Preserve the History of Your Antiques and Heirlooms

Passing Stories and Values on to Future Generations

The Heirloom Registry Screen Shot

One of the greatest fears collectors have is that they’ll leave wonderful antiques they’ve painstakingly accumulated behind to their heirs, and those precious things will end up in a garage sale selling for little to nothing.

Or, even worse, a treasured family heirloom will end up in the landfill just because no one knew any better. If you think there’s no way that could happen, research what people find dumpster diving or simply kicked to the curb when an old house is being cleaned out, and you’ll likely change your mind.

There are some ways to avoid this peril, and one of them will even appeal to the Internet generation.

Get an Appraisal

Appraisals not only document the value of an item based on comparable selling histories of similar items, they record what is known about them. For very valuable antiques, it’s also good to have a written appraisal for insurance purposes. The drawback is that, when done professionally (like with an appraiser found through the International Society of Appraisers), they can be expensive. That’s especially true if you have a number of high-end antiques that need to be appraised. Of course, on the other hand, if you can afford those types of antiques you can also likely afford to have them properly evaluated. They key is not putting it off any longer.

The poor man’s version is the online appraisal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using these services to document values, as long as you know the online appraisal outfit you’re employing does a good job of vetting their appraisers and their qualifications. One such service is, and for a reasonable fee you can count on their assessments if you do your part in submitting clear, detailed photos, honest information about ​the condition, and all you know about the piece when requesting an evaluation.

Use an Heirloom Registry Service

When you register one of your treasured antiques with a service like The Heirloom Registry (, you have the unique opportunity to record the history of your item so that it passes from owner to owner as it changes hands. This can be a wonderful way to record history for family members, especially since relying on memory can be so iffy.

Or, if you just have a unique story about the acquisition or important provenance that adds value to the piece, it’s an excellent place to “park” that information so that it doesn’t get lost. Each item registered with the service is issued a number ($2.99 for a single number or $19.99 for a 10-pack) that is affixed to the piece or recorded in your will so the information can be accessed online in the future. Stickers or metal plaques can be purchased with the registry number on them as well if the item you are registering lends to that type of marking.

Make a Log of Your Own

Even if you don’t want to spend money on appraisals and/or registry services, you can still make a log of your most precious possessions that includes pertinent information that will be helpful to your heirs. One great way to do this is obtaining a binder and plastic letter sized sleeves at your local office supply store. Use a separate sleeve for each heirloom and place the following inside:

  • Receipt for purchase showing the date (if available) - If you're a receipt saver, even for antique store purchases, this is a great way to keep track of them in an organized way. Receipts can be especially helpful for antique items such as banned ivory or luxury goods that have been faked such as high-end costume jewelry and handbags such as those made by Chanel and Hermes.
  • Photo of the item – This helps to avoid confusion between similar items in your collection, and leaves no room for doubt when items are being identified.
  • Other documentation – This can range from hand written notes telling the story of each item in your binder, online auction result pages printed to show potential values, advertising materials or brochures relating to the item, and any other notes or related research you’ve done to document the history and value of the piece.

No matter what you do to document your antiques and collectibles for future generations, be sure to put the appraisal (either the written report given to you by an appraiser or a print-out of the online evaluation) or other documentation with the item so it’s easily found, or note how you’ve documented them in your will.

And, of course, if you want to make sure those special pieces go to a specific person later, be sure to add that information into your will as well. Documenting your possessions and making your wishes known is always a great gift to your loved ones.

Learn more about this topic reading When Collections Become Burdensome Obsessions.