Antiquing: Deciding if it is a Treasure


There are plenty of old things for sale. Just because something is aged does not make it a great investment. Old stuff is just that: old stuff. It is not necessarily collectible or a good investment. Knowing the difference can significantly impact the profitability of your endeavors.

For example, you might spot a collection of Indian arrowheads for sale. Six of the carved or crafted stones, mounted in a display case and offered for sale at $150, may seem like a good investment. It makes logical sense that they are old and certainly collectible. However, similar arrowheads are traded or sold for $5 to $10 each. The display case is worth $15.

To buy these old arrowheads, you would be paying two to three times more than their true value. Just because something is collectible and old does not mean it makes sense to purchase to add to your collection.

Some older things do have significant value. That is because collectors are interested in them and a real market exists for these objects.

However, the label "antique" or "collectible" attached to an object has no real effect on the worth of an item. No government entity regulates the sale of antiques or collectibles. The value of an item is determined more by whether there is a demand for it. There are very rare antiques that are sold for much less than a newer collectible because there is no demand for the older item.

Newer "collectible" items are often heavily marketed. One example of this activity is broadcast regularly on cable television. There are television shopping show dealers offering premium "mint sets" that sell nice-looking commemorative coins for premium prices. The dealers will not tell you this, but these coin sets have little value beyond their bullion, if any, when you must eventually sell them. Some of these dealers sell genuine U.S. Mint coins nearly always several times higher than the price the coins would cost from a local, legitimate coin dealer.

These television shows rarely sell anything that cannot be purchased elsewhere more cheaply, so do not make an impulse buy from glitzy cable shows with excited pitchmen. Do some research and discover the same Silver Eagles coins at $2 to $4 over spot price from traditional coin dealers. Uncirculated Morgan Dollars offered for sale on television shopping shows sell for $300 each. The same items can be purchased from a coin dealer for $35 to $45.

Some Items to Purchase

There are some objects or items that can be easily located and purchased, and often at below market value. To get started, here are several such items:

1. Antique clocks:

2. Coins: Buy common coins in the finest grades. Older coins issued by the United States with a key date are good investments. Key dates are those with a date or a date and mintmark combination that is especially rare or hard to find. Collectors need these rare coins to complete their collections. Purchase the highest grade your budget allows. Lower grade, common coins have historically not appreciated as much in value as key date coins do. Accordingly, they are probably not a good investment choice, although they are good for filling up the holes in albums, especially with the kids assisting.

3. Glassware: Glassware is one of the most common items you will find at an estate sale. Often, it can be purchased for just a few dollars. Condition is important. Here are some examples of collectible glassware:

a. American Brilliant Cut Glass

b. Carnival Glass

c. Depression Glass
d. Pressed Glass
e. Milk Glass
f. Fenton Art Glass
g. Belleek
p. Steuben
v. Waterford
u. Tiffany

4. Ceramics and porcelain: This is a huge category, and requires its own course. Here is a list of some of the most well-known types:

a. Delft

b. Dresden

c. Fenton

d. Haviland

e. Lalique

f. Limoges

g. Loetz

h. Majolica

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Buying and Selling Antiques and Collectibles course?

i. Meissen

j. Newcombe

k. Nippon

l. Roseville

m. Royal Copenhagen

n. Royal Doulton

o. Spode

p. Staffordshire
q Bing & Grondahl

r. Wedgwood

5. Hummel figurines:

6. Beer steins:

7. Small toys: Start your collection with small, popular toys, such as Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. Small dolls or rubber stamps are also highly collectible and not expensive to start.

8. Sterling silver: This is a common item offered at most estate sales. Often you can find sterling silver for under $20. Sterling silver can resell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you are going to bargain hunt for sterling silver, look for the Continental and International marks.

No one really knows what items are likely to be worth substantially more in the future. Common items available today that are thought likely to be worth much more in the future are often purchased and stored away. These items are later available in mint condition, but because they are not rare, they do not substantially appreciate. One such item was Billy Beer, marketed by President Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy. People hoarded the beer when it was first released, thinking it would grow in value. Today, opened cans of Billy Beer sell for $1. Six packs of unopened Billy Beer are sold for $10. This is clearly a case where too much of an affordable item was hoarded in the hopes that it would appreciate.

Searching for Profitable Antiques

Shopping and searching for antiques is a great way to spend a free afternoon. Many times, browsers are surprised at how many good bargains they come across. Many people have the misconception that antiques cost more than they can afford. Complicating the matter, the hardest thing is that many people just do not know the true value of the particular item they are looking at in an antique shop.

The object may have caught their attention because of its style or because it brings back happy and pleasant memories. There is also the unknown. A shopper never really knows if the object's owner is trying to increase the price or if the asking price is already a good deal.

Shopping at Stores and Malls

There are antique shops and antique malls, and both are obvious locations to begin a search for collectibles. An individual or partners usually own and operate a small antique or collectible shop. The antique mall is usually in a larger building and consists of spaces rented by antique and collectible dealers. Local dealers stock their rented area, which can be floor space, shelves, or a combination of both. Employees often operate the mall and sell items on behalf of the dealers. There are advantages to each type of retail outlet.

At a mall, you will find a greater selection. There are often many different dealers placing a large variety of items for sale. However, at antique malls, you will not be able to negotiate the prices as much. Employees generally are not authorized to negotiate. You can make an offer, but often that must be relayed back to the dealer for approval or rejection.

Unlike shopping for consumer goods, where you can quickly go to another store and compare the price, when considering the purchase of a collectible item, you decide the maximum you are willing to pay for an item. You must also be prepared to walk away if the negotiations do not work as planned.

At an antique store, you can get to know the owner. The antique store's owner will want to work with you on items so that you keep coming back, which generates more business for the dealer. Most collectors find they are able to get good deals on antiques when they get to know the owner of the store. If you are a frequent shopper in the antique store, you can easily build a good relationship. Bringing in other customers to the store is something that will get you noticed by the owner, as well. Smaller antique shops can generally offer you some history on the pieces you are most interested in. Often the dealers are collectors.

It is always a good idea to do some checking into the reputation of a given antique dealer before you first step foot into their store. While most dealers are honest individuals, some conduct sleazy and questionable business practices. Most antique dealers take pride in offering quality items, but you still need to check the object carefully. Make sure you take the time to examine thoroughly what you are purchasing.

Do not expect to take home an antique in mint condition for a very low price. Dealers know the real value of an item.

Online Shopping

Another way to find collectibles is via the Internet, which has become more useful in making it easier to find things. Many sites cater to selling antique furniture, collectibles, or other specific items.

You can also use the Internet to locate places, locations, or events that you can visit to find good deals on antiques.

EBay is an obvious Web site to check out and to look for specific items. It has grown over the years and offers hundreds of thousands of items for sale each day. It is a great place to learn the value of specific items. Consider shipping costs and whether the item can be safely shipped from the seller's location to you without breakage or damage.

Other Web sites worth checking are the large classified ad sites, such as Craigslist or Backpage. There are others. Use these sites to watch for objects offered for sale or for events where items might be sold.

Public Auctions

There are always public auctions scheduled, and attending those offers an opportunity to find objects at reasonable or lower prices. Some auctions are conducted as consignment sales. Owners deliver their property to an auction house, and the items are sold during a regularly scheduled, weekly sale.

Other auctions, usually known as estate sales, are held once, typically at someone's home. The purpose of auctions is to turn unwanted objects into cash.

When attending an auction, do not get seduced by the excitement and thrill of the rapid selling. Avoid excessive spending by being caught in a bidding war. Set the maximum price you are willing to pay, and do not pass that mark.

Yard Sales

At yard sales, sometimes also called block sales or garage sales, unwanted items often are sold for pennies on the dollar. It takes a lot of looking to find good buys, but seasoned collectors are constantly searching for items at these types of "clean-out" sales.

Prices are usually negotiable at these sales. Cash works best when negotiating.
Estate Sales

It used to be that estate sales only attracted dealers and collectors, but now finding treasures is becoming mainstream. An estate sale means that everything in the house and property will be for sale. Search Craigslist using the term "estate" to rule out garage sales. You can also visit, where you can subscribe to alerts of estate sales in your area.
Do not be deterred by an older, established neighborhood. Often newer developments are full of chain store items. Get there early; most good stuff is gone in the first 30 minutes. Usually estate sales will run Friday through Sunday or Friday and Saturday. The second day will start to produce discounts. Do not be afraid to ask, in a nice way, "What's your best price?" Go ahead and open drawers and cupboards. Often dealers do not have time to open everything and you might get a good price from a busy dealer. Tools and underused front room furniture are often good deals at estate sales. Garden pots, statues, and birdbaths can often come with good prices;.for one thing, the mass and the weight deter buyers.

Small Ads

Most communities have some type of newspaper or magazine where small advertisements offer items for sale. Checking the classifieds section in the paper to see what is offered for sale might allow you to find a good bargain. Serious collectors constantly scan these ads for items that may be of interest. Find those publications that publish these ads and regularly check the listings. Be prepared to go look at those items that are of interest and priced reasonably.

Marketing Yourself

You can do many things to market yourself. Let others know you are interested in buying particular items. For instance, you can create and hand out wish lists to people, telling them you collect specific antiques or collectibles. Include your number and let them know they can call if they know someone who could help you. It may seem like a tiring tactic, but it helps.

Post index cards on your local bulletin boards regularly with one item that is on your list and your willingness to buy the item. If watches are on your list, you can place the following: "Collector will buy old watches for cash."