What’s It Worth? How to Research the Value of Your Heirlooms

Here at Oliver’s Twist Antiques in Mount Dora, FL, we often get requests for help in valuing family heirlooms.  While we provide Antique Appraisals as one of our professional services, that’s sometimes more than what’s needed.  A formal appraisal is an expertly-researched valuation typically conducted by a certified appraiser.  It’s most applicable to the kind of legal valuations needed for things like probate or insurance.  It’s a fee-based service.

A lot of folks just want to know how much something is worth so they can decide whether to keep it, sell it, or donate it.

If that’s you, here’s an informal approach you can use on your own to get a value range on an item.

Step One: Identify Your Item

First you need to know what it is your’re trying to value.  The more detailed your description, the easier it will be to find pricing information.  Here are the types of identification that will help the most:

  1. Name of the Object – example: coffee table, set of glasses, costume jewelry necklace,
  2. Maker name – example: Heywood-Wakefield (furniture), Baccarat (crystal), Trifari (jewelry), Haviland (china),  etc.
  3. Model Name or Number, or other specific identifier

Here, for example, is what you might come up with for a toy train part:  “O Gauge Steam Locomotive, made by Lionel, #8902.”  If you have this level of detail, it’s fairly easy to find comparable values online.

But, you may not have this level of detailed information.  In that case, look for other identifying elements such as:

— Material – what’s the piece made of?  Example:  oak, copper, concrete, chalk, glass, sterling silver, etc.

— Age or Period – when was the piece likely made?  Example: 1950’s (furniture), Victorian (oil lamp), 1930’s because it was Grandma’s wedding gift and that’s when she got married (silverware)

— Marks or signatures- identifying mark on the base, or a signature on a painting, etc.


Step Two: Find the Value

Now, you need to search online to find out what items like yours are selling for.

eBay is the best source of pricing information because their volume of sales is the largest online.

  1. In your browser, go to ebay.com.
  2. In the search box for the app, enter your identifying information.  Enter as much as you have been able to determine in Step One.  Example: type in “Trifari necklace earrings set, gold beads” or, Waterford Goblets Lismore
  3. The first time you run the search, the listings that appear will be for the “asking price” only.  To find out what items like yours are actually selling for, check the “Sold Listings” box in the filters list on the left side of the results page.  The results will redisplay showing sold items and prices only.  That’s what you’re really interested in.

Usually you’ll find a range of sale prices.  For example, a glass pitcher might have sold for a high of $75, a low of $40, and several values in between.  That’s the basic trading range for your piece.  If you decide to sell, the high and low can help guide your own asking price.  Ask the highest price if you have time to wait, or the lowest price to sell more quickly.  You should be able to sell your piece anywhere within the range.

Identification Search Tips:

You can test your identifying information with a quick image search.  In your browser, type your identifying information into the search bar.  Tell the browser you want to see “Images.”  If you’ve got the right description, the images that show up should look like your item.  If not, try some variations until the pictures match more closely.

Image search can also be a stepping stone to identifying your item in the first place.  If all you can determine is some generally descriptive information, then try running Image searches using terms that describe your piece in various ways.  For example, marble lamp with brass base, or glasses with pheasant etchings.

Value Search Tips:

Use the word “vintage” or “antique” to weed out more recent examples of similar pieces.

If you’re not getting many or any results, try eliminating single words from your search phrase and searching again.  Sometimes a search can be too specific so that all possibilities are eliminated.

Try different variations of your description.  Example:  the word “buffet” instead of “sideboard”

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