Figuring out whether your old furniture is valuable is rarely easy. Whether you’re going through the abandoned items in Grandma’s attic, thinking about selling your heirloom living room set, or just reassessing your old chair after watching Antiques Roadshow, nearly everyone who owns old furniture has this question at some point.
Many factors go into determining the value of an old piece of furniture. Even if your dresser belonged to your mother, it may not be rare enough or in sufficiently good condition to fetch a good price. On the other hand, you might have a rare antique by a well-known maker on your hands.
Here’s how to find out if your old furniture is vintage or financially valuable.
Trace Back the Furniture’s Owners
Any information about who owned a piece of vintage furniture before you can help date the piece. You may not be sure who the original owner was, but knowing that the ornately carved rocking chair belonged to your great-grandmother or that your grandpa brought the end table on the boat from Germany is a good start.
Check back in old family photos to see if you can find an image of your vintage furniture. The further back you can trace the item, the better.
Determine the Age of Your Furniture
Even if you consider your furniture to be old, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s vintage furniture. Many general antique stores consider objects above 50 years old to be vintage, while fine antique dealers look for objects that are at least 150 years old.
Keep in mind that furniture too new to be antique on the east coast may be considered antique on the west coast. Just because your grandmother’s favorite chair was rejected by antique dealers in Virginia doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable in the Pacific Northwest, where you’re far less likely to find genuine pre-1900 furniture.
And if it’s old enough to have traveled across the country in a wagon, it’s sure to be antique.
Consider the Rarity of Your Vintage Furniture
The most valuable vintage furniture is rare. Consider whether your furniture is an unusual size, shape, or made for a specialized purpose.
A unique carving motif, less common glass color, or otherwise atypical design may increase the value of your furniture. Similarly, a piece of furniture carved by a well-known manufacturer who made very few pieces in that style may fetch a higher auction price.
Also, consider whether similar furniture pieces are being reproduced today. If modern manufacturers are not making similar items, your furniture’s rarity factor increases.
Check for Vintage Furniture Quality
In general, older furniture is more likely to be well-made than new furniture. People complain about how “they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore” for a reason — makers of the past often emphasized quality over the fast production of today. In addition, poor-quality furniture is less likely to have stood the test of time.
Consider the composition of the furniture. Do you know what type of wood it’s made from? Are there pieces of marble or ornate hand carvings? These factors may increase the value of your vintage furniture.
Look for Vintage Furniture in Good Condition
Scratches, dents, chips, cracks, and other defects can lower the value of your vintage furniture. However, that doesn’t mean that you should restore your vintage furniture right away!
Newer screws, replacement mirror glass, and other more recent additions can significantly devalue your vintage furniture. Vintage furniture may require special restoration techniques that aren’t used with newer pieces.
Check with an antique furniture expert to find out the best way to restore your vintage furniture without devaluing it.
Compare Your Vintage Furniture to Similar Items
If you’re not sure about the age, style, or value of your vintage furniture, do some research and look for similar items being sold online. Here are a few online resources that might help:
- Kovels: a database for antique and collectible furniture sales information.
- eBay: includes a wide variety of vintage furniture items with prices you can compare.
- Etsy: lets you search for furniture by style, such as Mission & Craftsman or Victorian.
- Ruby Lane: a marketplace for all things vintage, including vintage and antique furniture.
- My Antique Furniture Collection: a forum with a community that may be able to help date your furniture.
Keep in mind that the furniture may have wildly different values in different price scenarios. Make sure to check whether any prices you see are retail, wholesale, or auction values.
Retail value is typically the highest price you’ll see for vintage furniture, while the wholesale value is the price a dealer would give you for a piece of vintage furniture. This value is often 30-50% less than the retail value. Auction value varies but is usually between the wholesale and retail value.
Have the Furniture Appraised
The best way to learn the value of your vintage furniture is to get an appraisal. If you’re in doubt about that value of your furniture or just want an expert opinion, a vintage furniture appraiser can provide the expertise you need.
It can be difficult to tell whether a furniture appraiser truly knows their subject matter. Here are a few signs of an expert vintage furniture appraiser:
- They belong to a professional association, like the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers.
- They are willing and eager to provide references. When checked, these references seem legitimate and speak well of the appraiser.
- They ask to see the item in person rather than relying on images and internet descriptions.
- They charge a fair price for their services, typically by the hour. If the price seems low, it’s probably too good to be true.
It’s a good idea to get a vintage furniture appraisal in writing with a clear statement, not an estimate. Also, ask for a description of the methods used to make the appraisal.
Vintage Furniture Appraisal in Seattle
At the end of the day, the best way to determine the value of older furniture is to take it to a vintage furniture appraiser. An expert will know exactly what to look for to give you the most accurate estimate of your vintage furniture’s value.
Fruitcocktail provides expert appraisal services in Seattle. We bring nearly 20 years of experience in helping clients with appraisals, estate sales, and vintage consignment. As an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers, we are committed to providing accurate information about your vintage furniture.