Intrinsic Value of Antiques & Collectibles

Dealing in Antiques & CollectiblesAs a dealer of collectibles and antiques, there is an ugly question that raises its head time after time, “What is it worth?” It’s a question that does not have a definitive answer and often the dealer sells it too cheap or it never sells because the price is too high. So, let’s talk about it….pricing and intrinsic value.

Let’s first understand that intrinsic value is the combination of tangible and non-tangible factors. So, you can weigh that 14k gold chain and figure out the current rate for gold on the open market but the chain is worth more than ‘melt’. It has intrinsic value.

There is, in the financial market, a calculation that is used to figure a company’s intrinsic value which helps investors decide whether to invest or not.  It’s not that easy in the antique and collectibles world because the average personal does not ‘invest’ in collectibles, they spend money on them. They buy it because they like it, not because they have some long term plan to re-sell it.

Look at the following list.  These are the non-tanglibles that add intrinsic value. Keep in mind that if you sell online, look at these items to see if you should be including more information in your listing to increase the intrinsic value of your item.

  • Rarity.  Unlike brass trivets or figurines, how many 1800’s English Victorian brass bookstands do you find?
  • Book Piece.  Especially in the vintage jewelry arena, a piece that is pictured in a book adds value.
  • Appeal. Always subjective, objects that are pleasing to the eye will sell better.  It has been said many times that ‘ugly sells.  That is not necessarily true and not a rule of thumb.
  • Historical Value. An example would be a hatchet pin. It’s not worth much of anything unless it is signed by Carry A Nation.  Read more about this early Reformer
  • Celebrity Value. These are items that are connected in some way to a person of interest, usually very well known. There has to be a solid connection, what you might call ‘real provenance’, not just a ‘story’.
  • Current Market Trends. Much of what was ‘hot’ five years ago has cooled as interests, availability, and changes in the social structure change. It is said that we operate in 20 year cycles.

And now the tangibles.

  • Material. Take into account the cost of the materials, especially in the metals market.
  • Condition. Every condition ‘issue’ reduces the intrinsic value. Let’s be clear here. What is being sold is used and old and therefore there will be wear. That is different in many cases from what we would call a condition issue. An example would be a glass vase.  The foot is going to be worn and may have some scratches.  That is fine but no chips, cracks, repairs, or even flea bites…these all reduce the intrinsic value.
  • Maker. The maker of the item does have an affect on final pricing.  A good example of this is Avon Jewelry.  Much of it is very nice but sells for very little.  Part of the reason is because the ‘rarity’ factor is a reduction of intrinsic value. The other reason is because it’s ‘Avon’.  On the other hand, if a vase is made by Rookwood, it is going to sell for A LOT more than a vase made by Stangl or Shawnee.  The key here is to know your makers/designers.
  • Age. Depending on the items, sometimes age matters but not in all cases. If a brooch is from the 1800s, is it more valuable than a brooch from the 1940’s?  Not necessarily. Focusing on the intangibles will help better to identify whether age is a factor of adding to intrinsic value.

Now that we have all this information, how does one price? There are some dealers that consistently price low while other consistently price high. Many dealers search the web to see if they can find what similar items sold for. While this can give you an idea of the price point, a decision still has to be made about intrinsic value.

This is how I deal with intrinsic value.

  • I first check my item and know everything possible to know about it so that I can get a handle on it’s intrinsic value.
  • I check Ebay.  If my item is there I look at price it sold at.  Is my item listed multiple times?  Well…rarity is out the window. Was it an auction?  If it sold low there is not a lot of demand for the item.  If it went high, go higher on your own listing depending on the list above. Auction style will give you a much better idea of its worth. Things in demand or of real value do not go unsold on Ebay.  Keep in mind though that often they are sold for a lower than retail price.  I consider most of the collectibles and antiques on Ebay to have sold for wholesale.  I often up the price between 50 – 100%. There are cases when I mark it up even more if I have a feeling that the item just sold ‘low’.
  • I check to see if there are similar items on Etsy, RubyLane, etc.  If it is an average item I will not be cheapest but neither will I be the highest.  I choose the middle ground.
  • If my exact item cannot be found then I consider it ‘rare’ and price accordingly. Let’s take the example of the antique brass book stand. After two years I located one that had sold at auction in England for about $350. This particular book stand was rare and unique.  I put a price of $450 on it and knew that it was never going on sale.  That it was worth every penny.  And yes, within 60 days it sold for my asking price. It’s intrinsic value was based on rarity, age, condition, and appeal.

There is also one other thing to keep in mind when pricing.  People associate price with value.  If you price too low, potential buyers will not value it.  Of course you can price yourself right out of a sale if your price is sky high, but pricing too low can sometimes be more of a barrier to a sale.  If the price is too high you may get an offer.  If it is too low they pass it up because their first thought is either there is something wrong with it or it is too good to be true.


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