Most antique aficionados have their dream list of things they would buy if money were no object. You know, the things that huge lottery jackpot could afford. These are some of the most costly antiques around, and let’s face it, pie in the sky for most people.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them through exhibitions and photographs while learning about their history. After all, that occasional million dollar find does happen in an unexpected place. You won’t know how to recognize those elusive pieces if you don’t study the highest of high-end antiques.
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Topping the list of least affordable antique lamps are those made by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in the 1890s and early 1900s. In fact, the rare Dragonfly example shown here sold for $2.11 million at Sotheby’s in December 2015. One of the things that makes this lamp so special, however, is that it was once owned by steel industry magnate Andrew Carnegie. With provenance like that, you can always expect a high auction result. Even lesser examples of Tiffany lamps regularly sell for tidy sums. You can get one of the most common desk styles for $12,000 to $20,000, and it goes up from there.
Other types of antique lamps can be quite pricey too, including those made by Pairpoint and Handel. These run the gamut from several thousand dollars apiece to $80,000 or so. They are still out of reach for most collectors, but certainly more affordable than Tiffany in many instances.
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Patek Philippe Watches
Fine timepieces produced by Patek Philippe remain the Holy Grail for many antique watch enthusiasts and no wonder. Many of the earliest examples were actually made for royals in Russia and Queen Victoria later owned one of the company’s pendant watches. Yes, they’re that exquisite.
In the 1860s, Patek Phillipe made the first wrist watches. These were made for ladies, actually, as men carried pocket watches at the time. Today the name is still associated with fine timepieces, and record-breaking auction records are proof of their demand among the elite who can afford them. They regularly sell in excess of $30,000 and can exceed $1 million. A few of the less exciting examples can be purchased for $8,000-10,000, still more than the average person can consider for a watch.
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Period Masterpiece Furniture
Nothing makes a statement in a room like a piece of fine furniture. When it comes to the elite, those pieces made in Colonial America garner some of the highest prices at auction. From Queen Anne to Chippendale and Hepplewhite to Sheraton styles, the best of the best can easily exceed $1 million.
In their book Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture, brothers Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno describe period furniture as "sexy, beguiling and enigmatic." With that type of allure, it’s no wonder that avid furniture collectors will pay so much to own a single piece.
What makes period masterpiece furniture so valuable? In part, it’s their rarity, since few of these pieces are found “in the wild” these days. They are passed from generation to generation among families and held in museum stashes. But what truly makes them valuable is their craftsmanship. Compare these pieces in detail for detail with other similar styles, and you’ll quickly see why the work of early American cabinetmakers is highly valued among those wealthy enough to obtain them.