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Antiques and Collectibles

Is there really treasure in your attic? Research collectibles and antiques through the Fine Arts and Music Department.

neon sign for antiques store

The Basics
Identifying Antiques
Valuing Your Antiques and Collectibles
Online Appraisal Services
Print Resources
More Guides for Collectors
Ask Us

 

 

The Basics

What makes an item antique?
  • A 1930 tax law established that antiques were objects that had been made before the era of mass production (about 1830).  Today, the definition of 'antique' is broader.
  • See "What is an antique?" for more information.
What makes an item collectible?

Identifying Antiques

Determining what an object is and what it was used for gives you a better chance of understanding its importance, rarity and value. Here are some questions to ask:

What does this object do?

Learning how an item was used can help to identify and date it.

In this video, the woman is playing what looks like an old radio, but it’s really a Theremin, the very first electronic musical instrument. Antique radios are sometimes valued in the hundreds of dollars, theremins in the thousands.

The antennas on either side of the Theremin create an electro-magnetic field. The Theremin is played by distorting this field, and moving one's hands in the air between the two antennas.

     

 

What is it made of? 

The material an object is made of can help tell its age and value. Some plastic jewelry is collectible. Bakelite jewelry looks like plastic but may be worth more.  Simple tests can tell the difference between plastic and Bakelite.

What is its history of ownership (its ‘provenance’)? 

Tracing the ownership of an object could help you determine when it was made, by whom, who has owned it in the past, and maybe something about its value.

 

 

 

 

 

Valuing Your Antiques and Collectibles: Appraisers

Professional appraisers have years of experience at estimating the dollar value of antiques and collectible items. Locate a specialist near you with this online directory.  Look up advice about the appraisals process, view an excellent beginner's guide to collecting at Antiques Research Guide, or find more information about appraisers at the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers.

For a guide on using the internet to research antiques and collectibles, check out What’s this worth?.

Online Appraisal Services

Here is a sample of fee-based appraisal services available online.

WorthPoint Offering market data on collectibles, including prices, descriptions, pictures and sale dates, compiled from hundreds of auction houses.

Value My Stuff   Evaluations of collectible items (from uploaded images) within 48 hours. This service is based in England.

Old and Sold   A fee-based appraisal service. Responses within 48 hours to requests submitted via online form and uploaded images.

Print Resources

The Enoch Pratt Free Library keeps up-to-date antiques and collectibles price and identification guides on a wide range of subjects.

Here are some examples:

Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List. New York: Random House, Annually Updated. (X)NK1125.K64
Kovels offers a practical, alphabetically arranged, price guide for collectors. Helpful historical backgrounds of the items are included.

Warman's Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. (X)N8675.W37Q
A large-format price guide, Warman's lists reference books, museums, collectors' clubs, periodicals, and auction houses.

Pictorial Guide to Pottery & Porcelain Marks. Paducah: Collector Books.
(X)NK4215.L325 2004Q
Pottery and porcelain can often be identified by manufacturers’ marks on individual pieces. This guide includes photographs of makers’ marks and representative pieces, indexed by topic and date.

Additional Pratt Library Guides for Collectors

Coins and Paper Money

Book Collecting

Scripophily (collecting old stock certificates)

Ask Us

Although the Pratt Library does not appraise antiques or collectibles, we are happy to help you learn about your items. For more information please call, e-mail us through our Ask-A-Librarian service, or write to us:

Fine Arts & Music Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

(410) 396-5490

Fax (410) 396-1409

far@prattlibrary.org

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