We’ve all heard about antique and vintage items, but how do we know what an antique is truly worth? Determining the value of antique furniture takes a bit of legwork, but today we’re going to break it down nice and easy.
To determine your antique furniture’s value, you’ll need to pinpoint the period it was created in. You can do this by analyzing the maker’s marks, design, craftsmanship, materials, and any other things that make your piece unique. Then, consider its condition and rarity. A professional antique appraiser could also provide you with documentation attesting to its value.
How to Identify Antique Furniture
Antique furniture comes in many shapes, sizes, and ages. Generally speaking, it should be old, durable, and uniquely made.
Identifying the Age
Antique furniture should be about 100 years or older, although many stores will label anything over 50 an antique. This is different from vintage pieces, which are usually around 40 to 60 years old.
Identifying the age of your antiques can be a breeze or a headache, depending on what type of furniture it is and when it was made.
If you’re lucky enough to find a piece of furniture with the maker’s mark on it, such as a stamp, logo, plate, signature, or any labels, you should be able to trace it back to the manufacturer with a bit of online research or through an antique dealer.
Identifying the Construction
If your antique piece does not have any identifying marks, you’ll have to move on to analyzing its materials and design.
Most antiques are either traditional English or American Colonial styles. Since much furniture from the 18th and most of the 19th centuries was handmade by furniture makers, carpenters, or artisans, the construction will be different than mass-produced factory pieces.
You can try to identify its form of construction by pulling out any drawers. Look at the corners where the sides meet the front or back of the drawer. If it’s an antique, the wood will likely be joined by uneven dovetails. The bottom part of the drawer might even be made from a different type of wood than the front or sides.
Handmade pieces of furniture were also built to last, with solid wood finishes that make modern-day fiberboard furniture look like a ragdoll.
If you see perfectly aligned screws, a veneer top, or perfectly-symmetrical markings, the piece was likely constructed by a modern machine. On the other hand, diverse hardware (non-painted) and single slot screws are clues that point to a hand-crafted creation.
Factors Affecting the Value of Antique Furniture
An antique furniture’s valuation is going to be based on its popularity, age, and design.
The Antique Furniture’s Popularity
An item might be an antique because of its age, but that doesn’t mean all old furniture is valuable. Plenty of old things are thrown away because no one finds them to be useful – not even as collector’s items.
It’s hard to pinpoint what makes something valuable to a population, but it usually comes down to rarity. The rarer the model or look of an antique piece, the more competition there is to own it, and the more expensive it is.
Search the online market for your antique to see if anyone is selling – or buying – the item you’ve collected.
The Antique Furniture’s Age
When trying to determine your antique’s age, make notes about the materials used, any damage to the surface, repairs, or apparent refurbishments.
If the antique comes from your family or someone you know, try to trace back its ownership as far back as you can – every detail counts.
Maker’s marks could easily prove your antique’s age. For more challenging pieces, you’ll need to dive into the next section: design.
The Antique Furniture’s Design
If you can’t pinpoint the origin of your antique furniture, you may be able to at least trace it back to its era.
Early American furniture was built from 1640 to 1700. There are few of these pieces still intact, but you’ll find them with ornamental carvings, wood turnings, and raised panels. Pine, cherry, birch, oak, fruit woods, and maple woods were most common.
Colonial pieces were built from 1700 to 1780. These were influenced by English designs, such as William and Mary, Chippendale, and Queen Anne styles. They were often finished in paint, wax over a stain, or an oil varnish and made of walnut, elm, or mahogany.
The 1720s to 1830 brought about the Pennsylvania Dutch design, influenced by the German people. These were simple, included some hand-painted scenes, and used walnut, oak, and pine.
During this time there were also Federal and Sheraton designs which included more veneers, curved arms and legs, and intricate hardware.
Simple, practical pieces may also be from the Shaker period of 1820 to 1860. Lavish, Victorian pieces were elaborate, with ornate upholstery and tapestry from 1840 to 1910.
A minimalist design came in one again from 1880 to 1920, while velvet, leather, and linen became popular in furniture from 1890 to 1910.
Finally, we have the Traditional Revival period that lasted until 1950, reviving Colonial looks.
How to Value Antique Furniture
Valuing antique furniture should be done by researching the market, checking its condition, analyzing the materials, and contacting an appraiser.
Know that there are three types of values you might run into fair market value, wholesale value, and auction value. For most of our readers, you’ll probably be interested in market or auction prices.
1. Research the Market
Antiques are valued because they have been preserved over decades or even centuries. Their craftsmanship is difficult to duplicate, creating rare pieces that are driven up in value.
The fewer there are of something, the more valuable it becomes, so your first step is to check out the market for your furniture in question.
If you found an antique nightstand, for example, purchase an antique guide like Kovel’s, Miller’s, or Warman’s to see which antique nightstands are selling and for how much. If you don’t see your model listed it could mean one of two things – it is so common that no one is interested in it or it could be priceless.
2. Check Its Condition
You may have a prized antique from the 18th century, but if it’s falling apart you aren’t going to earn much off of it. The most expensive antiques have been kept in excellent condition.
Scratches and nicks are common for such old pieces, but any large gouges, missing parts, or newer paint jobs will lower the value of the piece.
3. Analyze the Materials
It’s no surprise that lavish materials create a more expensive piece of furniture. In fact, one of the most expensive auction items of all time was an antique badminton cabinet that was sold in 2004. This cabinet wasn’t just prized because it was from the 18th century – it was made with quartz, agate, and other precious stones.
If your furniture has any gold details, particularly impressive hardware, a marble top, or other valuable materials, you are looking at a much higher value for the piece.
4. Contact an Appraiser
It’s no surprise that professional appraisers are your best bet for finding out the value of your antique furniture. Antique appraisers are trained and diligent in researching exactly where your piece came from and what it’s worth.
There are free online appraisals available and some antique shops will even do a free appraisal based on a bird’s eye view; however, you can also opt to pay a professional appraiser. It may be a financial investment now, but you’ll be happy once you receive an official appraisal certificate that can bump up your antique’s price tag significantly.
Where to Sell Antique Furniture
To sell antique furniture, you should have a good idea of its value and take some well-lit photos for your ad. Be sure to also include photos of any appraisals or historical documents for your piece to prove its authenticity.
You can sell your furniture at:
- An antique dealer or shop
- Flea markets
- Antique auctions
- Antique fairs
- Second-hand furniture stores
- Pawn shops
You can also post your piece online through:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Online auction houses
- Local newspapers (online and in print)
If listing your antiques online, be sure to consider shipping costs or local pick-up options when you set your final price.
Where to Buy Antique Furniture
You can buy antique furniture at any of the locations or websites listed above. The only difference is that instead of posting an ad or bringing your item to a store, you’ll log on or head there as a customer.
Antique furniture can cost anywhere from $50 to tens of thousands of dollars. Value depends on the piece’s construction, age, materials, how rare the piece is, and its condition. You can also check out the market online or through local antique shops to see if any similar pieces are for sale and at what price.
While you can research its maker’s marks, design, and origin in detail, you’ll have the best idea of its value through an official appraisal.
No matter what antique you have on hand or want to buy, one of the most important factors is your interest. If the piece connects with you and you love it, that makes it that much more valuable within your home!