A big question in the minds of consumers as they make a purchase of antique furniture is “What is the value of this?”, with a concern towards paying more for a piece than it is worth. An equal number of people question those in the business regarding the value of something they have already purchased, or a piece they have inherited. And the popularity of a TV show dealing in the value of antiques – receiving almost as much attention as participation in the lottery – reflects everyone’s dreams of acquiring wealth rapidly, particularly when an economy is sluggish. So, just how much is that antique piece worth?
Value may be best defined as the amount a person is willing to pay for something. As such, it will typically be noted by the retail sales price of an item in any given area, or, in the case of many manufactured goods, the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). If no one is willing to pay even one cent for an item, than that item is obviously of no value. There are a number of factors which have an impact on the value of an item such as a piece of antique furniture, and most other commodities as well.
1. Demand. As noted with respect to the item which costs a penny, the opposite is equally true. If everyone in the country wants an item, it is going to cost much more than the piece no one wants. Supply and demand, together, are the two greatest driving forces to the value of an item.
2. Supply. “Supply”, or the availability of an item, is closely associate with ‘demand’ in setting the value or cost of something. As noted with demand, if everyone wants something it will be of high value. If no one wants an item, it will be of no value. Given this fact, the cost or value of an item will next be driven by its availability. If there are plenty of the item that is in demand for everyone who wants one to be able to get one, than the item will be of little cost (e.g., cell phones). But if there is only one item available and everyone wants it, that item is going to cost over a million dollars (e.g., beachfront property).
3. Brand Name. Within the furniture business, the brand name of a piece can have an indirect – if not direct –bearing on the value of the item. Few people go out of their way to spend their money on junk. Rather, most people want to know the things they purchase are “good” things. Accordingly, those items manufactured by a company the public perceives as manufacturers of superior quality merchandise (Microsoft) will be of higher value than those manufactured by a company which has a perception of inferior quality merchandise (Carl’s Software).
4. Condition. The condition of an item also has an impact on its value. A “mint” condition (never in circulation) 1914 dime is extraordinarily more valuable than the dime made in the same year that is worn to the point of being almost indistinguishable.
5. Location. One of the least known factors driving the value of items is the location in which the item is being sold. Actually, this issue is directly related to supply and demand, as particular items are in higher demand (and possibly lower supply) in one location than in another. As an example, Apple brand computers are more popular on the west coast than IBM-type PC’s, and vice versa on the east coast. Consequently, Apple typically sells their merchandise for a higher price on the west coast than they do on the east coast. Closer to home, watch your gasoline prices. Even if you purchase gas for your vehicle from the same type (owned) gasoline station, the price per gallon is higher at those gas stations which receive the greatest volume of traffic, and lower at the corner station which receives very little business.
6. Seller. Who is selling an item also impacts the value. While this is related in part to the factor of location, who is selling an item within the same geographical location also impacts the sales value. A retail store which caters to higher income buyers will sell any given item at a higher price than a store which caters to lower income buyers. Thus, the hammer sold at “Lowe’s” costs much more than the same hammer sold at “Big Lots”. As well, the individual consumer cannot expect to sell any given item for the same price one expects to pay for it at a retail store. Individuals who buy an item from a neighbor or an individual expect to avoid the additional costs incurred by a retail store or licensed seller. When buying a home “for sale by owner”, the individual making the purchase expects to avoid a certain amount of closing costs and all of the realty company commission costs associated with such a purchase.
7. Buyer. Likewise, who is buying an item impacts the value of the piece. Everyone likes to “get a deal” in making a purchase by acquiring it at less than its ‘normal price’– or retail value. If an item we use is on sale (“2 for the price of 1”) at the local grocery store, we consumers will typically purchase more even though we may not need the item at the current moment. Dependent upon how much we need or want an item, a consumer will typically pay up to (but not exceed) the sales price (retail value) of that item. If, however, the individual purchasing the item is NOT an end-product consumer, they will NOT pay the retail price/value of an item. While sometimes difficult for consumers to understand, anyone who is making a purchase of an item for the purpose of reselling it must pay much less for the piece than what they expect to be able to sell it for – if they want to stay in business. Given the overhead costs of being in business (property costs, utilities, labor, et.al.) much less any type of “x” percent profit margin, few used car salesmen are going to provide a seller the “blue book value” for their automobile.
Additional Furniture Values.
All of the factors of value provided above, then, also apply to the value of antique furniture here in the United States. Consequently, a “Colonial Williamsburg” model mahogany bachelors chest manufactured by Kittinger and being sold in Atlanta, is extraordinarily more valuable and expensive than a flat-faced mahogany buffet manufactured by Bassett which is being sold in Cleveland, Ohio.
Supply and demand are clearly the greatest driving forces to the value of antique furniture. During the 1910-30’s, almost every home in America had an upright piano; prior to the introduction of television, the piano was a form of family entertainment in literally millions of homes across the country. Today, very few people are interested in them. Consequently, upright pianos are of extraordinarily low value – rivaled only by the value of grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine (of which there are also millions littering the landscape.)
Likewise, antique furniture manufactured by the “best” furniture companies is in much more demand and is therefore more valuable than that from a company which made lesser quality pieces.
The impact of the condition of a piece of antique furniture on its value is probably the most easily understood factor. How much is one willing to pay for a chair which is intact in “almost new” condition versus the same chair which has had all four legs broken off and they are missing?
Location is a key factor in the value of antique furniture. Types and styles of antique furniture are in higher demand (and lower supply) in some parts of the country than they are in others.The combination of these three factors is the driving force to the antique furniture business in the United States. Today, most people (over 50% of the antique purchasing consumers) in the northeast have a desire for Victorian walnut furniture. In the north (Great Lakes area), people are buying oak — principally in the “Mission” style.Traditional style mahogany furniture is in highest demand in the south. Cherry furniture (typically in a modern or ‘Shaker’ style) is most prevalent on the west coast, and Indian-style (often referred to as the “Aztec” look) is sought in the southwest. Consequently, truckloads of mahogany furniture (originally manufactured and sold in the Great Lakes region) are now driven south every day of the week.
So is the value (and, consequently, the typical retail sales price) of a one-leaf mahogany dining room table the same throughout the south? Hardly. While the demand for traditional mahogany furniture is high in any metropolitan area in the south, certain municipalities can demand higher prices than others. Atlanta, Charlotte, and the Raleigh-Durham area are typically rather high. While Greenville and Jacksonville rival one another as the most suppressed (least priced) markets. And Charleston – well, they may as well be on another planet.
With regard to the seller-buyer factors, they apply to antique furniture as well as any other commodity, if not more so.
Hopefully this information, then, will give the reader a better perspective towards the valuation of antique furniture. Not a week goes by in which AMG doesn’t receive at least one phone call from an individual who states they have grandmother’s full size Victorian walnut bed (or a like item) which looks very similar to one valued on the “Antique Roadshow” at $15,000, and asking if we will purchase theirs for the same amount. Given the factors of value identified above, the answer to such a question may be more understandable.