P.J. from Carpinteria writes to me that during the tragedies of the last few months, she "lost control" of her household. "I'm now feeling like I need a checklist on how to research what I should keep; I need to be in control of a more streamlined house. Please write me a valuations checklist!! I need a guide for furniture, silver, glass, porcelain and books."
So I wrote P.J. a checklist, covering what most of us keep in a home, to help determine the value of objects. Here's what to look for to determine value:
"Brown" furniture is the industry term for antique dressers, tables and chairs of British and American provenance; even if these are circa 1840, and handmade, the market is not strong. Even less strong is furniture that was not handmade; mass production of furniture was in full swing by the 1850s. Still, handmade is a good starting point for valuation research, especially if the piece is American and not English (American pieces generally sell for more pre-1820s). Check for evidence of "handmade" by feeling the bottoms of furniture pieces for hand-planning marks. If you see circular saw marks, the piece was probably mass-produced in the mid-19th century, and not valuable.
If the piece is 20th century, check for maker's labels on top inside drawers; hope to see Kreiss, Baker, Marge Carson or Knoll, to name a few. These have salability. Check www.p4a.com for values. Don't use 1st Dibs, or any other site that advertises prices they HOPE to achieve. Use only consummated sales to determine value.
Art is valued by the artist's name; use a site like www.ArtPrice.com, which gives signature possibilities even if you have only part of a name. Or send photos to an auction house for an estimate at auction. There's neither charge nor obligation for this.
Everyone with grown kids knows that formal china for the table is hard to get rid of; there are really no buyers out there for full sets (for individual pieces, there's Replacements Ltd.). Your mother's and grandmother's services will have maker's names; of value are the really good names like Royal Crown Derby or Meissen. Check the pattern: If it is geometric or mid-century modern, you'll find a market. For older china, look for markings that are not names, but shapes, like a beehive. I use porcelain identification sites like Kovels.com.
Figurines like Lladro or Hummels have no value today, but to check www.prices4antiques.com, where you'll find photos of figurines under maker's names keyed to where they have sold. You'll be shocked at these prices paid.
One of the few "hot" makers of glass is the Italian mid-century Murano, and any kind of Scandinavian glass, like Kosta Boda or Orrefors. These pieces will look distinctly modern. I use David Rago Auctions for sale of this mid-century glass, or, if it's really a fine piece (think Daum, Lalique or Baccarat), Los Angeles Modern Auctions.
Steuben glass for the table is also high value, especially those modern shapes like the inverted triangle cocktail services. Lalique, especially the Art Nouveau wine glasses with nudes or seahorses as stems, are also hot. Look for both the glassmaker (you can see the name shimmer in the light under the base) and the design to determine value.
Silver is worth something by virtue of the precious metal, but silver flatware services are hard to sell, because most families have at least one in the closet. For American silver, you'll see a maker's name, and most American makers, except Tiffany and a few others, are poor sellers. European silver of the mid-20th century, is, however, hot, especially Scandinavian silver like Georg Jensen, Italian silver like Buccellati and French silverplate like Christofle or Puiforcat. To identify patterns and makers, I use 925-1000.com.
You know you have British silver of any form if you see a lion, and this site above will help with the three other marks you'll see on British silver.
Silver marks are deceiving. "Rogers 1847" is NOT old silver, for example; it is a name, and it is usually silverplate. The best test of sterling is its malleability. If you can bend a piece of flatware ever so slightly, research it for sterling.
Books marked "First Edition" may not be THE first edition but a reprint. When a book is first published, publishers generally do not know it will go into second, third or fourth printings. Books are difficult to research, but I use alibris.com or biblio.com.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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