I’ve done a lot of estate auctions over the last couple of years, and just about every one features some of the items below. Those floral couches and solid wood china cabinets were a staple in most homes for much of the 20th century. Tastes and home life is changing, so it follows that some of those vintage pieces just don’t have a buyer audience anymore. Sometimes age can add value, and sometimes age actually creates negative value – that is, it may have a cost associated with getting rid of it.
As a general rule, if you bought a nice piece of furniture within the last 5 years, it’s going to have far more buyer interest that something that was purchased pre 2010, let’s say. And while vintage china doesn’t really sell much anymore, modern brands like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and West Elm do attract buyer interest, and there are older china pieces that collectors look for. There’s almost an exception to every rule here, so when in doubt, snap a photo and email it to email@example.com.
1.) Old Upholstered Sofas and Arm Chairs
Selling anything upholstered can be a challenge unless it’s a newer piece of furniture. Selling a sofa or arm chair from the 1970s-early 2000s is next to impossible. It’s not just the dated patterns, but also the wear and tear. Even if it was in a formal living room and never sat on, there just isn’t a big market for pre-owned living room furniture.
2.) China Cabinets
China cabinets are starting to trend like vintage pianos – it may actually cost you money because of the removal fees. The trend is moving away from these large pieces in formal dining rooms, and perhaps even the formal dining room in general. Sideboards can still do well, just not those behemoth, heavy, two-piece giants. This is true regardless of the age, wood color or brand, with the singular exception of mid-century modern china cabinets. Certain styles of those fetch $1000 or more.
3.) Fine China and Serverware
I don’t think I’ve met someone yet who doesn’t have a box, or boxes, of china wrapped in newspaper in their basement, or a China cabinet stuffed full of pieces they got for their wedding or handed down through the years. We tend to keep serving pieces, utensils, fancy dishes and that sort of thing. Again, with some exceptions, most of these items are not worth much. The market is over-saturated, and has low-demand to boot. In the Victorian era, and even before that, fine china was a status symbol. I think that’s why we hang on to these pieces – they said something about the previous owners and were generally well cared for, in spite of their limited use. This category of items suffers most from a shifting trend in how we use our homes and entertain.
Certain items still have collector interest – ironstone, certain vintage and antique patterns, etc. It’s probably safe to assume that most collected China is of lower value with some standouts in the mix.
This is a big category and almost every estate I do has a lot of it. This could be anything from drinking tumblers and stemware, to vases and bottles. Certainly the rate at which much glassware is manufactured affects value. It’s not hard to come by. Unmarked cut crystal sells for very little, if it all. Stemware is another category where the sell-through rate is lower. Many people already have what they need for these pieces and don’t need more. It has to be from a well-known maker to have any value, think Waterford or Tiffany. Even then, it just depends on the age and style. Certain antique bottles have collector interest, uranium glass is always interesting though not of high value and motifs can also affect value – vintage 1960s tumblers with mushroom designs have been big sellers of late.
5.) Silver Plate
Silver plate is the low-priced counterpart to genuine sterling silver, and for a variety of reasons, it’s worth very little today. Stainless steel eventually would replace it altogether as it was much easier to clean. Silver plate required near constant polishing to prevent tarnishing. Run-of-the-mill silver plate serving pieces will sell, but not normally for more than a few dollars. Sometimes a more unique silver plate piece will fetch more – I saw some bacon servers going for big money at auction (nice to know bacon has stood the test of time).
It’s important to note that you should check the bottom of your piece to ensure it is indeed plated and not genuine sterling. The latter is far more valuable. A jewelers loupe is helpful if you have a lot of pieces to check – sometimes the silver marks are quite tiny.