How to Find Out What It's Worth

It may not be worth what you'd hoped

Assorted antiques and vintage items.
wragg/Getty Images

You have an old family item, but you don't know whether it is worth big bucks or just sentimental value. Here is how to find out before you put it in a garage sale for a dollar or two.

Assess and Document Its Condition

Accurately and unsentimentally assess your item for manufacturer marks, condition, and size. Be honest with yourself on assessing condition when trying to establish value. Chips, cracks, and repairs always take away a substantial amount of the price that you can sell it for.

Take pictures to post on forums and/or take to the library, bookstore, antique stores, or niche dealers (coins, stamps, trains, die-cast toys, dolls, posters, quilts, comic books, baseball cards, sports memorabilia, vintage clothing, or records, for example).

In addition to the overall image of the item, you'll want pictures of any maker's marks, brand names, or the like—whatever you can find that would help in looking the item up. It's pretty tough to look up a "green vase," for example, but if there's a sticker on it that says L.E. Smith or Westmoreland, that will give you a place to start. For glass, take a picture of the bottom, even if there is no sticker. This will tell you if it's hand-blown or molded glass (seams), which may help you narrow down possibilities.

Document the damage as well, which will help dealers assist you in valuing your item.

Research the Item

Collector Guides

Visit local bookstores or the library to check out books on the class of collectible for more information on your item. Although you can't really sit down and research an item at a bookstore, a quick look will tell you whether it's worth buying the book for more information. If you have a large collection of one type of item (depression glassware, Lladro ceramics, military memorabilia, vintage car parts, etc.), it could be worth buying a book dedicated to that type of item.

If you need to clean out an entire house, there are also guides that give a bit of information on many areas.

Compare in Online Selling Venues

Look on eBay; put your item description in the search feature and see if any like items are found in the completed auction area. Because many auctions are not bid on until the last few minutes, the completed auctions area is the only place you will find what it really sold for. Past sales do not guarantee your sales success on eBay, as your item still has to be seen by a buyer looking for that particular thing. However, an average can tell you what the current value is currently—as well as how saturated the market may be.

Visit online malls and selling venues such as Etsy, Tias, Letgo, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist,, and Ruby Lane, and do another search for that particular item. If it's something that would be difficult to ship or would net you so little after a site's selling fees or commissions, your best bet is selling it on local sites.

Find Collector Clubs and Dealers

Just because there's not a brick-and-mortar store in your town for your type of collectible doesn't mean that there are no local dealers. Check online to see if there are any collectors clubs locally that deal with your collectible. Clubs are a tremendous resource, and many times members will answer your questions at no charge or will do a formal appraisal of the item for a fee.

Members of online clubs and forums will look at the pictures that you post, but finding local dealers and taking the actual item will be even better. If there's a quarterly or annual stamp and coin bourse or giant flea market put on by the club, for example, that will enable you to talk to a lot of different dealers and get an idea of what's currently selling and values. You may be able to sell the item on the spot.

Value the Item Based on Research and Condition

Take all these figures and average them out to find an approximate value. Factor in the condition of your item. Cracks, chips, tears, and stains will greatly diminish the value.

Near-mint versions of records, for example, will go for double what a copy with a little ring wear, dinged corners, and visible indications that it's been played. Very-good-plus condition shows some wear but plays with no audible issues. Near-mint looks like it just came from a store. Vintage clothing can't have any stains or tears, and shoes can't have any scuffs or signs of wear.


Different Buyers = Different Prices

Keep in mind when selling an item the price depends on the buyer. Dealers pay about a third of book value, whereas a collector will get closer to book value if the item is difficult to find or you're dealing locally and there are no shipping costs involved. Online buyers are looking for deals and are not willing to pay book price, especially if there are a dozen like items available.

Supply and Demand: Housewares

Online sales made items much less rare than they used to seem, and baby boomers are cleaning out their parents' houses or downsizing themselves, leading to a glut in the market of things like glassware, dishes, china, crystal, silver, and decorative items, even if they were expensive, to begin with. They don't command prices that they used to, as secondhand shops are filled with them. Some antique stores won't take them, because they don't have buyers.


Your family's prized silver may not be solid silver but silver plate. Don't just take relatives' word for it, as they may not have been aware of the difference. Silver plate was more economical to purchase but will bring significantly less value. Makers' marks should be able to tell you which it is.

Watch Now: Appraising an Antique Versus a Reproduction Piece