Antiques & Collectibles: So, what is it worth?

Sandy’s red geisha girl cup and saucer set might sell for less than $10, or up to $40, depending on where it’s being sold and the buyer’s interest.

I get messages almost every week asking, "What is it worth?"

To tell you the truth, there is no exact answer and no definitive book. When you watch "Antique Road Show," you will hear a price of an item but, if you listen carefully, it is what the appraiser or auction house could get for an item and they give a price range as well. In my columns, the various shops offer a price range. When you look at an online selling site, such as eBay, you see what the seller wants, not necessarily the value.

Estimating a value on an item takes time, research and patience, so don’t expect to go into an antique shop and be told what it is worth. Dealers’ time is money, and the same with an appraiser.

Also, we need to keep in mind even if you are told a price, it doesn’t mean you are going to sell your item at that price. Some dealers will help if you plan to sell the item or items in their mall, but don’t expect them to give you a price if you intend to take your item someplace else to sell it.

Also, keep in mind a price is a dealer’s opinion, and all are not certified appraisers, so if they do give you a ballpark figure, that’s all it is. It’s not gospel truth.


How pros price antiques

Certified appraisers look at comparable values. This is done by finding sales of the exact same piece, and in most cases, this can be very difficult because of condition, rarity, area of the sale, what the buyer is willing to pay, how the market is flooded or can fluctuate and more.

"Online sites like is one of the few to look at, but keep in mind, the month and year the item sold," said Pamela Wiggins, an antiques author. Again, this information serves to help form an estimate, but it is not the value. It is just the price of a transaction that might vary from buyer to buyer or dealer to dealer.

Personally, I make estimates the old-fashioned way, by going to my reference books and my up-to-date Antique Trader or Warmen’s Identification and Price guides. A trip to your local library or to a large bookstore can help. All antique mall dealers should have — and I know most all do — up-to-date guides. Do keep in mind when you use the books to research a price, even if the exact item shows in the same condition, the value often is higher than average since we have to consider the area as well. The value of an item in Massachusetts vs. Connecticut and those in North Dakota to Minnesota vary for the same item. It’s actually similar to appraising a home.

How some dealers price items

Recently, I posted a photo of a tea cup and saucer in fairly good condition that I have in my collection and I knew most antique malls have these across the country. I asked what price they are selling it for, and if the item is stored in an enclosed case or on an open shelf. Within most price guides, the normal price range can start at $15 on up, depending on the hallmark of the piece, as I found at the Old Rooster Antique Mall in Rochester, and on Etsy, LeVintage Galleria, Minneapolis, selling at $32.

"I have them for sale for $40 for the set here in Massachusetts at The Attic of Treasures Antiques, they actually are on an open shelf," said Leonard Mancini.

Ellie Emerald, along Cape Cod, said, "I have had a few of these in my shop. These were made for export and they are not hard to find at $20."


Deb Jani, of Deb Jani Antiques, Lebanon, Conn., said, "In the 1990s, I might have marked it $18, and be happy when it sold during a half-price sale. Now, I find little market even at $5, especially for red trimmed. Green, blue or black trimmed move a bit easier at $10 at a flea market, and those with a Geisha lithopane in the base might go for $12. The quality of the hand coloring is a factor also. If they are very sloppily done, they are not wanted. Your example is nicely painted, and so has a chance."

Dennis Kling, of Holy Terror Antiques, Keystone, S.D., said, "We have few of these selling for $9.95 a set. We display them in a glass door kitchen cabinet or an oak secretary with a glass door because that is where we display all our cups and saucers. We like to keep things grouped to make it easy for customers to find."

And Neil Hunt, of A-Z Collectibles, Winona, said, "I have an oriental corner where they are on an open shelf display selling in a $4 on up to $10 range."

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