Selling Antiques

This article was published in the January 1999  issue of AntiquePrime Magazine & Journal.

For What It's Worth ...


Q. I have some antique furniture from the '50s. What's the best way to sell it and how much should I ask for it?

A. Yikes! I'm from the '50s. Does that make me an antique?

To some, an antique is a work of art, piece of furniture, or a decorative item made before the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Others assume that items over 100 years old are antiques. This "100-year-old" rule applies to items being imported into the US. If the objects are older than 100 years, no tariffs are due. The Customs laws do not actually mention or define "antique". Many, like you, take a broader view of "antique" and define it as something "belonging to an earlier period of time". An alternative approach is to divide items into the following categories: appreciable (growing in value) and depreciable (decreasing in value).

Your furniture could be appreciating in value. Was it designed by a famous designer, such as Charles Eames or George Nelson? Made by Herman Miller, Knoll International, or another classic manufacturer? Was it owned by someone famous and can you prove it?

Or your things could just be good used furniture. What condition is it in? Are there "Hoover bruises", dents and dings from the vacuum cleaner? Did the cat claw the upholstery? Has the finish been removed, reapplied, or painted over?

The value of your furniture depends on many factors. After collecting a complete description from you, an appraiser might need to see the furniture, or at the very least, photographs of the items, to determine if a more comprehensive evaluation will be necessary.

The best way to sell your furniture? You have some options. You can sell it yourself. Place an ad in the newspaper, post flyers in the local supermarket, make an announcement at a church supper. If you have Internet access, another option is listing it on the Internet on sites such as ebay.com, antiquelandusa.com, ehammer.com or a newsgroup such as dfw.forsale. Or let others sell it for you. Place your furniture on consignment in a consignment shop. Send it to an auction company. Call an estate sale agent. If your items are appreciable, you just might decide to keep them, antique or not.