Extremely popular in the 1970s and 1980s, collector plates no longer have the exceptional value they once did. In most instances, these plates fetch less than $10 apiece at auction sites, but there are a few examples from notable artists or desirable eras that can fetch thousands of dollars each. The key to investing wisely is in being able to identify the rare and valuable plates on the market.
The Collector Plate Market Downturn
Collector plates were a hot market several decades ago when many consumers purchased them as investments as well as decorative objects. However, instead of increasing in value, most plates turned out to be worth much less than their original price. According to an interview with antiques expert Harry Rinker in the Allentown Morning Call, most collector plates are now worth about 15% to 25% of their original purchase price. The market went through a sudden downturn in the 1990s.
In 2012, Terry Kovel of Kovels.com identified the plates as one of 10 collectibles no longer worth collecting. However, there are a few plates out there that have turned out to be worth the investment.
Factors Affecting the Value of Plates
According to Antique Trader, some collector plates are regaining their value, in part because baby boomers are purchasing these plates for sentimental reasons. There are certain characteristics to look for if you suspect you might have a treasure in your collection.
Date of Manufacture
When your plate was made can have a huge impact on its value. Antique Trader notes that collector plates from the 1920s are some of the most valuable but only if they are in perfect condition. According to Terry Kovel, plates made after 1980 usually have no monetary value at all.
Most collector plates from major manufacturers feature very detailed back stamps. These usually include the year the plate was made.
Condition is another important factor to consider when assessing the value of a plate. According to Passion for the Past Antiques and Collectibles, you can grade vintage and antique china by examining it carefully:
- Mint condition - A plate that is in mint condition should have its original box. The plate and box will both be perfect, showing no signs of use or wear. This is rare, but plates in mint condition are most valuable.
- Excellent condition - This plate may come with its box, but the box may be worn. The plate itself will show no discoloration, cracking, staining, or other damage.
- Good condition - A plate in good condition may not have its original box. It may have some discoloration, minor signs of use, and some loss of gold sponging.
- Fair condition - If a plate is in fair condition, it may have cracks, chips, or crazing. Generally, this type of damage will negatively affect the value.
Note there can be some variation in how dealers define terminology, but those above are fairly consistent from dealer to dealer.
Many companies have produced collector plates over the years, but there are a few that are famous for their plates. Kovels.com reports that some of noted manufacturers include the following:
- Bing & Grondahl - Bing & Grondahl produced the first collectible plate, known as "Behind the Frozen Window" in 1895, and a first edition of that plate sells for more than $2,500 on eBay. Other old, well-preserved plates from this manufacturer regularly fetch over $100 at auction, but many lovely examples from the 1970s sell for as little as two dollars each.
- Wedgewood collector plates featuring flowers sells for about $150 on eBay while a single example might fetch as little as two dollars.
- Royal Doulton - According to AntiqueMarks.com, a Royal Doulton collector plate from 1927 with a beautiful image of two fish had a 2009 auction estimate of 150 to 200 British pounds (about $220 to $300). However, examples from the 1970s sell for about two dollars on eBay.
- Antique Cupboard offers a 1908 Christmas plate, "Madonna & Child," for over $3,700, while many modern examples sell for $50 to $80.
- Bradford Exchange - An iconic name in collector plates, the Bradford Exchange made many series over the years. Complete sets of 12 plates in their original boxes can go for around $200 on eBay, but individual plates sell for as little as one dollar.
- Franklin Mint - Perhaps one of the most famous manufacturers, the Franklin Mint produced many collector plates by various artists. Some of these plates were made of sterling silver, giving them residual value for the metal. In the case of china plates, complete sets can go for as much as $90 on eBay, while individual plates routinely sell for around six dollars.
Artists have produced work featured on individual plates of series of plates. In some cases, plates by an artist of note can be extremely valuable, while in others, they have little or no value. Also, artists may license their work to multiple plate manufacturers, which can affect the value of those images.
Some artists, like Ted DeGrazia, can fetch top dollar. With their striking images of the American Southwest and limited production runs, some DeGrazia collector plates sell for as much as $1,000 each. On the other hand, plates featuring the work of famous American artist Norman Rockwell regularly sell for less than two dollars on eBay.
Many collector plates were produced in limited editions, meaning that the manufacturer made a set number to keep them rare. However, it is important to note that the term "limited" can be applied rather loosely and may apply to runs of thousands of identical plates. In part, the value of a plate can be affected by the number of them on the market. According to Collectors Weekly, some examples had runs of only 14 plates, making them difficult to find. To the right buyer, this can also make them more valuable.
Collector plates feature some common themes, and some of these are more appealing and valuable than others.
- Christmas - One of the most popular themes among collectors is Christmas. These holiday plates, especially those manufacutered by Bing & Grondahl and Royal Copenhagen, can fetch very high prices at auction. For instance, Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates from the early 1940s sell for $350 to $720 at Replacements.com.
- NASCAR - As a subject that has less monetary value, NASCAR-themed plates are still fun collectibles for racing enthusiasts. They rarely sell for more than $20 on eBay.
- Birds and nature - Plates featuring images of birds and nature have universal appeal, although they can range in value from a few dollars a plate to much more. For example, plates in the Hummingbird Treasury Collection by Lena Liu sell for over $100 each at The Glass Menagerie.
- Bing & Grondahl Easter plates from 1910 through 1930 retail for about $80 each at Antique Cupboard.
- Fairy tales - Images from favorite fairy tales look beautiful on collector plates, and many of these classics can be quite valuable. Plates from the 1980s featuring Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales from Royal Copenhagen sell for as much as $84 at Replacements.com.
How to Find the Value of Your Plate
If you're interested in buying or selling a collector plate or you're simply curious about its value, you can estimate it yourself by doing a bit of research. Here's how to get started:
- Assess the condition of your plate. Be honest about any flaws, but also note things like the presence of the original box.
- Identify your plate. Start by looking at the back stamp, which can tell you the manufacturer and series. According to Antiques Trader, you can also use the Bradex number to find out where many plates fall in a series. This number, which applies to many manufacturers and not just plates from the Bradford Exchange, starts with a country code (84 for plates made in the United States), followed by a dash and a Bradford Exchange indicator of a letter and number combo, and then another dash and the plate's number within a series.
- Look up your plate on sites like Replacements.com, Antique Cupboard, The Glass Menagerie, and eBay to find out what similar plates cost. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, you can expect to receive a lower price for your plate than the sales price at retailers due to overhead.
If you suspect that your plate is especially valuable, it's always wise to get it professionally appraised.
Don't Forget Sentimental Value
Although many collector plates have little monetary value compared to their original purchase price, there may be sentimental value associated with these collectibles. Don't discount the importance of the plates as family heirlooms. If you hang onto them now and enjoy them for their beauty and artistic style, it's possible they will increase in value in years to come.