So, you’ve rummaged through the stuff your grandparents left in the basement and you’re wondering what’s for the trash, what’s worth a garage sale, and whether there are a couple of items potentially too valuable to give away for cheap. Assessing an antique’s value can be difficult if you’re new to the game and even when you’re not it’s still quite subjective – it’s all based on the free market, after all.
So, to give you a starting idea of what you should look for, which items and family heirlooms might actually have a sizable price tag, and what counts as a “valuable antique”, let’s go over what are the 40 types of valuable antiques to look for below.
40 Types of valuable antiques Worth Money
Naturally, there are hundreds if not thousands of types of vintage items that can qualify for the moniker “valuable antique”. We can’t possibly go over all of them but we can certainly cover the few dozen most common types of valuable antiques to look for when going through your family’s old stuff. So, let’s go over each type you should keep an eye for.
1. Depression glass
This is something that can be found in many American homes yet is often overlooked and is just offered for cheap in garage sales. Yet, depression glass can be quite valuable with certain sets selling for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. So, if your grandparents had a glass set from after the Great Depression period (1929 to 1939), definitely hold on to it and look for the right buyer.
2. Original paintings
Paintings are a very common type of decoration in most homes. Most are unfortunately worthless as they are low-value copies of popular art or mass-produced landscapes. However, some very unassuming paintings can cost a lot and that’s usually cause they are original art. So, if you have some weird-looking Art Deco or post-modern abstract art piece at home, don’t be too hasty throwing it out. Even if you don’t like how it looks, it might easily be worth a small fortune.
3. Rare and old books and comic books
Books often get thrown out when renovating the house or cleaning out the basement but some first editions can have stunning price tags. Whether we’re talking about first edition books, signed copies, or something unassuming as comics, it’s always wise to check whether it isn’t something rare. For example, did you know that some old Superman comics sell for close to half a million dollars?
4. Sterling silverware
This is one item that most people realize shouldn’t be thrown out. Sterling silver isn’t the most valuable metal out there but it’s not cheap either, especially when it’s in the form of a valuable antique silverware set. So, don’t forget to check the silverware for the Sterling company logo stamped on the handles of each piece. You can even look at old Sterling catalogs to check against the additional markings in the silverware and see just how old, rare, and valuable it is.
5. Victorian Era art pottery
That unassuming vase or pot at the corner of the basement may seem worthless but it might also be a Victorian Era pottery masterpiece. Handmade and with often unique and colorful designs, such pieces should always be treasured even if you don’t intend to use them too often. Especially if they are intact and don’t have any or too many cracks and damage marks, Victorian Era pottery pieces can be incredibly valuable.
6. Old clocks
Vintage old clocks are another item type that many people know not to ignore but some still underestimate. Even when they don’t look like anything special or they’ve stopped working years ago, antique clocks can still fetch a very high price from the right bidder. Their value is usually determined based on their art style, the specific manufacturer that made them, their age, and some unique markings and patterns.
7. Old cameras and lenses
Digital cameras may be all the rage these days but there’s also a huge collectors market for vintage film cameras and lenses from decades ago. Brands such as Kodak, Polaroid, Fujifilm, and others can sell for three- and four-digit sums and above on eBay as they are sought after by both collectors and film enthusiasts who like using them.
8. Novelty barware
An unassuming item in most households, barware can rarely fetch a price higher than $20 in garage sales. Yet, did you know that some vintage and novelty barware sets can be sold for north of $1,000 online? Ideally, they’ll be in good condition, they’ll be at least a few decades old, and will be of a rare product line. In most such cases, you’ll be glad that you held on to them and sold them online rather than in a yard sale.
9. Old coins
Old and rare coins are a well-known type of valuable antiques to look for. Yet, few of us have rare enough coins or large enough quantities of them to bother looking up their value. That process isn’t that complicated, however, as there are some pretty handy online calculators and guides for assessing the value of old rare coins.
By checking the coin’s condition, age, original value, materials, quantity estimate, mintage, demand, country of origin, and a few other factors, you can quickly determine whether what you have has any significant value today.
10. Antique furniture
This should go without saying, but antique furniture should never be sold willy-nilly. Many vintage pieces can cost staggering five-digit sums of money to the right buyer, yet, many people throw them away cause they don’t like their look and want to replace them quickly with an ugly, modern, and mass-produced piece.
If you want to check if your old furniture has such value, see just how old it is, what type of wood it’s made of, what its finish is, whether there are any noticeable marks and stamps from the manufacturer, and what its overall condition is. 18th and 19th-century antique furniture, in particular, can be especially valuable today.
11. China sets
Chinese porcelain sets can either be stunningly gorgeous or they can look quite unassuming at first. In either case, however, they can command some pretty astronomical price tags depending on how old they are, what condition they are in, who made them, and so on. So, you should never be in too much haste throwing out the old family porcelain at the garage sale.
12. Light fixtures and chandeliers
Chandeliers were a very common type of decorative item years ago even though most modern houses tend to go for simpler lighting fixtures today. So, if you’re one of the many people wondering what to do with the intact but old chandelier in the garage, consider examining the manufacturer and the date of the light fixture – if it’s old and rare enough you might be able to easily fetch a price of a few thousand dollars or more for it.
13. Old postcards
Postcards aren’t very high-value antiques most of the time but some can catch the attention of collectors. Certain old government postal cards, private mailing cards, and Lipman’s postal cards can fetch a price of a few hundred dollars or up to $1,000 if they are old enough.
14. Old jewelry
It’s no secret that jewelry can be quite valuable. Costume jewelry, pearls, diamonds, and many other jewelry types, gemstones, and precious metals can fetch quite the price at auctions, at jewelers, or if sold directly online. And while most jewelry pieces lose some of their value over time, a lot of valuable antique jewelry can not only still retain a lot of its value but may also become even more valuable with time if it’s of a certain make or has a rare design and/or gemstone.
15. Antique vinyl records and players
Vinyl records are making somewhat of a comeback in recent years which is doing a lot for their value. Even before that comeback, however, many vintage vinyl records and players could earn pretty significant price tags from collectors. Sure, what you’ve got in the family garage likely won’t reach the $790,000 price tag of Ringo Starr’s personal copy of “White Album” but you may have a few records you didn’t realize are worth a few hundred dollars or even a bit more.
16. Vintage typewriters
People may not use typewriters anymore but they do have the value of antiques in many collectors’ eyes. It is important that the typewriter works, however. Even if it has a small defect the collector can fix, you’d like still get a lower price for it – lower than $100 even, potentially. If your typewriter is old, in a good condition, and of a rare make, however, it can grab you a few hundred dollars or even up to $1,000.
17. Old tools and toolboxes
Most folks don’t realize that their grandfather’s toolbox at the back of a garage can have quite the monetary value attached to it. It’s definitely worth taking a look at it and checking if either the toolbox or some of the tools in it are antiques, have strange designs, or come from a high-value brand such as Stanley.
If your grandfather simply bought his tools from the shop, chances are that they aren’t very valuable today. However, if he too inherited them from a previous generation and they are over a century old, they may well be worth a few hundred dollars today.
18. Perfume bottles
Perfume isn’t just quite expensive today but vintage perfume bottles can also be quite valuable too. The brand of the perfume bottle is a huge factor in its price so look for logos such as Lalique France’s “Les Sirenes” limited edition, the Murano glass scent bottles, the Galle Cameo glass bottles, and others. Beware of fakes, of course, but if an old relative happened to travel a lot, it’s not impossible that they kept a high-value perfume bottle they got from somewhere.
19. Leaded glass and stained glass windows
Even if your house never had stained glass or leaded glass windows, it’s not that unlikely that your grandparents salvaged a couple of such windows when a nearby building was being torn down. During such deconstruction works, the workers are often oblivious to the high value of stained glass windows but other people are not.
So, if you happen to find a few antique stained glass windows stashed in the garage for no apparent reasons, don’t break them or throw them away – their price can be in the thousands of dollars. Or, they can make for great indoor wall decorations when cleaned up, much like a painting.
20. Old musical instruments
Antique musical instruments are an obvious example of high-value antiques you should try to get good money for. Not only can pianos earn you a small fortune but most other instruments can also be extremely expensive if they are old and rare enough. This is hardly surprising that many vintage instruments can’t even be re-created again despite all the wonders of modern science and engineering.
21. Barber chairs
This is one item you probably didn’t realize can be highly valued by collectors. Depending on their brand and model, however, antique barber chairs can cost anywhere between $100 and $6,000 or more. So, if you find something such as an antique Koken barber chair leftover from a relative, definitely look into finding the right buyer for it.
22. Vintage tea and dining sets
Like China porcelain, certain vintage tea and dining sets can be highly valuable. All types of family cookery can be valuable in fact, especially if they are old enough. So, if you’ve got something that’s been passed through multiple generations in your family but you haven’t used it in a while – check its brand and year of making, it might be quite valuable.
23. Fountain pens
Modern fountain pens may still be in use but vintage fountain pens can still have major price tags if they are old enough, in a good condition, if they have a cool design, and if they are of a rare brand and model. Fortunately, most of this information should be written somewhere on the pen and/or its box so it should be easy to find the basics and then search the rest online.
24. Ceramic tableware
Like silverware, antique ceramic tableware can be highly valuable as well. In fact, based on their age, brand, design, and condition, certain ceramic table sets can boast truly stunning price tags in the four digits. Most will be less profitable but even a few hundred dollars can be a nice price tag for a table set you aren’t using.
25. Old electronics
Many older types and models of electronics can be considered antiques today and are very sought after by certain collectors. First generations are especially valuable, be they gaming consoles, TV sets, cassette players, radios, or any other type of electronic. Especially if you’ve got something old, rare, and still operational, you can often get three- or four-digit price tags for something you were planning to throw out.
26. Old wooden chests
A simple wooden chest or coffer can be a surprisingly valuable antique item. Maybe not as valuable as some of the other items on our list but, depending on its age and brand, a wooden chest can get you a few hundred dollars to the right collector. That is, unless it’s so functional that you decide to keep it for yourself instead.
27. Old clothes and accessories
Old clothes and their accessories usually get taken to the charity shop and that’s an excellent use for them. However, it’s worth considering that they too can sometimes be very valuable. Vintage clothes from the 60s and 70s, for example, can be worth literal fortunes when they are made by a famous designer. Even newer things can be expensive if they are of a limited series or from a lesser-known designer who’s hit it big in the last few years.
28. Cast iron doorsteps
Doorstops are probably the last thing you’d think is valuable but these antiques can be quite expensive when they are vintage. A nice cast iron doorstop, especially if it’s from the 18th or 19th century, can easily be sold for a few hundred dollars which isn’t bad for something you could have easily thrown away or taken in for recycling.
29. Old rugs
Throwing away an old rug seems like an easy decision at first but what if it’s valuable too? Persian rugs aren’t the only ones that can fetch you a nice price – pretty much any rug that’s old enough, that’s kept in a decent condition, and that has a nice and/or rare design, can be worth well into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
30. Old watches
Wall-mounted clocks aren’t the only clockware that’s worth keeping. Even if your old watch isn’t working anymore, you might want to get it appraised just in case. If it’s of an old or rare brand, it might be worth a lot to a collector. Ideally, it will be working too, of course.
31. Old toys
Old toys can sometimes look unappealing, however, if they get cleaned up and restored, they can become fun to play with again. What’s more, some of them can become relatively valuable antiques too if they are old enough. What’s more, many are handmade and/or come from long-lost toy lines that are quite highly valued by collectors today.
32. Hunting decoys
Hunting decoys often don’t survive for long, for obvious reasons. Even those that don’t get blown up or broken accidentally simply just get so much wear and tear over time that they become worthless. If you happen to have an old hunting decoy from a famous artist that’s also in a good condition, however, you can easily get a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars for it.
33. Baseball trading cards
Collectible baseball cards used to be all the rage a few decades ago and some people are still looking for and trading with them very actively. As with any other similar collectible item, if you happen to have extra rare one, you can place a pretty high asking price for it.
34. Old shoes
Like clothes, old vintage shoes can be much more valuable than many people realize. In fact, they are often easier to keep in a good condition if they were of high quality and were rarely used. The right pair can easily get you a few hundred dollars from the right person.
35. Antique dolls
Antique dolls can be mentioned as a wholly separate category from toys as they are that popular and potentially valuable. They need to be in a good condition, however, and the older and rarer they are, the higher their value.
36. Movie posters
Old movie posters were often printed in very limited numbers, especially when the movies themselves had limited releases. This means that all you need to do is find the right fan of a particular movie you have a poster of, and you can get quite a nice sum for that poster.
37. Action figures
Action figures are a pretty unique type of toy or doll in that many of them were released in very small numbers and people often kept them in mint condition on purpose. This means that a preserved toy can get you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if it’s rare enough. It’s no surprise that some people are literally buying action figures as a form of financial investment.
38. Collectible items of popular or high-value franchises and brands
From old bands to movie franchises, merchandise can either lose its value over time or it can become invaluable if it’s rare enough. Whether you have something old of the Beatles or Star Wars at home, it’s a good idea to check online just how rare it is before you throw it out.
39. Mason jars
Vintage mason jars can either be worthless or can sell for hundreds of dollars each, depending on the year they were made and the exact design they have. The latter case is quite rare, of course, but even if your mason jars are worth ~$20 each, if you’ve got a few dozen of them, you can still get a nice sum of money for them.
40. Board games
Like books, vinyl records, comic books, and other old pastimes, vintage board games can be quite expensive too. Some decades-old games were released in very limited numbers due to limited manufacturing capabilities and if you’ve got such an item, you can easily sell it for hundreds or more dollars.
How can you tell if what you have is valuable?
Nowadays, there are professional appraisals done for any time of item and antique. All you’d need to do to find one is a quick online search for appraisals of that particular type of valuable antiques in your area and you will get a few suggestions.
Before you go to someone personally, however, it’s a good idea to try and figure out an expected value range yourself. You can do that online too by learning more about the item, how rare it was at its time, what unique characteristics there are about it, and so on.
Just search for the item’s name and type together with terms such as “antique”, “antique database”, and other relevant keywords. There are entire databases out there with info on antique items such as Kovels and others.
There are even antique appraisal apps such as WorthPoint, Go Canvas, and others. On them, you will find qualified appraisal experts as well as many individual collectors who will happily give you price quotes for your valuable antiques and offer to purchase them if they deem them to be valuable.
Again, however, it’s smart to try and determine at least the approximate value of your antique items first.
What determines the antique’s value?
The two main factors people factor in the price of antique items are the condition and the rarity. The first is quite self-explanatory – if your piece is in a bad condition, then even if it’s rare, its overall value will be greatly diminished.
In some extreme cases, an item can be so extraordinarily rare and special that it will be valuable even in a horrendous condition – think major historical artifacts, archeological findings, etc. Most of the time, however, if the item’s condition is so bad that it’s riddled with cracks, it’s unusable or even just less-than-presentable, you won’t be able to fetch a good price for it.
The second factor can be trickier – the item’s rarity. There are two main sides to this:
- How rare is the item today
- How rare was it when it was first made
What this means is that, if an antique item is rare today because there are only a few pieces left, then that will inflate its value a bit. However, what’s even more significant is whether the item was rare in its time. If your antique was a part of a mass-produced line of products then, even if it’s rare today, it won’t be all that valuable – it will be seen as just a historic relic that is interesting but that wasn’t anything special in its time.
However, if the antique was even just relatively rare in its time – if it was a part of a smaller product line that was quickly discontinued for whatever reason – and if it’s even rarer today due to the passing of time, then it’s value will likely be quite significant. Also, note that manufacturing defects on certain items are known for increasing their value – that’s quite simply because the defect makes them even rarer and more unique.
Couple this two-sided rarity with a good condition and you’ve likely got a pretty valuable antique on your hands.
How and where can I sell my antiques?
So, you’ve got a high-value item – now’s the time to figure out what to do with it. Assuming that you don’t want to go to the flea market, there are three main ways to explore:
- The Internet – plenty of websites from eBay to Etsy and many others allow you to sell high-value antique items from various price ranges
- An auction house – this method takes time and the auctioneer will take a cut, however, you’ll usually get the best possible price
- Directly to a dealer – you can always find a dealer that specializes in your type of antique either online or by just asking at local antique stores for connections
Which of your modern-day items will be antiques one day?
We can’t possibly tell the future but if we apply the same principles we do with antiques today, then you should definitely hold on to any and all collectibles you have. Anything that’s rare, that has at least some collector’s value, that’s of a limited product line, and especially things that have some manufacturing defects that makes them even more unique.
Is any of this a guarantee that your item will increase in value over time? Not at all. And, even if it does, the increase can be relatively negligible – from a few dollars to a few dozen dollars. Or, from a few dozen to a couple of hundred dollars.
For that reason, purposefully investing in rare items today isn’t necessarily a safe investment as their price might not increase as much as you expect it to. So, don’t take this as investment advice. However, if you already have a few such items and you’re not in dire need of selling them or throwing them away right now, it’s not a bad idea to keep them and to check their expected value every once in a while.
Figuring out which item in your grandparents’ basement is worth selling and which is for the trash can be tricky. Especially if there’s a lot of stuff to sift through, the urge to just throw it all away or arrange one massive garage sale can be pretty strong. However, it’s often worth it to check the value of at least some things as you don’t want a precious antique to slip through your fingers.
So, while no list of the types of valuable antiques to look for can be fully exhaustive and comprehensive, we hope we’ve given you at least a few ideas as to what items you should research in a bit more detail.