What Determines Value?

I often have people bring things into my shop with an item that is ‘very old’ so they are certain that it has great value. While age can certainly have an impact on the value it is but one of the many characteristics which go into determining an object’s value. Since all of the several types of value (See How Can There be Different Values for a Single Object?) are inter-related this article will talk about generic value rather than a specific type of value.  In addition to these characteristics there are economic, political and market effects which impact value. These will be discussed in a later article.


Value Characteristics


  • Age 

    – since age is the characteristic people most often associate with value it is a logical place to start. Age may have a positive, a negative or no affect at all on the value of personal property. Generally, the value of an antique is enhanced by age. Depreciable property loses value over time. For instance, have you tried to sell a five year old computer or television lately?


  • Artist or Maker

    – In comparing two tables of the same size, design, wood and construction, the one made by a known and respected maker will have a higher value than one by an unknown or lesser known maker. The same is true of paintings, pottery, jewelry and almost any other field.


  • Authenticity

    – an original or authentic item will have more value than a copy or reproduction. In fact, when an item has been reproduced it often will cause the value of the authentic item to go down due to confusion in the market. The harder it is to distinguish the difference the more the value is impacted. Examples are certain Depression Glass patterns, some cast iron toys and other items. Often it requires an expert to distinguish the difference.


  • Materials

    – The intrinsic value of the materials can impact the value of an object. A mahogany chest vs. one made of poplar, a gold ring vs. one made of brass, silverplate flatware vs. sterling.


  • Size or weight

    – A 5 carat diamond is worth more than a 1 carat diamond.  However, an oversized or exceedingly heavy piece of furniture may be too large or difficult to move to fit in a modern home, thus limiting its market. This also is a factor in what people collect. You can have a thousand buttons or marbles in your collection in a small space. How much room would you need to collect pianos?


  • Rarity

    – In general, the rarer an item is, the higher its value. A rare baseball card is more valuable than a common one. However, an item can be so rare that there is no collector market for it. Even though an item is very rare other characteristics can result in no collector desirability.


  • Condition

    – If one characteristic has to be the most important I would say it is condition. A rare object in poor condition will have greatly reduced or no value. The effect of condition will impact different objects differently. A chip in a piece of Depression Glass or porcelain will have a great impact because there are numerous perfect pieces available and serious collectors of these demand perfection. A chip or glaze flake on a piece of majolica will have less impact because these pieces tended to have these flaws and collectors are more forgiving. Some signs of wear can actually be beneficial for determining authenticity. Antique glass objects should show at least some wear on the bottom; a round antique table top should exhibit signs of shrinkage across the grain; patina and oxidation differences should be evident on wood surfaces. However, broken, replaced, poorly repaired pieces, missing parts, refinish on period furniture and polishing the original patina off of metal objects all can greatly harm value.


  • Subject Matter

    – Some subjects are more desirable than others. Prints and paintings with children, dogs or cows are always popular and desirable.


  • Quality

    – if all the other characteristics are equal, the object with the highest quality will have the highest value.


  • Historical Significance

    – items which are associated with significant historical events are more valuable than similar items which are not. A pen used to sign a treaty is more valuable than an identical pen which was not. Letters from soldiers describing major battles are more valuable than a simple letter home.


  • Style or Fashion

    – As styles and popularity of different fashions change, so does the desirability of items reflecting those styles. This is especially true in antique and vintage jewelry but also for furniture styles and accessories.


  • Provenance

    – this is the history of ownership of the item as well as any exhibition history. If there are associated with prominent individuals it can greatly enhance the value. For instance John f. Kennedy’s golf clubs which sold for many times what they would have otherwise.

3 Replies to “What Determines Value?”

  1. Dave, I wish you luck on your new shop. I think its success will depend on several things: the area in which you live, the merchandise you offer and pricing and your rapport with your customers. In the nearby town of Arcadia, FL there are a number of nice shops in a couple of blocks downtown. They carry a nice variety of merchandise and seem to do quite well. I don’t recall seeing any reproductions in any of them. There are enough shops to draw people from other surrounding areas.


  2. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!

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