Picture this: you find out that a loved one has bequeathed you a piece of furniture. Maybe it’s the old wooden chair you loved climbing on as a child. Maybe it’s a chest of drawers decorated with intricate carvings. But whatever you receive, there are probably two thoughts that enter your mind:
- What a lovely gesture from my loved one.
- I wonder how much this is worth.
Whether you have a love or distaste for antiques, one thing’s for certain — some old furniture can be worth a lot of money. But when it comes time to value your inherited furniture, the process can be overwhelming and frustrating for someone with limited knowledge of the market.
There are so many factors that go into determining antique furniture values, which is why so many people make costly mistakes. We’ve all heard the stories of folks who kept priceless antiques hidden away in the attic for decades! You could store that old rocker thinking it’s worth a fortune when it’s virtually worthless — or worse, you could throw 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. Despite all the stories you see and read online, the majority of antique furniture on the market is not Antiques Roadshow worthy. However, it is always worthwhile to appraise your antiques to make sure you know what’s in your possession.
How can you learn the accurate value of your antique furniture? This step-by-step guide will help you navigate this process and get an honest appraisal.
1. Examine the antique furniture in question.
There are many different elements that can influence the value of an antique, and some of them pass unnoticed before an inexperienced viewer.
A rare type of fabric on a chair’s upholstery or an artist’s signature can drive up your furniture’s value. Even perceived “mistakes” can have tremendous value in the antique; for example, an early pressing from the Beatles that credited the songwriters as “Lennon-McArtney” sold at auction for over $19,000!
This is why the first step to valuing any inherited furniture is to make a lengthy assessment of the piece.
Here is some basic information you’ll need:
- 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.
- 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).
- Do you have any old photographs of the furniture that might help date it?
In addition to the cosmetic information listed above, it’s also important to 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. All this information is going to be useful once you start searching for a buyer or working with an appraiser.
2. Don’t touch the furniture until you know its value.
When you receive a piece of antique furniture, you might be tempted to spruce it up a little. After all, it’s either going to be appraised and sold or it’s going in your home — either way, it could use some freshening up, right?
Wrong. Until you know what you’re dealing with, hands off the merchandise! Any attempted repairs or cleaning could actually lower the value of your piece.
For example, antique furniture items with metal elements typically get a higher price if they have their original patina (a green or black film caused by oxidization). Scrubbing off this patina may restore an antique to its original glory, but it can cost you thousands of dollars!
While there are some antiques you can safely clean (like ceramics or glass), it’s best to hold off on any cosmetic changes until you’re sure of the furniture’s value. 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. 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 and give you guidance on how to restore it (or direct you to a professional).
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
When you value inherited furniture, you might think that one price fits every scenario. But the antiques market is actually more complicated than you might imagine. 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. Dealers offer this reduced retail price so they can successfully make a profit on the item.
Estates, attorneys, and the IRS often value inherited furniture and other antiques by their 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 also great if you have an item that is verifiably rare and valuable. In fact, appraiser Kerry Shrives says that that auctioning antiques is “the best way to realize maximum value for a rare object.” However, it’s important to remember that auctions are risky business, and the value of an item is subject to change based on the buyers’ whims. For example, a signed, first edition set of Harry Potter books recently failed to sell at a Christie’s auction — despite the fact that a first edition copy of just one book garnered over $400,000 just a few years before.
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.
Anytime you’re looking to sell something — be it an item you’ve made, an old toy, or an antique piece of furniture — it’s important to learn as much as you can about the market in which you’re selling. The more you learn about the market, the easier it will be to appear confident and knowledgeable during the appraisal process.
How can you learn more about valuing antiques? Start with a few books on the subject. Whether you visit the library, a bookshop, or purchase a book on Amazon, there are a ton of publications that can give you an overview on identifying and valuing antique furniture.
Here are some popular publications that will help you identify antique furniture:
- Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, 2016
- Kovel’s Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, 2018
- Miller’s Antiques Encyclopedia
- Victorian & Edwardian Furniture: Price Guide and Reasons for Value
5. Search for more info.
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
- Kovels: This site offers you an opportunity to search through over 750,000 antique items around the world. You can compare furniture pieces that are similar to yours or even search by the manufacturer to find out more about the value of pieces from that maker or brand. Just keep in mind that Kovels does require a membership, which can range from $4.99 to $9.98 per month.
- WorthPoint: Worth point allows you to view the recent sale prices for antique furniture and art. This is a very valuable tool, as it can give you a better picture of not just an appraiser’s value for your inherited furniture, but the actual sale price similar items recently nabbed. This database also requires a subscription, and the price ranges from $25.99 to $42.99 per month. However, you can try a 7-day, 7-lookup free trial before signing up for the service.
Online marketplaces are popular places to compare antique values. People like to list antique items on these sites because they see a lot of traffic, they’re easy to use, and in many cases listing the item is free. Common online marketplaces where you might see antiques include:
However, it is important to note that the prices you see on these sites might not represent accurate market values.
Online forums are another popular place to assess the value of your item. These sites are useful because the users who post are often antique enthusiasts with more knowledge and experience than the average person. They can offer valuable insights — though it’s usually still worth your time to ask a professional’s opinion, too.
Top online forums for antique furniture include:
6. When 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 — in fact, he or she will probably be glad that you’re taking the appraisal seriously. 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 and it might mean incentivize your appraiser to value your inherited furniture lower than it’s worth.
- 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. You can also use appraisal apps like GoCanvas to get an electronic version of your appraisal form that you can access at any time.
- Be prepared to spend. A reputable appraiser will typically charge by the hour, with rates ranging from $25 to over $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. But this doesn’t mean you can skip the appraisal altogether! Appraisals are always the most appropriate option if you need one for insurance or if you suspect your item is worth a significant amount of money.
Of course, there are ways to get a free appraisal from a reputable source. You can get free appraisals by going to an appraisal day at your local auction house, or by visiting a major antique show in your area. Just remember that free appraisals won’t provide any documentation that certifies the appraised value. Treat these appraisals like a starting point or a second opinion — never your final appraisal.
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.
Life Storage can help you find the ideal unit for your unique needs. We offer storage units in a variety of sizes, so there’s always a space ready for your antique furniture (or your Ikea furniture). Contact our team today to find the storage space that’s right for you.
We hope this guide helped you figure out the value of any antique furniture in your possession. Good luck and happy thrifting!
- This post was originally published on October 18, 2017 by Lauren Thomann.
- Chantel Simmons updated this post on August 18, 2022 with new information.