If you're hoping to add some historic charm to your home, antique chandeliers can be a wonderful choice. These beautiful old light fixtures can also be incredibly valuable, so knowing how to spot a genuine antique can help you score a great deal or sell your old chandelier for top dollar.
How to Tell if a Chandelier Is Antique
Not all chandeliers that look old actually are old. To be considered "antique," a light fixture must be at least 100 years old. Because there's plenty of classic appeal to these traditional fixtures, antique-style chandeliers are still made today. However, there are a few clues that can help you know if your chandelier is antique.
It Isn't Wired for Electricity (or Was Wired Later)
Many antique chandeliers weren't wired for electricity when they were manufactured. In fact, according to the National Park Service, it wasn't until 1925 that even 50% of American homes had electricity. Most of the chandeliers made prior to that time were lit by candles or gas. Electrical wiring may have been added to the chandelier at a later time in its history. These are some signs an old chandelier didn't have electricity when it was first made:
- Bobeche - Bobeche, or small drip cups for candles, were a part of many candle chandeliers. Located just under the candles, they kept wax from dripping down. If a chandelier has bobeche, it may be antique.
- Hollow tubes - Gasoliers, or gas chandeliers, had hollow tubes to allow the gas to travel down the arms of the chandelier. These could be made of metal or glass, and many gasoliers have been converted to electric power by running wire through the tubes.
- Visible wiring - On candle chandeliers or gasoliers that didn't lend themselves to easy electric conversion, you may see visible wiring. This can indicate an antique.
Glass Components Aren't Perfectly Clear
In older glass chandeliers, it's common to see glass that isn't perfectly clear. Look for yellow or grey tones, as well as little imperfections and bubbles within the glass. These can indicate an older glass manufacturing process.
The Glass or Crystal Is Hand Cut
Antique glass chandeliers have another important distinction from their modern counterparts: the glass or crystal components may be hand cut. There are a few signs that glass or crystal chandelier parts may be cut by hand:
- Not uniform - Glass that is cut by hand may not be perfectly uniform. When you look at the facets, you may see that they aren't completely symmetrical.
- No mold lines - Glass chandelier beads can be made from molded glass, especially in modern reproductions of antiques. Hand cut antique glass won't have mold lines for the drops and beads.
- Finished on both sides - In general, antique cut glass or crystal chandeliers have drops and beads that are finished on both sides, not just the side facing out. Modern reproductions may only have one side with facets and the other side flat.
The Drop-Hanging Wire Has Patina
Crystal and glass chandeliers have small bits of metal or wire that hold the drops and beads together. If you look closely at these wires, you can tell whether your chandelier is antique. In new chandeliers made to look old, these wire parts will usually be shiny and modern looking. Stainless steel was not invented until 1913, and even then, it took some time before it was used in chandeliers. The wire used to connect pieces of crystal or glass in antique chandeliers usually shows signs of darkening. This patina of age is part of the beauty of antique chandeliers.
Types of Antique Chandeliers
As you look at antique chandeliers in salvage shops and antique stores, you'll notice that there are lots of different types. The variety of antique light fixtures is nearly infinite, but they fall into a few specific types.
Antique Crystal Chandeliers
Among the most valuable and iconic of light fixtures, crystal chandeliers have been around for centuries. They became especially popular during the 19th century when Irish crystal chandeliers from famous manufacturers like Waterford became a status symbol in the wealthiest homes. Variations on leaded glass or crystal chandeliers made their way into many dining rooms.
You'll see crystal chandeliers in a variety of styles and sizes. They can be many feet in diameter, designed to grace the ceiling of a large foyer or hall, or they can be much smaller. Most feature intricately cut crystal beads and drops, strung together with wire.
Old Chandeliers Made of Glass
Crystal wasn't the only choice for chandeliers in the 19th century and before. Antique glass chandeliers were an option for those who could not afford the opulence of crystal, and they also opened up a wide range of styles that crystal did not allow.
You'll see chandeliers with slag glass or stained glass shades, as well as those with "slipper" shades in opaque colors. There are also chandeliers made of milk glass or colored glass, sometimes combined with cut glass or crystal beads or drops.
Antique Brass and Metal Chandeliers
You'll also see antique chandeliers in a variety of metals. This is especially common for candle chandeliers, which are often made of brass, iron, and other metals. Compared to glass and crystal, metal was fairly affordable, making this a popular material for light fixtures throughout the years.
Antique brass chandeliers have never really gone out of style. They can take on many forms, including elaborate designs constructed from polished brass, simple shapes made from matte metal, and brass chandeliers combined with glass or crystal.
Value of Antique Chandeliers
Antique chandeliers can be very valuable. Some examples may be worth tens of thousands of dollars or more, though most tend to be valued in the hundreds. Understanding the factors that affect value and how much similar antique chandeliers are worth can help you get a sense for the value of your old light fixtures.
Factors Affecting Old Chandelier Values
There are a number of factors that can affect the value of an antique chandelier, including the following:
- Beauty - Because chandeliers are designed to be decorative, an attractive chandelier will always be worth more than a similar example that isn't as pretty.
- Condition - The most valuable antique chandeliers have all their pieces and aren't damaged. They also work well. Restored antique chandeliers can be nearly as valuable as original examples, as long as the restoration is tasteful and uses original parts.
- Designer or brand - Chandeliers by famous brands like Tiffany & Co. can be worth significantly more than other examples. Look for identification marks on the base plate and other hidden areas.
- Materials - Crystal chandeliers tend to be more valuable than antique glass chandeliers or those of other materials. To tell whether your chandelier is crystal or glass, hold one of the drops up to the light and see if it creates rainbows of refracted light. If it does, it's likely crystal.
- Age - In general, older chandeliers are more valuable. However, they need to be useful in the modern home and should be wired.
- Size - Larger chandeliers are often worth more than their smaller counterparts, all other factors being equal.
Examples of How Much Antique Chandeliers Are Worth
If you're wondering how much your chandelier is worth, you should compare it to similar examples that have sold recently. Make sure the chandelier you're using for comparison is similar in age, size, materials, and condition.
- A very large early 20th century crystal chandelier sold for almost $10,000 in 2022. It was in perfect shape with no missing crystals or other damage.
- A six-arm antique glass chandelier from the late 19th century or early 20th century sold for about $3,200. One shade had a small chip in the glass.
- An antique French chandelier in the shape of a cherub sold for almost $2,000. It was constructed of bronze and glass and had one small chip.
- An antique cast iron chandelier that was originally made for gas light sold for just under $1,000. It was likely designed by the manufacturer Bradley & Hubbard, but it was not marked.
- An antique brass chandelier in the shape of a basket with roses sold for about $400. It also featured slag glass, which offers a unique look.
Add Light and Beauty to Your Home
The right antique lighting can transform your interior decor and give your home a sense of history. Antique chandeliers aren't limited to the dining room either. You can also use these beautiful fixtures to give your bedroom a vintage feel, create an antique look in the bathroom, or add light and beauty to a home office or den. There are lots of ways to use these historic fixtures in your home.