Grading antiques and collectibles – How much is this worth?

What makes something valuable?

 

What makes an item valuable is a difficult question to answer simply as there are many things that factor into what makes one item more valuable than another. Let’s see if we can make some sense out of this.

Scarcity – Simply put, how many did they produce and how many are left on the open market. Items that were made in the millions are just not ever going to be as valuable as items that were made in limited numbers. This is supply and demand’s basic tenant.

Condition – Mint condition items bring the best prices. Unless something is so rare that you will be happy to get one in any condition, the more defects something has, the more points you take off. Scratches, missing parts/pieces, no original box, faded colors etc, all detract from an item’s value. You can add points if it’s in it’s original packaging. Sometimes having the original box can double the value of an item. This is especially true with toys.

Desirability – The more people who want something, the more the price goes up. This fluctuates with trends & tastes. NASCAR items were selling like hotcakes several years ago and now, they sell for pennies on the dollar because they are just not popular.

Location – Believe it or not, where you live can have a large impact on values especially in items like furniture. Heavy large oak furniture or primitives are much less in vogue in Florida verses the north east.

Market trends – The trend right now that we are seeing is many members of “The Greatest Generation” are passing on and leaving large collections of items like china and glass and also hand sewn items like quilts and doilies. The younger folks who are inheriting these items really do not want them, so they are selling them cheap and since this is flooding the market, the values are dropping.

 

In addition to all this, when we talk about antiques and collectibles, we use different words and definitions to describe them as related to their condition. This is especially important when buying or selling an item online when you can’t touch or examine the item in person. A good description and clear photos can make or break a deal. Let’s take a look at some of these descriptors and what they mean.

Mint – Merriam Webster defines this as “unmarred as if fresh from a mint”. We would use this to describe an item in perfect condition. For a book or magazine, it would mean unread and absolutely nary a crease or wrinkle. For other items, as it came from the factory and if in its original packaging, we would call it “mint in the box.”

Near-mint – This would describe an item that may show minimal wear but would still be close to mint condition.

Very fine – Showing moderate evidence of wear. You could also use just the descriptor of fine.

Good – It’s seen a bit of life, but still very useable; It’s obvious the item has been cherished and used per it’s function, but it has life left and/or could be lightly restored.

Poor – Major flaws are evident, and the item may have parts or pieces missing. It would need a major restoration to be useable or a candidate for a repurposing project.

 

The problem when we talk about grading an item whether we are the seller, or the buyer is that these terms are very subjective. In addition, nearly every genre of item such as comics, coins, ephemera, furniture, cars, diamonds, jewelry, books, autographs, wines and more, all have their own specific grading scales.

For vinyl records, it could be Mint, Near mint, Excellent, Very good plus, Very good, Good, Poor or Fair. In addition the record may be graded separately from the jacket and inner sleeve giving three different grades.

For coins and paper monies, you could be using a scale such as Brilliant uncirculated, Uncirculated, About uncirculated, Extremely fine, Very fine, Fine, Very good, Good, About good, Fair, and Poor.

In addition, you have scales that will use an in between marker such as Fine /Very Fine and show it as FN/VF. Yes, in some markets this is what we call splitting hairs and it can get very confusing, very quickly.

 

This all can lead to some serious bewilderment for the buyer of antiques and collectibles. I usually try to avoid these types of labels and describe what the item is and what’s its general age is. The labels I usually use, especially with vintage or antique toys are original, new old stock, or reproduction.

New old stock is used when an item is in its original packaging and is a left-over item that has been preserved as if it could be still sitting on a store’s shelf for sale. Many items bought from serious collectors can fit in this category. Original would be an item that has not been modified in any way and will show some use or wear. Reproductions both good and bad are abundant in every category, so again be careful and do your homework.

There is obviously much more to this than we can cover in a short column. Take some time to chat with long time collectors and read all you can online. Another great source of information that can now be found reasonably priced are out of date price guides.

Old collector guides can be had for very little investment these days. Even though the values are well out of date, they are great references for learning and many have lots of full color images to help you learn about the items and identifying them. If you collect, you can mark off in the guide the pieces you own, and make notes about where you bought it and how much you paid and condition.  This helps when you are buying when travelling so duplicates are not purchased. Keeping this type of journal also  helps for insurance claims or police reports if you suffer a loss.

Good luck buying and selling and remember, as you grade your items, be fair, be flexible and remember to have fun.

 

Published in Florida Today Online Edition April 27th, – Florida Today Print Edition Sunday, April 28, 2019 & Vintage Finds Magazine – May/June 2019 Issue