Valuable antique furniture you may already own and how to spot them
How amazing would it be if that old wardrobe great Aunt June gave to you was actually worth thousands? It’s not uncommon, we come across people all of the time who have unknowingly had a valuable item of antique furniture in their possession. To help you identify what is worth big bucks we’ve teamed up with our friend and furniture expert Clive Downham from London Fine LTD, and collated a list of the most common and valuable items of antique furniture you may already have at home!
You could be sitting on a small fortune if you were lucky enough to have inherited one of the below pieces.
Top most ‘common’ antiques you may have in your home
(in order of commonality)
- Victorian quadruple wardrobe c1850
- Georgian walnut chest of drawers c1780
- Scottish oak partners desk c1880
- Satinwood bureau from Regency period c1820
- Long 18' Victorian mahogany dining table c1860
- Howard & Sons armchair in brown leather c1880
- Georgian Chippendale set of 12 dining chairs c1790
- Globe Wernicke barristers bookcase c1910
in oak worth £1,250
- Pair of Regency wine tables c1820
in fruitwood worth £4,750
- French 18th-century Girandole mirror c1850
Victorian quadruple wardrobe
Georgian walnut chest of drawers
Scottish oak partners desk
Long 18' Victorian mahogany dining table
French 18th-century Girandole mirror
How to spot antique furniture
Clive has also put together a handy guide on what to look out for when you’re inspecting or investing in antique furniture.
The 19th-century wardrobe is the largest item of antique furniture that the typical homeowner is likely to have. These unseen repository heroes can have excellent value; particularly if they are larger than the typical ‘double or triple door’ types. Price changes with fashion, however, as a rule, lighter woods have greater demand than dark. Of note with wardrobes is that those which have lived in fewer homes will not have suffered the so often seen, ‘removal-man’ damage - broken doors, ripped hinges, and scratches and dings are not welcomed by the owners of fine homes and therefore affect the price greatly.
Doubles and triples start from around £1000, up to £8000 and over for a fine large wardrobe.
Chests of Drawers
Both 18th & 19th-century chest of drawers are plentiful - every home can absorb several; with larger homes often having double-figure numbers. There are three main wood choices the average household is likely to encounter; mahogany, oak and walnut. Other timber choices (such as satinwood, rosewood) were made by Georgian & Victorian craftsman, but they are less run of the mill and therefore have an inherent value due to the nature of the more exotic timber. For the main three more common wood choices size is a key driver to a high price - small will cost more than mid-size, tall will outprice wide, and huge can attain great value. Look for original handles, unusual drawer layouts, and ‘brushing-slides’ as pointers to higher prices.
Mundane chests of average size can be obtained for a few hundred pounds, but the very best (especially a matching pair) can command upwards of £20,000.
100 years ago most homes had a writing desk, so it’s understandable that they were mass produced, with many ‘run-of-the-mill’ antique writing desks still in existence. Value arises from those rarer examples with fine leather uppers (original preferred), large size, intricate marquetry, original locks & keys, and writing slides. Storage in the form of over-knee drawers flanked by deeper side storage is always welcome and adds to saleability due to the added practicality.
Expect to see prices of £200 for basic desk examples, and £3000 - £5000 for exceptional finds.
The ownership of a fine bureau was not something that the average worker in Georgian or Victorian times could ever expect. These were reserved for ‘Gentlemen’ (the classic fall-front), and ‘Ladies’ (the smaller Davenport type). Nowadays the bureau still has an air of superiority about it; one taking pride of place in a study can transform the whole room scene adding tradition and elegance, mixed with practicality and function. To value a bureau look for anything that indicates a craftsman's time was invested heavily during the production; intricate external inlay, oak lined drawers, a well tooled and embossed skiver, and a multi-drawered interior fitment. Secret drawers and hidden compartments are common...so check for those carefully.
Davenports start from £300 and bureaus from slightly more. Find a well-fitted early-Georgian bureau, particularly one of more than four feet width with a cabinet above, and the price could rise to £10,000.
The most common large dining tables to be found will be the classic Victorian extending type. These generally have a ‘winder-mechanism’ whereby a handle is inserted and additional levers are added to make the table longer. The higher priced extending tables will have little wear to the sliding runners, be produced from quality stock (think oak carcass with mahogany, walnut or rosewood veneer), and have ornate legs riding over large, original, brass castors. Longer is better, wider is more desirable, but condition will affect the price of even a large, wide table if it is heavily scratched and requires a full re-polish. For the grandest of tables (£10,000 plus at retail), there could well be a matching sideboard that acts as a storage location for the additional leaves.
£1000 will secure a useful, practical extending Victorian table. Those wishing to seat 20 or more should budget at least £5000.
Everyone loves a big comfy armchair, and this is the reason that the best examples demand good money from interior designers and their respective clients. If your armchair is worn and cat-scratched it may still be worth many hundreds of pounds provided it has a pleasant shape, and is not wobbly-of-frame or in too distraught a condition as far as the webbing and springs are concerned. As armchairs are so often recovered to suit a decorative theme, even ghastly 1970 colours might not affect the saleability. One thing that will be on your side as a seller is old, charmingly worn, leather upholstery of any colour.
Around £500 for a late Victorian chair in need of recovering. If you find one with the famous Howard & Son stamp to the rear leg then prices begin at £2000 for even the most scruffy examples.
Hepplewhite, Chippendale, Sheraton - three of the designer styles which dominated during the 18th & 19th centuries. Dining chairs come in a huge variety of shapes - with the four main timber choices being mahogany, walnut, oak & rosewood. Sets of chairs come in 2’s - so if you have seven chairs it will be considered that you have a set of eight with one missing! Condition is vital to achieving high prices; for the professional repair of a wobbly, poorly upholstered chair can easily run into the hundreds - so if your whole set of ten is loose-jointed then the price to put it right, in the hands of a skilled restorer, could run into the thousands. ‘Long-sets’ is a term used by professionals to describe any set of twelve or more matching original chairs - expect the value to increase exponentially as the set gets longer. Nearly matching sets, often trimmed in the same upholstery colour to look similar to the casual observer, are referred to as ‘harlequin’- pricing for these is generally the combined price of the individual sets and seldom gains a premium.
A set of four Victorian ‘balloon-backs’ in solid order will be around £500. For a long set of 16 classic Chippendale style chairs from the early 19th-century expect £8,000 minimum.
Many bookcases were ‘fully-fitted’ to the room and therefore often damaged when moved. Others, however, are ‘free-standing’ and can be easily relocated like any other item of antique furniture. Adjustable shelving adds value, as does a solid, quality back panel. Oak is in constant demand - particularly that which has mellowed over time and developed a fine sheen from years of beeswaxing by a careful owner. Long, wide half-height bookcases are a rare find and often sought after as they sit well in a grand hallway. Those with original leather decorative dust covers over each shelf will be treasured by any serious bibliophile.
Pine carcasses with just the front faces in a decorative timber will be the bottom of the price range at a few hundred pounds. Solid oak with quality reeding and a fine crown moulding should be £2,000 - £4,000 depending on the size.
These, often delicately made, side tables are still to be found at four-figure price tags primarily due to their adaptability and ‘lightness on-the-eye’. A lovely sofa deserves an associated side table, and nothing suits the purpose better than a classic Regency period tripod wine table. Often seen with tipping tops and crafted in all wood types. Collectors will seek those with original painted finishes, particularly fine curves to the lower leg set, exotic timbers, and the most important key to value...a genuine pair.
Charming examples in mahogany will be valued at £300 - £500. A quality pair of Regency tables in fine order, perhaps in Rosewood, could well be £5000 - £7000.
All homes benefit from beautiful mirrors, and nothing quite brings a drawing room to life as much as a huge overmantle example. They can be vastly heavy if still fitted with the original ‘mercury’ glass plate - and so moving them is often when damage occurs to the frequently used gilt gesso frame. The fashion for aged mirror plates is certainly with us, so if yours has deterioration to the reflectivity (referred to as ‘foxing’ by the trade) then it should not be a concern, and may even add to the price. Big is better in terms of value, and ornate frames are always in demand. Other pointers to value for smaller mirrors would be the use of multiple mirror plates (called triptych when there are three - generally a pair flanking the main centre one), or other adornments such as candle holders or shelves. Bevelled edges to the mirror plate indicate quality, particularly on an ornately shaped plate.
With prices from just a few hundred for a mid-size overmantle, the antique mirror market is difficult to beat. The highest prices (£3,000 - £15,000) are paid for those mirrors from known locations (referred to as provenance), such as a stately homes of note - especially if they are of large proportions.
Will Thomas, Managing Director at LoveAntiques.com said:
“Some people are very lucky to have pieces passed down to them but often don’t realise the value of what they’re given and end up throwing it into storage or giving it away cheaply.
“Antique furniture is far more common than people think. There are a few pieces that were produced in numbers large enough to still be circulating. I’d advise anyone who has an item of old furniture to investigate and do some research on it before selling or giving it away!
“Owning antique furniture is on the rise, which is great because mass produced furniture has such a negative impact on our planet. I hope this trend continues to grow, antiques add such character and charm to a room.”
All images used are from London Fine Ltd