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Does Your Parents’ Stuff Have Value? Here’s What You Need to Know

parent's stuff

So…does anyone still want their parent’s things? Do they have value? What are they worth if I decide to liquidate the estate? Below are a few simple tricks the pros use:

Furniture – what’s it worth?

When it comes to furniture value, you’ve may know that Midcentury Modern is popular right now. This type of furniture, made roughly between the 1930’s and 1960’s, is known for its clean lines and gentle organic curves.

Buyers looking for traditional furniture still exist, but tend to be interested only in pieces made by the top designers. To help you determine the value of your pieces, look for clues like solid wood construction and dovetails. Also check to see how the bottom of the drawers are joined to the sides. If the edges appear to be cut down into wedges, a term called chamfering, in order to fit into the grooves of the side rails, you’ve got an old piece likely made before the 20th century— cabinet makers and sawmills were unable to get wood any thinner than that for secure construction. It took the advent of pressed woods to reach that level of strength and thinness.

Most of the best furniture made during the 20th century for the mass market was signed or labeled in some way. Check the top left drawer or left cabinet door and look underneath chairs and tables to find the brand.  If the piece is good, it will have a label or a name clearly stamped. Some of the best makers are Baker, Kittinger, Henkel Harris, Widdicomb, Kindle, Century and Henredon.

If you don’t have pieces from good makers or tremendous age, your stuff probably falls into the “brown furniture” category — a lot of furniture was mass-produced quickly after WWII to furnish starter homes for our military and their families. Those furniture pieces have very little value today other than for crafts or reuse boutiques.

What about silver?

We have stacks of chafing dishes, flatware and candlesticks in my parent’s house. I thought these items were worth a whole lot of money, but it turns out only some have value. Look at the bottom of each piece – if it doesn’t say sterling, it is not actually silver. After WWII, housewives were eager to entertain, but not everyone could afford real silver accessories. The bulk of what was produced was silver plate, which is just a micro-thin layer of silver applied to either copper or brass.

The best sterling makers are Tiffany, Georg Jensen, Puiforcat and Buccellati. The value of makers like Gorham, Towle, Kirk, Steiff and Reed and Barton depends on the pattern, and the value is even less if it’s  monogramed.

English or European pieces will have a stamp on the bottom that looks like a lion. Or they may have the numbers 925, 900 or 800, which are percentage numbers for the quantity of silver used by European makers.

You may have silver pieces that are stamped with elaborate alphabets or symbols.  Marks like EPNS, International Silver, IS, Sheffield Silver, Triple or Quadruple plate or EP look important, but in reality refer only to some kind of silver plating. Don’t waste your time.

Even if you if you know your eating utensils to be solid sterling silver, only the most desirable patterns and makers are of value these days. Unfortunately, most sets are considered uncollectible. Don’t be insulted if you are told your collection is not worth what you thought. In that case,a liquidator or estate agent might recommend weighing the items on a scale to determine its scrap value so you get at least some return.

China – what’s happened to the value?

Fifteen years ago the auction price for a complete Reed & Barton Francis I Sterling Tea and Coffee set was $30,000 or more. Today, that same set sells for about $10,000. To value your china, check on the bottom for a mark or a name. Google is a good place to start to assess their current value.

As with furniture, there is a long list of manufacturers that still have a following in the resale market. The best porcelain was made by companies such as Meissen, Sevres, Minton, Wedgwood, Royal Copenhagen, Herend, Crown Derby, Worcester and Doulton. Within those makers are ranges of desirability and value. If you can’t find a name and all you see are a few slashes or symbols, you probably have a more expensive hand-made piece. For example, the mark for Meissen is crossed swords and the mark for Sevres is a pair of interlaced L’s.

Glassware – beautiful, but is it worth anything?

Do you use heavy decorative glass for beverages? Most people have moved away from this type of glassware.  Manufacturers like Tiffany, Durand, Stueben, Lalique, St Louis and Baccarat still have a following and therefore value. Unfortunately, interest in procuring the most beautiful table and stemware pieces is not what it once was –  most patterns of Waterford can be found at $20 per stem at auction. To determine if your glassware is of value, turn the pieces over to look at the center or rim, then tilt the piece in sunlight to find an acid-etched mark. This mark indicates you have good glass.

Coins – not worth as much as we thought

The value of coins generally lies in their silver content. Exceptions are the extremely rare coins, but unless your parents made special notes or treated their coins with the utmost care, you’re probably not looking at anything more than scrap. That being said, coins with the most reliable resale value are those rated by one of the two U.S. rating agencies: the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). These coins will be encased in permanent hard plastic sleeves that clearly state their name and quality rating. Look for comparable auction results to help determine their value.

Silver was used in quarters, dimes and half dollars in the U.S. until 1964. Nickels only had silver during WWII. Some Kennedy half-dollars were made with silver up to 1969, but in general, look for coins from 1964 or earlier to cash in.

What about art?

Art is very personal and is usually an emotional purchase. People buy art because it resonates with them in some way. Not everyone appreciates the work that goes into a painting and sees it only as decoration – and therefore may not see the same value you do. That is, unless the artist is very famous. In that case, check online sites that record and report the sale price of every piece of art at auction by the name of the artist. Three good ones are and 


Really? 10% of the purchase price for a rug?

Rugs are expensive and most people pay retail for them. Like most things you buy to fit your house and your taste, it’s resale value may be a disappointment. Unless you have verified antique, vegetable dyed  hand-made rugs with a very dense knot count, you will not likely get more than 10% of your purchase price.

Turn over the corner and look at how the rows of knots are lined up to determine if you have a real handmade rug.  Handmade rugs have very uneven rows of knots with irregular stitching on the corners used to finish the rug by hand. The knots will appear different in size and spacing. If the rows of knots  look very even with no variation of direction, it’s probably machine-made. Another clue that it is no handmade is if there is a label on the corner that looks like a giant sticker.

The Best Advice

Good advice is often difficult to digest. It’s important to let go of your sentimental attachments and financial expectations when going through your parents’ things. Try to forget what was paid for the items and to instead look at these possessions from the perspective of a third party. It helps to ask someone to inspect the furnishings, etc who doesn’t know your history or share your taste.


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