Unloading the Treasures of the Past


We recently attended a workshop by estate sale professional Judy Johnson of Unexpected Treasures to learn more about what sorts of things have actual value on the market these days.

There has been a real shift in the estate sale market. It happened around 2007/2008. Many items are now not only hard to sell, but hard to donate. Most buyers are younger people who have a different lifestyle and no longer want items their parents treasured: china, silver or big “brown” furniture for example. They’ve simplified their lives; they value experiences and “a look” more than they value “things.” As the population ages, older homes are being downsized; the market is being flooded with things that used to be loved but no longer are interesting or valued by buyers in our area.

What do today’s buyers love?

  • High quality kitchenware (Le Creuset; Kitchen Aid; Vitamix, etc.)
  • Mid-Century modern furniture and decorative items from 1950s-60s
  • Items that are in the style of places like Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and Restoration Hardware
  • Things they can actually use which are stylish, high-end, and in good condition

These items aren’t worthless but will take some work to sell:


  • Though china doesn’t sell well (not practical or dishwasher safe), certain china has some buyers – especially English, German and French china
  • China is priced LOW: a service for 12 people (Spode or Wedgewood) could sell for $350, but sellers will take what they can get
  • Many thrift stores will take china, but they are also getting swamped with it
  • Replacements.com is one way to figure the value (ask what they will PAY for your china). They ask for high prices when they SELL china (retail), but often they don’t offer much for items if you want to sell to them (wholesale). Best to check first.


Mid-century modern is holding its value. Large, ornate, dark wood pieces are hard to find a home for… and it’s hard to even donate it. A beautiful grand piano may technically be worth thousands but only if you can find a buyer.


  • There are buyers for sterling silver; and people will take it for the metal value. For the best return, Judy doesn’t recommend going to a pawnshop to trade in your silver. Estate sellers often have connections to private buyers who give a much better return.
  • The numbers on silver can show the actual silver content. They also give evidence as to the country of origin: 925 (Mexican silver, for example) indicates 925 parts per thousand of silver. This would be called sterling or standard silver. By law in the US, sterling silver needs to be marked “Sterling”
  • 999 is the American standard for pure silver. The hallmark 800 is usually German silver
  • Monograms on silver make the piece more difficult to sell, but monograms can be removed for a small fee
  • Plated silver items have low intrinsic value and once the base metal is showing, it has lost most of its value
  • If a piece is really heavy, it may be because silver is around a cement base (candlesticks, for example.) And table knives are not as valuable because the handle is weighted and the blade is stainless steel

The Bottom Line:

There is a lot of “stuff” out there and the value of what used to be special has plummeted. Things aren’t only harder to sell, they are harder to donate! It’s even harder than ever to get charities to come pick up items.

Get creative; do some research and find out what the value of the items are. As an alternative to selling items or donating, find out what specific home might be a good for the items (museums; groups; etc.)

Bring in an estate professional to advise you. One of the benefits of getting an expert to review your collections is finding out that you don’t need to hold on tightly to some of the items, knowing that there isn’t much of a market for it. You may be able to let go of that Hummel piece knowing that you aren’t missing out on an Antiques Roadshow superstar.


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