Whether you have a love or distaste for antiques, one thing’s for certain — some old furniture can be worth a lot of money. However, looking up the value of antique furniture can be a misleading experience, especially when your knowledge is limited.
There are so many factors that go into determining antique furniture values, which is why so many people make costly mistakes. You could store that old rocker thinking it’s worth a fortune when it’s virtually worthless, or worse; you could end up throwing out something that is so valuable it could send your kids to college.
Before you get too excited, it’s important to note that the most expensive antique furniture is rare, and the majority of antique furniture on the market is not Antiques Roadshow worthy. Whether you’re just curious or if you’re looking for an insurance appraisal, this step-by-step guide will help you learn more about the worth of your old furniture.
1. Examine the antique furniture in question.
The first step is to make a lengthy assessment of the furniture in question. What kind of furniture is it? If you aren’t sure of the style or what it’s called, like a Victorian settee, for instance, write down some basic characteristics instead.
Here is some basic information you’ll need:
- Find out the composition of the furniture. What type of wood? Is there marble? List all materials.
- Make a note of any damage, including scratches, dents, chips, cracks, etc.
- Take clear, well-lit photographs from all angles.
- Search the piece for any labels or maker’s marks. Write them down and take photos.
- Look to see if any previous repairs have been made to the piece (like a new screw replacing an old one).
- Write down any known provenance of the piece. Was it your grandfather’s? Did it come over on a ship during WWII? Whatever information or history you have, document it.
- Do you have any old photographs of the furniture that might help date it?
All this information is going to be useful once you start your search or once you start working with an appraiser.
2. Don’t touch the furniture until you know its value.
It can be tempting to want to spruce up your antique furniture before selling it or bringing it to the appraiser, but hands off! Until you know what you’re dealing with, any attempted repairs or cleaning could lower the value of your piece.
Even when you are confident you found the value of your furniture on your own, it’s still difficult to make an educated guess on how best to restore the piece without diminishing its value. A competent appraiser or antique dealer should be able to tell you whether or not repairs and restorations would increase the overall cost of a piece.
3. Know the types of antique furniture values.
When looking up antique furniture values, it’s easy to think one price fits every scenario. But actually, every piece of furniture has a few different values or prices that are all dependent on the end goal with the item. Familiarize yourself with the following price points:
This value is a fair market value of what a buyer would be willing to pay from a dealer. It is the highest value of the three and is the hardest price to achieve when looking to resell. This value is most commonly used by the trade and for insurance appraisals. When used for insurance purposes, this is also known as replacement value, which is the cost it would take to replace a given piece if it were lost or stolen.
If you go to a dealer looking for the value of antique furniture (without purchasing an appraisal), the price they give you will most likey be the wholesale value. This is the cost they would be willing to pay for an item, which can be anywhere from 30%-50% less than the retail value.
Estates, attorneys and the IRS often go by auction value. This value is what a particular item is thought to bring at auction. It will be a range and is usually less than retail but more than wholesale. If you’re looking to get rid of furniture fast, sometimes your best bet would be to put it in an auction. Auctions are risky business, though. If the right people aren’t bidding a given sale, the furniture might sell for next to nothing, regardless of what the auction value stated.
4. Find similar antique furniture values in print.
Whether you visit the library, a bookshop, or purchase a book on Amazon, there are a ton of publications about identifying and valuing antique furniture. Books will offer more of an overview and can’t get into too much detail about particular items, which is why they are an excellent starting place if you are just learning about antiques.
Here are some popular publications that will help you identify antique furniture:
5. Search the internet for more information.
Sometimes the easiest way to get a rough estimate of what your antique furniture is worth is to see how other similar pieces are priced. The internet is a treasure trove of information and databases that will help you narrow down a price, once you know what to search.
After you have used print and other searches to figure out the age, style and make of a piece, use that information to create search terms for any of the following websites.
Auction & Sales Databases
6. If in doubt, have the furniture appraised.
Sometimes it’s best to leave antique furniture valuation up to the professionals. But remember, appraisers are not licensed, so anyone can claim to be one. Here are some tips to help you find a competent appraiser:
- Don’t rely on an Internet appraisal solely. A professional will need to see the actual item to value it the most accurately.
- Ask for references and check them out. A legitimate appraiser won’t be offended. Reputable auction houses and professional associations such as the American Society of Appraisers are useful resources.
- Hire someone who specializes in what you need to be appraised. You don’t want a furniture specialist assessing a coin collection.
- If the appraiser offers to sell your item, walk away; that’s a conflict of interest.
- Get the appraisal in writing, with a clear statement, not an estimate, of your item’s worth, along with a description of the methods used to make the appraisal.
- Be prepared to spend. A reputable appraiser will typically charge by the hour, with rates ranging from $100 to $300 per hour, depending on where you live.
Since appraisals can be costly, you might want to do a bit of research using the methods above before you decide to invest in a professional appraisal. Appraisals are most appropriate if you need one for insurance or if you suspect your item is worth a significant amount of money.
7. Decide what to do with appraised antique furniture.
Once the appraisal is complete, it’s up to you to decide what you’ll do with your inherited piece. You can keep and enjoy it, fully aware of its worth (or lack thereof). You can sell it via an online auction service, a consignment store or an auction house. Or you may decide to donate it.
However, if you love it but can’t quite fit it into your current lifestyle, you also have the option of putting it in storage for the time being. Look for a self storage facility that offers climate controlled storage. This is especially important when storing wood furniture that could be damaged by extremes of temperature or humidity. Wood has its moisture content and is very sensitive to changes in relative humidity. Sudden changes can cause wood to crack or split.
Read Also: How to Move and Store Wood Furniture
We hope this guide helped you figure out the value of any antique furniture in your possession. Good luck and happy thrifting!