“You don’t know until you ask,” a client told me the other day. I had just told her that her family’s antiques were not valuable enough to perform well at auction. In the antiques appraisal and auction business, people often show up with entire truck loads of antique items that they hope to auction. I do regularly find rare and valuable items, but just as often I have to say, “no, thank you” to everything.
I understand the sentiment that this client expressed – it makes sense to want to get everything evaluated by an expert to ensure you don’t accidentally miss something valuable. But you don’t have to pack up your car with everything you own in order to get an idea of the potential value.
Sending photographs ahead of time can save you and the antiques appraiser a lot of time, particularly if you’re traveling from far away, or if large or fragile items pose logistical challenges. I can often tell very quickly from pictures if the items are not valuable. For more intriguing items, I always prefer to see the piece in person if possible. Viewing an item first-hand gives me the best opportunity to determine age, origin and authenticity.
Even before you send in pictures or arrive with a truck full of antiques, these three tips can help you start to sort out more commonplace items from ones that may be more valuable.
1. Style matters in antique porcelain
Do you have gold-rimmed Limoges, Noritake, Minton, Lenox or Rosenthal porcelain dinner services? These are not currently strong sellers. In today’s market, buyers prefer boldly or ornately hand-painted, highlighted, or transfer decorated dinner wares. Tell us the pattern and quantity of your porcelain and we can give you an idea of auction desirability.
2. Hold on to your vintage wine glasses
Fancy vintage stemware and barware is plentiful and the market is very selective. Acid-etched, cut, or engraved glass stemware is generally worth far less on the resale market than it costs to purchase new, meaning that these pieces are typically not suitable for auction. Exceptions include Steuben colorless glass, Lalique stemware, and early British hand-blown wine glasses.
3. Sterling silver is hot… but silver plate is not
Prices are very competitive for Tiffany and Gorham silver flatware and hollowware items; this means that now is a great time to sell sterling silver at auction. Check for the “sterling” mark on your silver. Plated silver can be identified by other markings, such as EPNS, Nickel over Silver, German Silver, Silver Soldered, Hard Soldered, and many more. Plated silver is generally less desirable for auction unless it’s a very large and showy British piece with engraved crests and ornamentation, a high-style piece from the American aesthetic movement, or any piece with significant historical or artistic value.
I’ve been an auctioneer and appraiser of antiques, fine art and collectibles for over two decades, and the market has changed considerably. Material that was all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s isn’t so hot in the 2010s. Focus has shifted and many might argue that it has become much more particular. Miscellaneous groups of antiques are not as fashionable to purchase. Buyers are looking for cohesive groups related by style, maker, or theme. To learn more about what sells well, browse through recent auction catalogs.
Have you noticed any other interesting collecting trends emerging in recent years?