This article was published in the September/October 1999 issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.
For What It's Worth ...
Q. If I want to get an idea of something's worth, can't I just use a price guide?
A. Sure, as long as you realize that the emphasis is on "guide" rather than "price" when using price guides. Here are some things you might want to research about the price guides you select:
How were prices obtained? Where and from whom?
Are pictures included?
What are the limitations for use?
Are descriptions complete? Is condition included?
Is useful information, such as current market trends, included?
Let's look at two examples.
In the "Lyle Official Antiques Review", 1998 edition, a picture is included for each item along with a very brief description. Condition of the items is not addressed.
"All values are prices actually paid, based on accurate sales records in the twelve months prior to publication from the best established and most highly respected auction houses and retail outlets in Europe and America." Below each picture the auction house where the item sold is listed along with the value. A representative sample of auction houses includes Christie's, Bonhams, Sotheby's, Skinner, Phillips, and Spencer's.
Although the introduction states "... thousands and thousands of individual items carefully selected to give a representative picture of the current market in antiques and collectibles ...", there is no discussion of current market trends.
Limitations of the Review to keep in mind include the regional nature of values and the omission of the date of auction and lot number of the item. Also, in the editor's own words, "When dealing with the more popular trade pieces, in some instances, a calculation of an average price has been estimated from the varying accounts researched."
In the 17th Edition of Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide, there are very few photographs and the descriptions are extremely brief. The contributors, however, do attempt to provide information about condition of the items listed.
Sources for the prices in Schroeder's are varied. They use auction results and dealer lists, and they consult with national collectors' clubs, recognized authorities, researchers, and appraisers. You will not be able to trace any listed price back to its source. And you will find little information about market trends. You'll have to compare several year's worth of prices to determine this.
If you do not know what the item is that you are researching, you may find it difficult with Schroeder's price guide because there are no photographs to guide you. Price fluctuations by regions are not addressed. Items of local importance may not be found in a nationally published price guide.
Despite their shortcomings, there are some practical uses for price guides. Remember that they are guides only. Consult several different price guides to determine a value range. Take into account the item's condition when estimating its value. A damaged piece will be worth far less than any price quoted in a guide. If your treasure has geographic appeal, it's value may be higher in one part of the country and perhaps less elsewhere. A price guide can't adjust for all circumstances, but it can help you get a "ball park" idea of value.