Perhaps you’ve inherited an antique that you think may be valuable, or you may have seen something at an antiques market, but you’re not sure if the asking price is right. How do you go about determining what the true value of an antique object is? In fact there’s no easy answer, since valuing an antique is not an exact science. But there are a few points to bear in mind.
The condition of an object can have a massive effect on value, although very old or very rare items may still have a high value even when in less-than-perfect condition. But almost always, the better the condition of an object, the higher its value. If you’re looking at a piece of furniture, is it stained or discoloured? Are hinges and handles intact? Are joints loose or even broken? The other thing to look out for is restoration. How much of the piece you’re viewing is authentic, and how much of it comes from the restorer’s art?
Does the object have any marks? By marks, we mean anything from hallmarks on precious metals to marks on pottery. If there are marks, then you need to find out what they mean. In the case of gold or silver jewellery, hallmarks indicate the year of making; where the piece was made (or at least where it was hallmarked); the purity of the metal; and the identity of the maker.
Hallmarking in England goes as far back as the 14th century, but it has been much changed and refined over the years. Since 1842, some ceramics have been marked in the UK with a diamond mark and numbering systems. Many other items such as furniture, antique clothing and paintings may have marks, signatures or labels. Interpreting marks can be a complex business, but there are many sites on the internet that can help you, as well as reference books.
Lastly, you need to know your market. If there’s a particular antique item you covet, try to find other similar items and ask what the price is. It’s also worth checking online auction sites to see what price ranges are like. But ultimately, if you really want to own something, and you can afford it, only you can answer the question: to buy or not to buy?