What Makes an Antique Valuable?

What's it worth?

This is a question that people often ask when you show them an antique or collectable. Many dream of finding something valuable in the attic or basement that has long been forgotten about. Others search charity shops and flea markets in the hope of spotting something that they can make a profit from. In the main of course, much of our accumulated 'junk' has little or no value but every now and then we might come across something that is valued.

What is it that causes something to have real value?

There are many factors and an item will need one or more of these to increase its value. Many people are surprised to know that rarity is not always a key factor. Many items that are very rare or even unique have no monetary value at all. For example, there are thousands of paintings, each one unique and yet no one wishes to own them, other than perhaps you and maybe you don't either and long to dispose of it. Art is notorious for being very fickle and values can change very quickly, especially downwards for the vast majority of items. Buying a new painting may cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds. After all, the artist has spent hours creating the work as well as the materials used, but if people don't like it, it either won't sell or once in the second-hand market be almost valuless.


For both new and antique items, demand is going to drive the price upwards if coupled with availability and perhaps rarity. In an auction room demand will drive the price up until all but the final bidder drops out having reached either the limit of funds available or the financial value they have placed on it in their own mind.


Items that can be connected to a person or family of notoriety, or connections that prove it genuine can greatly increase its value. The provenance can sometimes be the only way to authenticate the genuineness of the item.


This is to some degree connected to demand but not entirely. People can want to own something because they have heard it's a good investment, but they don't necessarily like it. Of course, when that thought process is causing values to rise the bubble can burst and values could deflate rather quickly. With desirability people want to own the item rather than just see it as an investment and as long as styles don't change the value will be more consistent. However, note that which is desirable this year might be subject to change next. In the UK, 'brown furniture' fell in value dramatically as modern tastes moved to lighter colours and brighter rooms although that might be beginning to change.

Precious Metals and Gems

Gold, silver, platinum, brass, diamonds, rubies, sapphires pearls and such like all have a market value which will have their own value, even as scrap in the case of metals.


Condition can play a huge part in the value of an item. There are some things that need to be mint condition, which means 'as new' to obtain the highest value. Conditions tend be generally graded as mint, excellent, good, average and poor but there can be more sophisticated grading for some things or by dealers.

Checking Values

There are valuers who you can use to value your goods who will charge a fee for doing so and will issue written proof for insurance purposes.

If you are researching values yourself you can check what is being sold by dealers. Bear in mind though, you won't be able to sell to them at that price and possibly finding a private buyer who will pay you that much might also be difficult.

You can also search online auction sites such as Ebay and maybe specialist sites for your particular item. Google and other search engines can help you to find out what is on the market now and if you use the tools in the search engine to place the most recent results at the top of the list it will make your search easier.