Whether you're a casual collector or a serious antique furniture enthusiast, it's important to understand what your pieces are worth. Several printed guides and online services specialize in antique furniture value lookups. Utilizing these services will allow you to sell or buy furniture for a fair value, insure your special pieces for the appropriate amount, or simply satisfy your curiosity.
How to Tell if Antique Furniture Is Valuable
If you're wondering whether you have a treasure on your hands, there are a few clues that can help you decide if you need to do more digging into price guides or get a professional furniture appraisal. These are some characteristics of the most valuable antique furniture:
- It's made from beautiful materials. While your piece may not fetch $36.7 million at auction like the famous Badminton cabinet, there are some lessons to learn from the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold. The cabinet was made of ebony and set with gems, making the materials part of its value. Any piece of furniture crafted from exotic woods and other beautiful materials will be worth more than more ordinary items.
- It shows fine craftsmanship. A piece of furniture made by hand by a skilled artisan tends to be more valuable than one mass produced or created in a less skillful way. If you know the artist who created your piece, even better. An 18th century Chippendale-style chest signed by cabinet maker John Townsend sold for almost $3.5 million in 2012.
- It's very old. Although simply being old doesn't make something valuable, older pieces can be worth more if they are also beautiful and well made. For example, a circa 1715 hand-painted chest sold for just over $1 million in 2016. If you have an older piece of furniture, it's possible it could be a valuable antique.
Printed Furniture Value Guides
You can use printed antique price guides to help you get an idea of your piece's value. There are several popular options, most of which are available at your local bookstore or from an online book retailer.
- Antique Trader Furniture Price Guide by Kyle Husfloen retails for under $20 and includes information on all the popular styles of American furniture. Pictures will help you properly identify your piece.
- British Antique Furniture: Price Guide and Reasons for Valuesby John Andrews is a respected resource for valuing antique British furniture. The book includes detailed information about how a patina can add value to a piece.
- Miller's Antiques Handbook & Price Guide 2020-2021 by Judith Miller covers all kinds of antiques, but it includes plenty of helpful information about assigning value to antique furniture. According to the publisher, this is the most popular antique guide on the market.
- Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2022by Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel uses actual auction results to assign value to antiques, including furniture. The book includes over 2,500 photos to help you identify and assign value to your piece.
- Warman's Antiques & Collectibles 2012 Price Guide by Mark F. Moran is another respected general antique price guide. Although this guide is older, it's a good resource for determining whether your antique furniture is worth money.
Online Antique Furniture Value Lookup
You can also find information about the value of your antique furniture by looking it up online. Several websites offer searchable databases and other information to help.
Although it requires registration, Kovels.com offers a free searchable price guide for antiques. The information in the database comes from the sale prices of more than 750,000 antique items around the world. If you know the manufacturer of your furniture, you'll be more likely to get an accurate idea of its price.
Invaluable is an auction site for art and antiques, and it provides free information on the value of items sold on the site. You can browse through the furniture by manufacturer name or the type of piece to get an idea of its value.
WorthPoint specializes in recent sales of specific items of antique furniture and art. You can use the past auction results and sale prices to assign a value to your item. To see the results of your search, you'll need to subscribe to the service, which starts at about $10 per month.
Auction and Antiques Sites
Although most auction sites don't provide antique valuation services, they do offer a great deal of information. Peruse current and sold listings to find out how much your furniture might be worth. If possible, check the sold values, since these offer the best indication of value.
The following sites sell antiques or hold auctions for antique furniture on a regular basis:
- eBay - eBay has tons of furniture listings, especially for local pickup. Perform an advanced search and click "sold listings" to find items that have recently sold on the auction site.
- Ruby Lane - Look at current listings from sellers to get a sense for what people might be willing to pay for similar pieces.
- Go Antiques - With thousands of items on this well-established antiques marketplace, you may find a piece of furniture similar to yours.
- TIAS - Although the interface can be a bit challenging on this site, it has a great selection of items and can be a good way to find the value of similar furniture.
Appraising Your Antique Furniture for Insurance
If you own valuable antique furniture, you may want to list it separately for insurance purposes. Typically, the insurance value of an antique item is the highest retail value for that item. In other words, it's best to insure your antique furniture for the maximum amount of money it would cost to replace that item if it were lost or damaged. Typically, insurance companies an item will require you to get a formal written appraisal from a professional appraiser. This means you will not be able to rely on furniture values from printed guides or online lookup services. Instead, you'll need to seek out a certified antiques appraiser in your area.
There are several ways to find a certified antiques appraiser:
- Contact local antique dealers and auctioneers and ask them to recommend an accredited certified appraiser.
- Often antique appraisers are available or advertise their business, at antique events and shows. Attend these events when possible.
- Speak to your insurance agent about certified appraisers recommended by the insurance company.
- Contact a major auction house, such as Sotheby's or Christie's, for value lookups on extremely rare or valuable antique furniture.
- Check websites such as Antique Trader where information of events offering free antique appraisal information is posted.
Understanding Antique Furniture Values
In addition to the insurance value for your furniture, there are several kinds of values you may see when you perform lookups. It's a good idea to be familiar with the following terms:
- Fair market value - This is the price a buyer and a seller agree upon when neither one is under any pressure to buy or sell the item. Both parties need to be aware of any relevant information and facts about the particular item.
- Estate or tax value - This value is determined by the IRS by averaging the actual auction prices of similar items.
- Retail value or retail price - This is the price an item sells for at an antique shop.
- Wholesale value - This is the price that an antique dealer generally pays for a piece. It is approximately 30% to 50% less than the item would sell for on the secondary market.
- Auction value - This is the open market price the item would generally sell for when neither the buyer nor seller is in a forced sale position.
Most of these values are given in a dollar range rather than a specific figure. As you view the various values for your antique furniture, it's important to understand that this range reflects the furniture's condition, current market demand, and other significant factors that can vary based on the specific piece or the region in which it is sold.
Helpful Tips for Looking Up Antique Furniture Values
As you look up your furniture using the tools on the Internet and at your local bookstore, keep the following tips in mind:
- List everything you know about your antique furniture. This may include the manufacturer, the patent number, the materials used, and other information. This will help you narrow down your search results.
- Assess the furniture's condition. Condition is a major factor in determining value. Is your furniture in good shape, or will in require restoration? This can help you place your piece within a price range.
- Look up your furniture using several different tools. You may find that you receive different values from various sources.
- If in doubt, have your furniture appraised by a certified professional. This is especially important if you'll be using your furniture value for insurance purposes.
Many Helpful Tools
If you're interested in looking up the value of your antique furniture, you have many tools at your disposal. In addition to the helpful print guides available in stores and at your local library, you can find out about the worth of your furniture online. Either way, it's important to remember that the values assigned by these resources are informal and do not substitute for a professional appraisal.