Now You Know

The best part of writing this column for the past 19 years has been hearing from you, the readers. Your questions arouse my curiosity, challenge my memory and send me scurrying to the computer for research on a regular basis. It was my greatest fear in starting this column that I would run out of subject matter. But you have seen to it that “what in the world do I write about this week?” has never crossed my mind.
For those of you whose questions I did not get covered in a column this past year, here are the answers to those unanswered questions.
How old does something need to be to be considered an antique? In 1891 the McKinley Tariff Act designated that items 100 years old or more would be classified as “antique.” This was done for the purpose of taxation, as antiquity comes into the country tariff free. Professional dealers still adhere to this classification, but have added other categories. So here is the breakdown: Antique — 100 years plus, Primitive — those things made before the Industrial Revolution, Mid-Century Modern (MCM) — Items from the middle of the 20th Century 1950-1970, and Vintage — Items that are at least 25 years old. You will find items from each of these categories at most antique shops.
Does condition effect the value of an item? In a word, YES. Even minor damage can reduce the value of your furniture and collectables by as much as 50 percent, especially if the item is common to the marketplace. If you have an old and very rare antique, and the damage is minor, the value may be decreased by 20-30 percent. Note that there is a vast difference between “wear” and “damage.” Normal signs of wear such as rubbed marks on the arms of chairs, aged patina of wood, etc., are expected and on a piece of antiquity and will reduce the value little, if at all.
Is everything old valuable? In addition to condition, there are several other factors to consider when placing value on an antique. Age is important, as well as rarity. Yet, you can have all of these and still find it very difficult to sell your antiques, because the one thing that must be present is market demand. The world of antiques is a market, not unlike the stock market. It has its ups and downs as things go in and out of vogue. An excellent example of this is found with fine china and crystal. While these items were in high demand 15 years ago, today you can barely give them away. By contrast, metal work tables and warehouse pendant lights, once destined for the city landfill, are realizing record high prices. Study what is trending and, just as with stocks, buy when the market is low and sell when it is high.
Does it decrease the value of antique furniture to have it refinished? While opinions vary on this, my thinking aligns with this statement recently released from the Antiques Roadshow. “A well executed refinishing and restoration enhances the value of just about any piece of old furniture. The exception are those rare museum quality pieces.” Since the majority of the pieces that most of us purchase do not fall into the “rare” category, my personal opinion is buy it, have it professionally refinished/restored and enjoy it!
I have noticed that antique auctions are charging a buyers premium. What is that? This is an fee added to your total purchase at auction. It is normally 10 percent. For example, if your winning bids total $100, you will pay $110. These funds are used by the auction house to cover administrative costs. It is a common practice at all major auction facilities.
Many thanks to all of my readers for their questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming! Until next time…Linda

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or