Pricing Mid-Century Furniture


When you answer the same email, with slight variations, over and over again, it's time to write a post about it so you can just link to that post and hope to still be helpful. This is that post.

The email I get at least once a day is some variation of this: "I have this piece of vintage furniture. How much is it worth?" The email is usually not so blunt and contains a little story of how the owner came into possession of the piece, which I love reading, but boiled down to its essence that's what the email is asking, "How much is my vintage furniture worth?"

And the answer back is always me dancing around the true answer, which is, "I don't know." But there are very good reasons I don't know, and can't know, all of which would affect the price of mid-century furniture.

Condition
Condition might be the biggest variable in pricing mid-century furniture. Has the piece been under protective plastic covering for the past three decades? Or, has a dog been chewing on the leg? There are words that I use to describe the condition of mid-century furniture, but these are just the words I use, there's no industry standard for these types of things.

Pristine: The piece is in perfect condition. It looks like it went from the showroom to a storage locker.

Good: Usually what you see at a good vintage store. The small scratches or dings that come with being around for 50+ years are there. The piece may have been refinished or refurbished.

Standard: The piece is in surprising condition for it's age. On top of the small imperfections there's a big scratch or noticeable chip — something most guests in your home will never notice, but after looking at the piece for an extended amount of time, you'll see.

Well-loved: You can tell this piece came from a home that didn't care about the furniture (or had kids). Its been used and a little abused.

DIY: A piece that needs some love. The type of piece that people who refinish furniture buy as a project.

The condition of a piece can swing the asking price by hundreds or ever thousands of dollars. A pristine piece is worth much more than a DIY piece.

Location
Where you live can have a big effect on the price of your mid-century furniture. Places with a higher cost of living will have pieces marked at a higher price. If you live in New York or California, you're going to be able ask more for your piece than if you live in Oklahoma.

Maker/Designer
The quick shorthand on this is: If you know the person who designed your piece, it's probably worth more money. And there are some furniture makers, who might not have known designers in their stable, that are known as quality furniture makers. Before you sell your piece look for a maker's mark or a designer's signature. If you find one, Google it.

Rarity
Rarity in furniture is funny. First, they're mass produced items so even when pieces are rare there's usually a lot of them around. Secondly, rarity can be a good thing or a bad thing. If a piece is too rare, people might not know about it, and thusly not care about it or be willing to pay for it. But if it's a rare piece or color from a know line or designer, that could greatly increase the price. Back on the other side of the coin however, the piece might be rare because it was improved during production, making the rare piece actually the less sought after one.


With all that said, I don't want to leave you with more questions than answers so here are some tips for finding a price for your mid-century furniture:

Check your local craigslist: This is the best and easiest way to find what other people are asking for you piece. Although it's very hit and miss, especially with vintage furniture. You might be the only one in your city selling your exact piece.

Check All of Craigs: All of Craigs is a way to search every craigslist city at once. It won't tell you what your piece is selling for in your area, but it can help give you a baseline.

Check ebay: Using ebay's "completed listings" functions you can check what items have sold for. One word of warning, with ebay shipping is always a factor on furniture. A big piece might sell for less because of the additional shipping costs.

Use Google: Throw everything you know about the piece in Google — designer, maker, type, etc — and hit search. See what comes up, sometimes it's stores selling your exact piece. You won't be able to sell it for as much as a store, but it's a decent ballpark. Then hit the Images, Shopping and Blogs tab. They are little sub-searches that might yield additional information.

9 comments:

  1. I'm constantly bombarded with similar emails. Scott Lindberg has a new, free appraisal service, so I'm about to start responding by sending people his link.

    http://appraisals.sllab.net/

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    1. Interesting. I'll have to play with it some more, but it seems like a cool tool. Thanks for the tip.

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    2. I just tried that site, it asks a bunch of questions, pretends to be accessing a "database" and then dumps you into eBay. What a waste of time!

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    3. Same thing happened to me. I agree that it was a waste of time

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  2. Some very relevant advise for people who are just getting started. I would also include Google images for those trying to identify items that have no attribution. You never know what you might find, and it can broaden your knowledge in the process!

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    1. That's such a standard part of the searches (honestly, I usually start with an image search) that I totally forgot to mention it. I'm going to update the post to include images. Thanks

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  3. hello, I have inherited a beautiful American of Martinsville dresser and nightstands that I would love to know more about, I have searched several sites and have only come across this exact set one time. It is a beautiful and unique walnut color. any suggestions on how I might find out more about these pieces?

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    1. You best bet is probably scrolling through Google Images or taking some photos and stopping by your local vintage shops to see if they know. If you send some photos to MadForMidCentury@gmail.com I'll be happy to see what I can find.

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  4. Hi, I have an American of Martinsville credenza that I can't find any information on. I sent a picture to the email you provided in a previous comment. I greatly appreciate any help!

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