Monday, May 4, 2015

Determing Value

This is the 200th post of this blog. And being so, I thought I’d break away from my usual question and answer format and discuss a topic for which I receive lots of questions—value. I routinely tell everyone that I don’t do valuations. I do that because value is one of the hardest things to determine without lots of expert information. That’s why certified appraisers are in such high demand. But they’re expensive, so most people seek free value advice.

Value of any kind is subjective. It depends on several things—age, rarity, authenticity, trendiness, and historical association. Just because an item is old doesn’t make it valuable. Take glass from ancient Rome. At over two 2,000 years old, you’d think it would be worth a fortune. But the truth is there’s so much of it around that it isn’t worth as much as you’d think.

Throughout history, people had as much junk as we have today. But they didn’t value things in quite the same way as we do today. For ordinary people, old furniture was just old furniture. Old dishes were often mismatched. Let’s face it, they didn’t have “Antiques Roadshow” to make them think that just about everything was valuable.

To determine an item’s value, you first have to determine its age. The type of wood used in furniture, particularly the secondary woods used for the inside of drawers, is an important clue of age. If you see a  circular saw pattern in the wood on a piece of furniture, you know it was made after 1840.

Not everything rare is valuable either. An old book by an unknown author might be extremely rare. But to be valuable, someone must want to buy it. Nevertheless, rarity is a key determinant of value. Start by considering how rare an item was when it first appeared on the market.

Think in terms of different levels of production. At the bottom are mass-produced items made of ordinary and usually cheaper materials. At the top are unique items made of the finest materials. Generally, if an item was rare and valuable when it was made, it'll be even more rare and valuable today. Previously expensive objects will still be expensive today.

When an antique or collectible is in demand by collectors, it’s price can skyrocket. And when prices climb, fakes and forgeries abound. Some forgers use as much skill producing fakes as if they were making an original. Fraudulent antiques lie in wait for the uninformed. A good example is the myriad of fake Chippendale furniture coming out of Indonesia.

Perfectly round wood in a piece of furniture, for example, is a tell-tale sign of a forgery, because wood becomes distorted with age. Look carefully at ceramics to see if someone painted the decoration on top of the glaze after the firing.

When it comes to collecting antiques, condition is prime. Did you know that the patina on fine furniture----produced before 1830—is one of its most important features, and too much cleaning and restoration can ruin it? Did you know, for example, that the value of a rare book can drop by more than 100 percent if it doesn't have its dust jacket?

Another thing that influences value is how typical an item is. Collectors are always looking for representative examples of a given period, craft or style. When an item sparks a collecting trend, prices always go up.

Finally, an object’s association with someone famous automatically increases its value. That’s because more collectors want to own it. And that’s the bottom line with value. The more people who want to own an object, the more its worth. And an item is only worth what the last person paid for it.

I hope you find this post as useful as the previous 199. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and plan to continue bringing you insightful information about antiques and collectibles. For more in-depth articles, please visit The Antique Almanac, my new monthly E-zine on antiques and collectibles. You’ll never know what you’ll learn next.

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