EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 271 - September 26, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 7

Six Ways to Estimate the Value of Antiques and Collectibles

By Wayne Tuiskula

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There are many times when you need to get an appraisal: for insurance purposes, estate planning or settlement, probate, trusts, donating items or divorce. There are also times when you might want to know the value of something because you want to resell it or are just curious about its value. Be sure to understand the different methods of appraising items or estimating their value, and the limitations of each.

1) Walk-through Appraisals
I often find clients who inherit an estate and they aren't sure which of their items are valuable and which should go in the trash. Often a number of relatives are involved and they may want to keep some of the items and sell anything else of value. They may want to equitably disperse the belongings and want some guidance on values. An appraiser may be able to offer them a modestly priced consultation to help with this. This "walkthrough" can be used in place of a more in-depth appraisal where an appraiser writes a formal document and may have to research many of the items and provide sales of comparably priced items.

2) Consult an Expert
Trying to determine the worth of just one item is a different matter. It can often be more difficult for the owner of a single item to determine its value. Many appraisers are paid portal to portal and require a minimum number of hours per client. So, an appraisal for a $200 item could cost you more than the item is worth.

You may be lucky and have an expert in your area who can appraise your item. Values might be given as retail, wholesale, insurance replacement costs or something else entirely. You should ask which of these figures the appraiser is using.

Please keep in mind that "expert" is subjective. You might be fortunate enough to have an expert in Arts and Crafts furniture in your area when you want to know the value of a Gustav Stickley chair, but this isn't usually the case. I've often visited with clients who have well intentioned friends who dabble in antiques and offer high hopes with antique values when they were actually worth considerably less. You should look for someone who is knowledgeable in that area of antiques or collectibles.

An estate can contain everything from furniture, paintings, oriental rugs, china, and glass to comic books, baseball cards and toys. These items may have been made in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. No-one will know all of the values on everything they encounter. I have consulted with experts in their fields when I have conducted appraisals to provide accurate estimates, and you may need to do the same.

3) Do It Yourself Estimates - Research
You probably are anxious to find out the value of your item, and there are a number of things that you can do on your own. When I research current values, I often lookup past auction prices on eBay. You should find an item as similar to yours as possible. For example, a piece of Roseville pottery may have been produced in more than one color. Make sure that you compare yours to one of the same color.

I once evaluated a piece of pottery at an appraisal event for around $25. The person had received another appraisal prior to that for $350. I was able to find the item that the other appraiser had used as a comparable. It was artist signed and that is why it commanded such a high price. The $25 figure was more accurate in this case.

When using eBay, refer to items that actually sold. A seller can ask any price for an item and it may be above what a buyer will pay. Check to see that the items actually received bids and that they sold. Also, check to see if more than one of the items sold and see if the prices are in the same range. Make sure that you look at the descriptions. You may be looking at a damaged or repaired item. If your item is in perfect condition, it should be worth more than one with damage.

Your library will often have books that will aid you in your search. If you have Sterling Silver, you can find books with Sterling hallmarks so that you can tell who made it, the year(s) it was made and the design so that you can determine the pattern and even prices for that pattern.

4) Appraisal Events
Appraisal events at churches, with historical groups or senior centers offer you an affordable method to get your items evaluated. Check to see if the appraiser at that event is knowledgeable in that area and if there are restrictions on the items that you can bring. For example, I've seen a number of events where coins or jewelry weren't being appraised.

5) Online Appraisals
I prefer to look at an item, hold it and exam it when I am asked to place a value on it. However, there are many appraisers and websites that are willing to evaluate your items online at a reasonable fee.

6) Auction It!
Being an auctioneer, I believe that the best way to determine what an item is worth is to put it up for auction and let competitive bidding determine the value.

Related articles:

"How to Hire an Appraiser" - link

"Finding a Qualified Appraiser" - link

About the author:

Wayne Tuiskula has been an antique and collectibles dealer for over 20 years and a licensed auctioneer. He runs Central Mass. Auctions Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He holds the (GPPA) Graduate Personal Property Appraiser designation from the National Auctioneers Association. Email Wayne at

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