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Identify What You Have and What's it Worth?

That's a question many ask when they find something interesting at a sale or perhaps discover a would-be treasure from a relative's estate and can't identify the mark on the collectible. Not everything can be found online, but if it is online -- these tips will help you figure out values by researching the identifying marks, patent numbers and other features.

Step one is figuring out exactly what you have.

  • Check the Identifying Marks, Tags and Labels
    Use those specific words on your mark or tag in the search box in the top right hand corner of this page. Click on the resulting links to see if there is information to help identify your particular item.

    Nothing? Next, go to one of the major search engines such as Google to see what comes up that matches the company name or information on the tag on your item.

  • Two or Three Word Description
    Use as many descriptive words as possible in the Search box, there's a bit of difference in the results between something like "glass lamp" and "stained glass lamp", a term some might use. I also like to use the same term in the Google Images, as a great way to find something quickly if it is online and a visual way to identify what you have.

    Note: if you find the piece through Google Images, click on the corresponding page the image is on and see if more information is available.

  • Patent Number?
    Is there a patent number? Find out more about the piece by researching the patent on the United States Patent and Trademark Office web site. There's a ton of information if you're lucky enough to find the patent number.

    Note: Use the "D" in front of the number for the Design Patent, if that doesn't work, just input the number by itself for a Utility Patent.

  • Check the Books
    There's a reason why thousands of books have been written about collecting antiques and collectibles, so take advantage of them. Do a little research and check the general guides to see if you can find out more information, or if it's, for example, a toy, check the toy price guides. There are specific guides for almost everything from Disney to Tools.

    Visit the library, check their files to see what books are in the system or visit a large book store and see what they offer.

  • Still Can't Find It?
    Post a note in the Forums attaching a clear picture of the item and any relevant marks that would help with identity.

Next Step --What's it Worth?
After you have a name or more information on your item, it's time to start researching the values.

  • Online Price and Value Guides
    There are literally hundreds of images and values in the Collectibles Online Price and Value Guide section. Check to see if your item might be listed or if there is something comparable for comparison.
  • Books
    As mentioned above collecting books are an excellent research resource, but in the up and down world of values, they might not always be up-to-date. Books are great to give a general or relative idea of value. If a book shows your piece of "pottery" valued at $800., obviously you won't sell it at a garage sale. Instead decide whether to offer it for sale directly to a collector or put it up for auction. It might not fetch $800, but at least you know it could be an expensive piece.
  • eBay Auctions
    Surprisingly to some, eBay is not the first step when I search for values. Online auctions prices can vary widely, it all depends on when it's put up for sale, how the item is described, the category, the pictures, etc. There are too many factors involved in how well an item does when sold at an auction.

    Often folks will check eBay to find out what their item is selling for, but if you're not an experienced eBay buyer/seller, you might not realize how much a price can go up in the last few seconds because of Sniping. Always check the closed auctions!

    Note: eBay closed auctions are only available for the past two weeks.

  • TIAS
    One of the largest online malls for collectibles and antiques, TIAS, has many thousands of listings and is an excellent way to find out what the dealers are asking for your item. You won't be able to sell it to them for that price, but it will give you an idea of what you might ask for it when selling directly. I feel these prices are a truer value than sold items on eBay. The items shown are still currently available, not what it sold for.
  • Priceminer.com
    I love Priceminer. It's also a paid service, but the results go back several years, not months, therefore giving a much larger time frame to search for sold-only items. Priceminer uses data from several different sources, including past eBay auctions and TIAS.
  • Clubs and Associations
    Is there a collectors club or association for your collectible? They can be an excellent resource for finding out if your piece is rare and often times will have a value guide on their web site.
After you've figured out what you have and have an idea of what it might be worth, look a little more. See if other like-items are selling for around the same price. Make sure your item is the same and in the similar condition as those you've found prices for. How often have you seen an item identified as "mint condition, only problem is a chip on the top and a re-glued finial"? Sorry folks, that is not mint and prices should not be compared to a true piece in excellent condition.

A while back I got an excited call from someone who had a jar exactly like the $6750. Shawnee cookie jar and was beyond excited. After I received a picture of her jar, about the only thing that was the same was the mold. Her jar was worth maybe $150 - $200. Not a bad price for an old jar, but certainly not worth the thousands she was dreaming of. The moral of this story? Decals, paint colors and slight variations DO MATTER in all collectibles and can be the difference between a common piece and a rare item.

Hopefully by now, you have an idea of what your item might be worth. Is this always a "true value"? Not necessarily, but it's a good start!

  • When doing a search, check several pages deep. You might find a hidden jewel.
  • Try misspelling the words to see what shows up.
  • Although I use Google 99% of the time, occasionally I will try Yahoo
  • Always use the advanced search option on eBay.
  • Always check the Titles and Descriptions box on eBay.
  • Don't limit your search to just one category, many times items can show up in "strange" categories.

It's a fact of life that fakes and reproductions have infiltrated the world of antiques and collectibles. Before you start thinking how much your "black cookie jar" is worth, check online sources to find out if your item could be a reproduction or fantasy item. There are a few authorized reproductions that have been made over the years that will have value, but if the item is unauthorized, a fake or made to deceive -- it's probably not worth much, if anything.

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