This column looks at two of the factors that affect the values of antiques and collectibles. There are many others, but here I focus on one that is obvious, condition, and another that is not, the press.

Antiques in Good Working Condition Have A Higher Value:

Any antique one purchases should be in good working order, even if one has no plans whatsoever to actually use it. Any antique that is in good working order will have a higher value. Why is this the case? Think of it this way: which would you rather own, a player piano that actually works, or one that no longer operates? A working Victrola or vintage computer obviously have more appeal than non-working models. Buying a damaged antique is like buying a car that doesn’t run, it isn’t worth much and will likely never be (at least not without a great deal of work). Anything that limits the usefulness of an antique decreases its value and being broken severely limits the utility of an antique.

A good example of this point is a spinning wheel. While spinning wheels aren’t much in demand now (except by those of us, like myself, who feel they cannot own enough of them), it’s still important that the spinning wheel is complete and in working order. If one looks closely at most spinning wheels, they will notice that the actual spinning mechanism is missing. This won’t bother some collectors, many won’t even know the parts are missing, but missing pieces will turn off many spinning wheel collectors. As a such collector, myself I am willing to pay much more for a complete example than one with missing pieces. A missing needle or pedal can knock a hundred dollars off the value quickly. Most collectors feel the same way about what they collect; they want the best, not damaged goods. Even though one may have no plans to use an antique it should always be complete and in good working order.

Also beware replaced or repaired parts. This can have a negative impact on value as well. When an antique has replaced parts it loses something, part of it is no longer an antique. Always make sure to take this point into account when determining the purchase price. Do not pay mint price for something that is in less than mint condition. Any replaced part makes an antique worth less.

The Power Of The Press:

There is one factor that affects the value of antiques that many collectors have probably not considered: the press. Articles in newspapers and magazines can drastically alter the value of antiques and collectibles. The same is true about podcasts, YouTube videos, various social media outlets and articles published on the Internet. How can a simple article affect the value of your collection? It works like this: an author writes an article on the joy of collecting 1960’s kitchenware, talking about the various pieces available and how they can be used to decorate. A few photos with the article demonstrate to the reader that ‘60’s kitchenware is an attractive collectible. This sparks the interest of the collector and he or she starts buying up kitchen pieces from the 1960’s in earnest. This very situation has occurred repeatedly—graniteware, mid-century modern, industrial—the list is extensive, if not endless. The values of once inexpensive collectibles escalate because of increased attention.

If only one collector, or a few collectors, entered the ‘60’s kitchenware collecting field after reading articles touting its desirability, the values would be relatively unaffected, but many articles are read by thousands and thousands of people. It takes only a small percentage of these readers to cause the values to shoot up. Many online sources influence not thousands of potential collectors, but tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

Many collectors think that once a collectible becomes recognized it is too late to start a collection. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. One of the best times to start collecting is when a collectible just begins to be recognized, most likely the prices will only get higher. Watch for articles on new collectibles, these can tip one off to good collecting areas. Starting a collection when something is just beginning to get hot allows one to gather several nice pieces before the values really start to go up.

A second good time to buy is after an antique or collectible has fallen out of favor with the masses. Spinning wheels, Depression glass, graniteware and many others fall into this category. What does it matter if any others aren’t interested anymore? These items are still wonderful and the fun of collecting without spending a fortune returns.

Thinking Ahead:

The best time to start collecting anything is before it becomes a collectible. It is the smart collector who recognizes the potential of something to become a collectible before others do. It is not all that difficult to predict the next collectible to enter the field. Many times, a new collectible is merely a variation on an established one. Take graniteware for example. When blue graniteware began to be seriously collected, a few very smart collectors began buying up gray, and even white, graniteware. At the time gray and white were not given much attention and therefore the prices were very low when compared to blue. These smart few knew that as blue disappeared from the market, attention would shift to gray and white. They were correct. That’s exactly what happened. A little thinking ahead can be profitable. It can also allow one to assemble an enviable collection without overdrawing one’s bank account.

Always think about what will be valuable next. Thinking ahead this way is like being able to travel back in time to purchase antiques. Who wouldn’t love to go back twenty or more years to purchase mid-century modern and industrial pieces? At one time, all the current “in” pieces were not in demand and could be purchased for a song. By predicting the next collectible one can do nearly this. Even if one guesses wrong there isn’t much to lose. One of the advantages of buying ahead is that prices are dirt cheap. All of us can collect in this manner, spending only a few dollars here and there. Collecting doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun.

There are many other factors that affect value, but condition is key and trends can cause major shifts in values. For most collectors, value isn’t the main consideration, but by paying attention, collectors can purchase more of what they desire.