year old Montblanc is a nice pen that will earn you a few dollars from the right buyer. But a fifty year old Montblanc that was used by a celebrity to sign their last record deal? Now you’re talking serious cash.
Where you can, always note age, brand name or maker, and who (if anyone) of importance may have owned or been involved with your piece in some way. This is all information you can note to your insurance provider or to prospective buyers. Think of each of your collectibles like a piece of art hanging in a gallery, each has its own description, and any information about the piece is important to gauging its value!
4. Is there demand for your collectible item?
Now this is sometimes hard to gauge, but because of the age-old principle of supply and demand, unfortunately, what may be a prized collector’s item in your home that holds a priceless value to you – could be worth nothing if the market is cold. Royal Doulton figurines are probably a good example of this. Once a staple of many homes, and (still) very expensive to buy new, one would think any of these figurines that are antique would fetch a good price.
Unfortunately though, demand for Royal Doulton is very low in today’s market, and unless you’re selling to a dedicated collector who assigns exceptional value to anything Royal Doulton, you might be out of luck. (The exception to this would be rarity.)
Similarly, in terms of china (e.g. tea sets), it's typically only the high-end names that will now fetch decent prices (though there are always exceptions to this). Topping the list is Royal Albert, a company who's iconic patterns continue to attract collectors of all stripes.
5. How can you make money from your antiques?
Finally, your antiques could be in great shape, they could even be as old as the hills and signed by Queen Victoria herself – but if you’re listing them in the wrong place, you could get nothing for them. The best of the best should be taken to auction. Barring that, estate sales where you or someone else has hired an appraiser are usually the best bet, but for niche items, Ebay is also a good spot.
Ebay is great because it links sellers up with buyers from around the world. So if Dean Martin LPs happen to be a real hot commodity in Switzerland one year, you can get a decent price for one on Ebay rather than selling it for a dollar at a yard sale in your neighbourhood.
(Garage sales are where antique dealers like me go looking for deals. Your market is so small that it's nearly impossible to get a really good price.)
I've sold a fair amount of collectible items on Etsy, and this can also be a good bet for the same reasons as Ebay. I also know that many antique sellers and purveyors of vintage goods do really well selling locally through Instagram. However, they've usually built up a strong social media presence that keeps customers coming back to their page for deals.
Remember, some antiques and collectibles are simply priceless, and knowing their value might just be useful for insurance purposes or in giving you a sense of pride about your collection. Some things, no matter how expensive in a given market, are not worth selling, but are more worth hanging on to because of what they mean to us.
Preserving the past for future generations is what collecting is all about. So before you go running off to make a few dollars on your prized possessions, think about what they mean to you and your family.
Personally, I really enjoy collecting items I can use in everyday life because they let me interact with the past on a daily basis. Some of these items are expensive, but most are not, and are simply a treat to enjoy because they transport me back to a different time.