Firstly, I don’t claim to be an expert in this field although I do have conversations with valuers from time to time who have given me some basic guidelines to help me know when to refer a client.
Old is Not Always Valuable
Usually if an item is old and valuable then it means it is either in high demand due to the item being rare because perhaps a lot of them weren’t made.
Rarity and Usefulness Can Make Things Valuable
The more common the item – the more the item decreases in value. Even if an item isn’t in perfect condition, if it is rare, it can still be valuable, especially if it is in high demand. Useful objects can also demand a fair price, in other words if it can still be used such as in antique furniture or fob watches, rather than decorative bric’a’brac. Limited editions and first editions, as in books are also valuable.
Materials, Styles & Period of Creation
Obviously items made from gold, silver, precious stones, fine bone china and rare materials will give items value, especially if it was also created within a certain period or style e.g. art deco, impressionist, Ming dynasty china.
This is when we look at the past ownership of an object. If you know the story behind an item whether it was bequeathed in a will or acquired, as long as you can clearly state the original ownership this can add value. E.g. if you happen to be a descendent of an early settler or war veteran and have managed to have a diary from that time, or an original painting from a prominent artist who was in the family line that can substantiate your connection to it’s origin.
Condition of Piece
Small signs of wear and tear, cracks, chips, stains and damage can affect the value, unless it is a very rare piece.
Marks, Reproductions & Fakes
The term Mark refers to the manufacturer or designer mark on the piece. Usually these pieces will have more value than those that don’t. Some marks are very hard to see or find and may need an expert eye. Some may also be forged. E.g. signatures on paintings that look rather fresh and which don’t appear to have aged with the rest of the paint on a painting. Porcelain pieces may need to be looked at in a dark room with a torch to look for signs of repaired damage. Glass from certain periods, glow under black lights as do some modern paints under ultraviolet light. Paper prior to the 1930s will not glow under ultraviolet. Similar tests can be done on fabric and textiles to determine date or origin. A reproduced piece is something made in the style of say Royal Doulton however, they haven’t tried to deceive by saying it actually is Royal Doulton. On the other hand, a fake is where the maker has gone out of their way to deceive in order to make money.
Always Look at Things Skeptically
Marks or engravings (as in silverware) can be added later. Again, some marks may have been removed, for example during the time of the holocaust it was not uncommon for some marks to be removed from objects to reduce their value so that they wouldn’t be looted by the Nazis. Detection of these types of objects would need to be investigated by an expert due to the historical nature of the removal, sometimes these items are valuable because of it.
Lastly, if an object is seen to be in demand at a certain time this too can increase value, although online price guides, antique price lists and auction guides are not always an accurate source to reflect market trends. Usually it is a combination of factors which will determine the ultimate worth of an item, as well as other elements not mentioned in this article. Should you wish to confirm the value of an article a good place to start is the Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association.
Also check out my other articles:
“Is it a Collectible or Just Junk?”