Any appraiser or auctioneer will tell you it’s no easy feat figuring out the value of the antique furniture and vintage decorative objects in your home. You probably know how much you spent on that ornate Regency mirror you found at an estate sale or those Fajalauza ceramics from your local shop—but those price tags may not equal the items’ actual market value.
Finding that number takes a lot of research, from identifying the origins of the piece to understanding the current antiques market. It’s always a smart move to get any piece you are interested in selling professionally appraised. However, there’s also plenty of baseline research you can do to better understand your item’s potential value.
Here, we asked appraisers from two of the country’s leading auction houses to share their advice on how to find the market value of your antiques.
How to Find the Value of Antiques
Identify Unique Details
One of the most important steps to finding the value of your piece is to thoroughly evaluate and examine it. You may have been told that the furniture piece is from a certain time period or country, but it’s important to be able to verify that information is accurate. Samantha Robinson, head consignment director of decorative arts and design for Heritage Auctions, often tells her clients to practice “close looking” and write down descriptive details about what they are seeing.
“I believe the most important thing, whether you are an emerging collector or professional in the industry, is to be able to train your eye to look closely at the object and examine it thoroughly,” says Robinson. “Objects can tell you a lot just from their basic appearance.”
Robinson recommends forming a list of questions about its appearance (like what is it made of, what its distinct characteristics are, is there a maker’s mark, etc.) that you can start to answer as you examine the piece. The goal is to form a list of terms related to the antique that makes it easier to search for similar items.
You should also be noting any sort of damage or alterations to the piece. Vicky Paloympis, head of department for Chinese ceramics and works of art for Christie’s New York, explains, “I look very closely at the condition and attempt to understand whether there has been any restoration or alterations from the piece’s original state.” The reasoning behind this is that it may ultimately impact—either positively or negatively—the piece’s overall value.
If you are not yet a connoisseur or working with an unfamiliar antique, Paloympis highly recommends finding an expert at an auction house or antiques shop that you trust to authenticate an object. “It is very difficult to identify the age and origin of an antique item without first striving to build connoisseurship in the area of your antiques,” says Paloympis.
Turn to Auction Databases
Once you’ve correctly identified the piece or have come up with a list of search terms, both Paloympis and Robinson encourage people to look at auction databases to find out what similar furniture or decorative items sold for in the past. Christie’s and Heritage Auctions serve as great sources to help you find the current market value of pieces. Robinson also utilizes sites like Live Auctioneers, Invaluable, and Artnet almost daily as a specialist in design and art.
“These databases capture auction results from a variety of auction houses across the country,” explains Robinson. “I recommend looking for auction results within the past 2 to 3 years—5 at the most—because the auction market ships with the overall marketplace. For example, you can imagine that auction prices established before the economic crisis of 2008 are quite different than auction results immediately after that or auction results that may be established more recently.”
Searching for the most recent results gives you a better idea of what the piece might expect to achieve at auction or the price it could go for at a shop. However, there are also other factors that affect the price—such as the industry’s taste, which changes rapidly. A certain furniture style that may have been popular a year ago could have fallen out of favor quickly.
Paloympis also adds, “It is important to mention that factors such as provenance (the history of who owned the object) and condition can greatly affect the value of a piece. Old provenance from a prestigious collection could augment the value and a piece in perfect condition would be far more valuable than a piece with a few small chips.”
Find an Expert in Your Area
If you are looking to sell, it’s always a smart idea to reach out to an expert to fully evaluate the piece and give you an accurate appraisal. Some larger auction houses—like Heritage Auction—offer complimentary auction assessments where specialists review the item and provide information on its possible value. You should also look for local experts that can give an even better understanding of the market in your region. Robinsons explains, “The best type of specialist is someone who deeply understands the material and then has sort of personal relationships within the bidding community.”
Once you’ve established a trusted relationship with a specialist or an auction house, you can then ultimately decide how you want sell the item and form an overall plan of action. Or, you may ultimately decide that you want to keep the piece—it may increase in value over time, after all!
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