How to Use Free Antique Price Guides

Kate Miller-Wilson
Antique watch

When it comes to assigning value to your treasures, nothing beats the wealth of information in free antique pricing resources. Purchasing printed guides or subscribing to fee-based online valuation services can get expensive, so many casual collectors turn to no-cost valuation resources instead. The key to finding accurate pricing information for your item is to really understand how to use free antique price guides. This includes gathering all the necessary information about your piece before you begin your search.

How to Use Free Antique Price Guides: Seven Simple Steps

The Internet is an excellent resource for pricing antiques without investing in printed guides or pricey services. You'll need to do a bit of research up front in order to make sure you're looking up the right item and getting an accurate price, but doing this homework can save you a lot of money.

Identify the General Characteristics of Your Item

Before you use a free price guide to look up the value of your antique treasures, it's essential that you know your piece. First, you'll need to know the type of item you have. Is it a sewing machine, a school desk, or a silver tray? Also try to identify the materials used in the piece. Is it sterling silver, leather, wood, or cast iron? Even though this information seems general, it's the first step in using any antique price guide.

After you've determined the type and material of your piece, measure it to get the size. Many items came in several different sizes, and this can significantly affect the value. For instance, an eight-inch sterling dinner fork is worth a lot more than a seven-inch sterling dinner fork. Although an appraisal service will gather this information for you, you'll need to do the legwork yourself when using free price guides.

Thoroughly Examine the Item for Markings

Next, perform a thorough examination of the item. Look for anything that might be helpful in identifying it. It can help to use a magnifying glass to read small markings. You may find some of the following information:

  • Manufacturer's name, which is sometimes located on a tag or label on the underside of a piece
  • Maker's mark, especially on silver, glass, pottery, and china
  • Patent number
  • Serial number or model number
  • Artist's signature or mark
  • Dates or monograms

Assess the Condition of the item

Now it's time to honestly assess the condition of your piece. While you may love this item and overlook any flaws, try to examine it from an impartial point of view. Are there any chips, cracks, scuffs, or spots? Is the fabric worn? Are there dings or bends in metal items? How is the surface on wood furniture? Write down any flaws.

Condition is extremely important when assessing value, and it's one of the main pitfalls in using free antique price guides. Since you're doing the assessment yourself, you may miss small flaws that a professional appraiser would not. Being thorough and honest will help you get an accurate value for your item.

Determine Which Free Guide is Best for You

When you're ready to look up your item, make a list of all the information you have about it. This is the data you'll need to input into databases or search indexes in free valuation guides. Then consider which guide will be the most helpful. You can review a wide selection of options in Free Online Antique Price Guides.

Get a Second Opinion

If you want a really accurate value for your piece, it's a good idea to look it up in more than one free price guide. This is because the guides get their information from different sources, such as auction results or databases of insurance values. If you get the same result from multiple sources, you can be confident that you have an accurate value. If you get two different values, look your item up on a third guide.

Decide How to Search

How you search for pricing information will depend on how much you know about your piece. If you were able to find a specific model number or patent number, you can use the search field on any of these sites. Simply type in the details about your piece and hit the "search" button. Sites like Kovels.com and The Museum of Online Collectibles will bring up specific pricing information for your exact item.

If you don't know as much about your item, you'll have better luck "drilling down" through the categories on these sites. Start by choosing the type of item you have, such as a china plate. Then narrow the results as much as possible using your information about the size, materials, color, or any other descriptive information. Look at the photos and information for each piece that may match your item until you find one that is identical. This can be time-consuming, but it is an effective way to use a free price guide to identify and assign a value to your item.

Understand Your Results

Most free price guides will give you a value range for your antique item. This range represents several factors, including condition and type of sale. Use the condition assessment you performed before your search to help place your item's value within this range. If it will take significant work to restore your item to its original condition or if it will be impossible to fix the piece, your item probably falls toward the low end of the price spectrum. If the item is in near-perfect condition, you could ask top dollar for it.

The type of value you are looking up will also determine where your piece falls within the price range. Auction values, which represent the price your piece would fetch in an online or local auction, are typically lower than retail values. The retail value is the price someone might pay for your item if it were for sale in an antique shop. Finally, you may also find the insurance value of your piece, which is the highest retail value. Keep in mind that the insurance value you get from a free online valuation tool is only a guideline; you'll need to have a professional appraisal in order to list the item on your homeowner's insurance.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Guides are a valuable tool; be smart when using them. There are many mistakes that novice collectors can make when using price guides.

Remember that Values Can Change

They are guides, not commandments. Antiques have many variables that change constantly. If you take the price too seriously, you may miss the correct value. Use it as a resource, but know your market as well.

Make Sure the Guide Is Up to Date

The antique world changes constantly. What was boring yesterday may be today's hot item. Be wary of price guides whose information is over five years old.

Don't Assume the Highest Value

It's tempting to use the highest price found as the value, but that's a mistake. Instead, try to reach a middle value.

Compare Several Sources

Relying on one source to determine the value is the biggest mistake of all. Be sure and look at multiple sources to get the most realistic value of your item.

Valuable, No-Cost Information

If you know how to use them, free antique price guides can provide valuable information for no cost to you. You can use this pricing information to determine a listing value for selling an item, to decide how much to offer for a treasure, or simply to satisfy your curiosity about a piece. Whatever you do with your information, you can be confident in your results.

How to Use Free Antique Price Guides