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What's It Worth?
by Bob Brooke

A Vienna Portal Clock.
With the popularity of the PBS’s “Antique Roadshow,” everyone seems to be asking “How much is it worth?” In the world of antiques and collectibles, the value of an antique or collectible depends on three things: First, how many of the items are available. Second, what’s its condition. And, third, how much someone is willing to pay for it.

The number of antiques from older periods reduces as the years go by, either because they’ve all been bought up or through damage or breakage. And television antique evaluation programs like “Antiques Roadshow” haven’t helped. They’ve stopped families who would have thrown away old items from doing so with the thought that they might be worth something. Also, these programs have made the chance of finding a bargain in a shop a bit more unlikely. And thanks to television, everyone’s wise to antiques these days. So everyone thinks whatever they have must be worth something!

The condition of an antique or collectible greatly affects its value. It stands to reason that a dedicated collector wouldn’t want to buy damaged goods. The better condition of a piece, the greater its overall value. But there are exceptions. For instance, 18th and 19th-century furniture is believed to have been used. This is especially true of “country” antiques. Dents, stains, and minor scratches sometimes add to the value. Antique dealers call this “patina.” An very old piece should never be refinished. It’s value is in its wear and patina.

Hess Toy Truck 1984.On the other hand, a collectible like Hess Toy trucks, becomes more valuable the more “mint” its condition. In the case of Hess trucks–in fact, most toys--the condition of the box is half the value. To these collectors, MIB or “mint-in-box” increases the value tremendously. A 1964 Hess truck, that originally sold for $1.39 is now worth $4,000–that is, if it’s MIB.

Finally, any antique or collectible is worth only as much as someone is willing to pay for it. When the supply is low, collectors will pay a higher amount for an item just so they can own it. When the market is flush with goods, the value of those items goes down. It’s like any other goods in retail. However, when a collector is planning to sell an item, he or she shouldn’t expect to get much more than half of its value. That’s because dealers need to mark the item up to make a profit. When an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow says an item is worth $5,000, that means the seller would get about $2,500 for it.

Orange Carnival Glass bowl.To make sure they’re buying for the best value, collectors should as much about their chosen field as possible. Therefore, a person who owns or finds antiques must learn something about them before offering them for sale. It’s not enough to be halfway convinced that the iridescent, marigold-hued glass bowl that’s been kept in a cupboard because it came from home, but was never liked or used, is carnival or taffeta glass. When a person attempts to make certain that it is, he or she will discover that there’s a brisk market for this glass, which is hardly old enough yet to be antique. Because of the current demand, the bowl which may have been acquired as a premium can be sold now for several dollars.

If selling isn’t urgent, there are several ways a person can learn to recognize and, eventually, evaluate an antique. Visits to antique shops and occasional attendance at an auction in a city gallery or on a rural green are means of learning what’s being offered for sale, what people are buying, and what prices are being paid. The ability to recognize antiques is aided greatly by viewing a restored house or village. More of them are being opened to the public every year, and almost every state now has at least one. Because restorations show how people lived, they’re full of everyday things. More than one restoration visitor has been reminded of a 19th-century duplicate consigned to a cupboard at home as too ordinary to be considered an antique but too good to throw away. Fully as enlightening are the specialized exhibits at the Clock Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York, the Maritime Museum in San Francisco, California, and Henry Ford Museum and Dearborn Village in Dearborn, Michigan, to mention only a few. Many fine arts museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art have fine exhibits of china, silver, glass, and the like.

So before anyone pays someone else to tell them what they’re pieces are worth, it would pay them to do some digging on their own. And that’s over half the fun of collecting antiques.

To read more of my articles, please visit my Web site.

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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

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