How to Value Antiques Like an Appraiser

10 Tips for Determining Value of Your Collectibles

Antique tea cups and saucers collection
Bill Boch/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Determining the value of an antique or collectible means more than locating an item in a price guide or reviewing recent selling prices for comparable items. That is just the beginning of the valuation process.

There are a number of factors to consider when determining how much your antiques are worth. Original maker's marks, condition of the item, age, and rarity are some of the main features that will help you figure out if the item you have is worth a lot or not. See if you can learn how to place value on items like an appraisal pro.

  • 01 of 10

    Maker's Marks

    Items stamped with a manufacturer or designer's mark are often worth more than identical pieces with no signature. Use a magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe, if necessary, to make sure you do not overlook a mark that may add value or assist you in researching the age or origin of an item.

    For example, a hand-painted or handcrafted antique piece that has an artist's signature and a manufacturer's mark is a great find and can be worth much more than a non-labeled, unsigned item.

  • 02 of 10

    Item Condition

    One of the most important factors to consider when you place value on an antique is its condition. Even if you locate an item in a price guide, your item must be in comparable condition. To determine value, look for anything that keeps your antique from being considered "like new" or "mint" condition. Flaws that devalue an item can include chips, cracks, excessive wear, tears, stains, and missing components. Also, how flawed is it? A minor nick might be negligible, meanwhile, a major crack is a dealbreaker.

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    Some extremely rare antiques with flaws may still be worth quite a pretty penny. For instance, if you have to choose between Newcomb pottery with a hairline crack versus a cracked piece of the more common Frankoma pottery, the Newcomb wins that contest.

    Newcomb objects are considered hallmark items of the Arts and Crafts Movement that followed the Industrial Revolution. This time period of the 1890s to the 1920s was a return to organic, decorative arts. Frankoma pottery is not worthless, it does have its rare items that can be worth $100. A unique characteristic of Frankoma pottery is that all items are made in the U.S. from Oklahoma-dug clay.

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    Old does not mean it's valuable. An item's value lies in demand. For instance, there are many items more than 100 years old that are not in high demand with collectors, such as birthday greeting postcards from the early 1900s. Many of these postcards survived over the years making them too common to hold much value.

    However, if you own a hard-to-find Santa Claus postcard from the turn of the century, it's likely worth more. A single Santa postcard can be worth $75 or more to an avid collector or dealer.

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  • 05 of 10


    If an item has been in your family for many generations and you know its provenance, chances are good that you have an authentic antique. If an item came from a questionable flea market, you should have the item authenticated before you can truly determine the value. Look for telltale signs of wear and age, and scrutinize it closely for discrepancies in marks and signatures. Use a black light to test pottery for cracks, repairs, or new paint. Newer paint will fluoresce under black light.

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    Professional restoration can add value to a rare antique, but amateur repairs can affect value negatively. It's important to evaluate a piece to discern whether it has been haphazardly repaired or if the original value-adding patina was removed through improper cleaning.

    If the glue is present, solders are easily detected, or chips have obviously been ground down, then an antique or collectible will lose value. Some minor repairs may not affect the value of a piece at all, but that is mainly dependent upon rarity and market demand.

  • 07 of 10

    Trash or Treasure?

    If an antique or collectible is broken or damaged, it does not mean that the item is totally worthless. Do not automatically trash broken objects. Many dealers will buy items they can repair or use for parts to repair other pieces. Severely damaged antiques can be transformed into ​makeover projects, and crafty people might purchase them for supplies. Depending on the extent of the damage and the item's relative usefulness, it may still hold some value.

  • 08 of 10

    Market Influences

    The disadvantage of using a price guide or a recent selling price from auction results is that it reflects a price from another time. Prices for antiques and collectibles can fluctuate widely and quickly, depending on current demand.

    For example, if you have vintage items of a Disney character and Disney releases a new rendition of the movie that becomes wildly popular, your collectibles of that character may experience a peak in demand.

    Prices may drop down to pre-demand levels once market interest has passed, or they may remain high due to diminished supply as dealers have difficulty replenishing inventories. This requires you to study the market in your favorite collecting category and stay on top of value-affecting trends.

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  • 09 of 10

    Expert Advice

    If you watch TV shows like "Antiques Roadshow," you see that appraisers consult with their colleagues when determining values. This is a common practice in reality, too. If you have established a relationship with a well-versed friend or a dealer you trust, ask for their opinion.

    When setting a price for one of your items, your judgment may overrule what experts have shared with you. But, it can be reassuring to get expert advice when you're feeling a bit uncertain about valuing an item, especially something that is rare or uncommon.

    Make sure to reserve your favor-asking for when you really need it. Antique appraisers get paid for what they do for a living, just like other professionals, so be respectful of their time. 

  • 10 of 10

    Comparable Value

    If you are stumped and unsure of how to value your item based on all the other factors, then your best bet is to price it in the range of the most recent selling price of a similar item.

    Rarities can be difficult to value, but the most recent selling price for the same or similar object may be a good indicator of expected market value.

    Appraisers will often value antiques based on the median value rather than the highest or lowest prices realized for similar items. It happens all the time. A piece may sell well at an auction, but then the same item fetches a more moderate price at an antique show.