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Does antique furniture hold its value?

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In the vast universe of antique objects, trends can sometimes catch you off guard. For example, the current market value of antique furniture is rather weak except for exceptional pieces (Antique furniture refers to furniture made between the 14th century and the 19th century).

Furniture our parents and grandparents purchased from renowned antique dealers and from major auctioneers, sometimes at a hefty price, no longer sells. The price of these family heirlooms is nowadays so ridiculously low that, very often, we simply have to give up the idea of selling them and resolve to storing them (temporarily, we believe…), in a barn or a furniture store, where they very often sadly end up their life.

We have experienced a total redistribution of values in the interiors. Customers are always amazed to learn that large furniture is no longer worth anything, the beautiful chest of drawers, which was once a valuable item, is no longer popular.

Harold Hessel, auctioneer

Furniture from the Haute Epoque is attracting fewer and fewer enthusiasts, even though it represents a part of European history and still has a good place in many country houses and family properties. We can currently find on the market small tables called “changeur”, in walnut, from the 17th century for 400 to 500 euros, but also nice cabinets from the 17th century, Louis XIII period, for a few hundred euros.

A mostly undervalued market

Take for instance this little 18th-century walnut chest of drawers (a wee bit too provincial to your taste), with its pretty bronze handles and corner falls that your grandmother had polished for years. It shines so much that you can look at yourself in it. It is a jewel, a family heirloom, a priceless possession that the children will fight over somedays.

This reasoning is unfortunately that of the generation that precedes us. The chest of drawers, once a sign of wealth and taste, is now just a piece of furniture that most Millennials have no use for. In the current state of the market, this type of chest of drawers trades for 300 to 500 euros.

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Just take a moment to fathom the work that went into making this chest of drawers. Imagine that it has been through the French Revolution and all the wars that have mutilated Europe. Imagine that it has been proudly handed down from generation to generation and that it is barely worth the price of a piece of furniture from an Ikea-type production line!

Flea markets and antique fairs in France, Italy, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, and Germany overflow with high-quality furniture and art objects that are now being snapped up by foreign buyers for pennies on the dollar. Prices are so low for antique furniture that these countries have been irreparably stripping themselves of their furniture heritage for years, exported to the four corners of the world.

A loss of value to be put into perspective

However, not all antique furniture has lost its value. The so-called “Grands Meubles” or great furniture, still sells very well. These iconic large pieces of furniture came out of the royal and imperial cabinet making workshops around Europe, and feature exceptional quality of execution and impeccable condition.

Recently, a cabinet dating from 1675-1680 and attributed to Pierre Gole (who was the cabinetmaker of King Louis XIV for whom he made many pieces of furniture for his palace of Versailles), was acquired 995,400 € by a French private individual at Drouot. Back in 2013, a Rio rosewood Cabinet by Edouard Lelièvre (1829-1886) sold for 1,200,000 euros.

Not all furniture is equal: 20th century furniture on the rise

Other pieces of furniture that escape this downward trend are 20th century design pieces, which fit more easily into modern interiors, are more sturdy, and do not require costly restoration. The creations of Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Paulin or Jean Prouvé are classics, while others dating from the 1980s are on the way to becoming desirable pieces of furniture. Another area that is on the rise are furniture with an exceptional origin: like those from the Ritz Hotel recently auctioned by Artcurial, at prices well above the same 18th century furniture from which they were inspired.

Estimating the price and value of antique furniture

The price of a piece of antique furniture is basically influenced by 6 criteria: its age, its workmanship, its style, its condition, the quality of its materials and its general aesthetic. The enthusiast or the antique dealer must know the important points to look at to determine the value of a piece of furniture.

Estimation and price thresholds of antique furniture

Different criteria determine the estimation of the value of an antique piece of furniture. Some criteria are objective such as the style, the age, the nature or the composition of the furniture. Others are more subjective such as the aesthetics or the capacity of the owner to value his property.

The value of a piece of furniture remains an estimation that varies according to the time, the targeted population or even the country. We observe however 4 distinct psychological price thresholds:

  • from 0 to 100€ for common furniture
  • from 100€ to 1500€ for antique furniture
  • above 1500€ for exceptional furniture
  • beyond a hundred thousand euros, the price of the furniture varies according to the art market price.

Provided that it suits your interior decoration, the acquisition of a beautiful piece of antique furniture is often less expensive than that of a new piece of furniture. Moreover, it will increase in value over time.

Online antique appraisals are convenient sources of information, that can provide useful feedback on the quality and resale potential of a piece of antique furniture. Appraisals can also secure insurance and satisfy curiosity. Whatever the goal, investing some time and money can pay off. Many certified antique appraisers are accessible from websites such as JustAnswer. Experts are available around the clock for online and phone consultations. Feedback is specialized too. You can start using the service by simply typing your question in the interactive chat below:

The “popularity” of a style determines its base price

All furniture belonging to the same style category see their prices evolve in a homogeneous way. For example, the art nouveau style, which is very popular, has seen its price soar, while the Henri II style has been abandoned.

Knowing the style of your furniture is therefore a necessary first step in estimating its value. The trends of each style depend on the fashion effects, the rarity of the furniture, its price and the potential new buyers. Some examples of the price trends of the styles:

  • Restoration, Louis-Philippe or Napoleon III styles of the 19th century are still accessible but at constantly increasing prices
  • The 1925 and art deco styles signed by designers such as Dunand, Printz, Ruhlmann, Leleu have already reached highs and are practically impossible to find today
  • Provincial styles have been on the rise for more than 30 years, always driven by the demand for second homes in the countryside.

TV shows and home furnishing magazines play an important role in the choice of furniture styles: yesterday’s retro fashion of the 1970s, today’s industrial furniture.

The age of the furniture influences its price

Beyond 100 years, a piece of furniture is considered antique. Thus, replicas of antique furniture made at the beginning of the 20th century are now themselves considered antique, and start increasing in value.

Unlike a contemporary piece of furniture which loses two thirds of its value at the time of purchase, an antique piece of furniture that has resisted the wear and tear of time increases in value as it ages. Over time, its value can double every 5 years, an average increase of 20% per year. It is also necessary to distinguish the period of the style from the period it was manufactured. The Law defines the following denominations:

  • A period piece of furniture is an old piece of furniture manufactured at the specified time
  • A piece of furniture “in the style of” is a copy of a period original.

It is important to distinguish between an old copy and a recent copy. For example, the description and price of the same Louis XV armchair will vary according to its age:

  • Example 1: Louis XV period armchair, original made in 1750. Price: 1500 euros.
  • Example 2: Louis XV style armchair, copy made under Napoleon III (end of the 19th century). Price: 600€.
  • Example 3: Louis XV style armchair, industrial copy from 1950. Price: 100€.

Style furniture produced after 1930, apart from exceptional or luxury pieces, is generally only worth a hundred euros. Certain techniques allow to identify with more certainty the manufacturing period of the furniture.

It is also important to detect forgeries that have been deliberately created to age a piece of furniture and artificially raise its price. An old patina, irregularities in the wood cuts, the wear and tear of removable parts such as drawers and doors, the original locks, the seamless interlocking of parts distorted by time are good indicators of the age of a piece of furniture.

The nature of the furniture influences its price

Furniture with an everyday use such as tables, chairs and small cabinets always find a substantial clientele. If your furniture consists of a matching set such as a pair of identical armchairs, its value can easily be multiplied by a factor of 1.5. Specific and often rare furniture such as “transformation” or “secret” furniture is even more sought after by collectors. On the other hand, certain pieces of furniture that have become useless through their use, such as a vanity table, have lost their value.

Concerning the size of the furniture itself, small furniture of human size is better suited to contemporary interiors with smaller space and the mobility requirement of the urban population. Monumental or voluminous furniture often remains unwanted except in the more spacious provincial homes.

Furniture with no real use but that is very decorative is still very popular. Sanitary and ecological considerations also push new buyers to prefer antique furniture without toxic agglomerates and other allergenic chemical glues.

The composition of the furniture influences its price

The resources used by cabinetmakers, woodworkers, ornamentalists and sculptors to make their furniture affect its final value.

The manufacturing techniques: A regional furniture or of style made manually by a craftsman will always be distinguished from an industrial furniture taken out of an assembly line. Decorative techniques such as veneering, marquetry, carving or, better yet, gilding and lacquering add value to the furniture if they are well executed and in good condition. Furniture that requires a lot of work, meticulous work and dexterity of execution are highly sought after, such as furniture in Boulle marquetry with copper and ivory inlays. The manufacture of certain copies of furniture, such as Restoration style sets are more easily industrialized. They are thus found on the market in greater numbers.

Materials: Furniture built with noble materials such as marble, fruitwoods or exotic woods such as mahogany benefits from a premium. The use of solid native woods such as oak or walnut is also a safe bet. A beautiful patina is equivalent to a strong valuation. On the other hand, some materials such as pine or larch are not popular. Let’s not even mention chipboard.

The decoration: The decorative composition of the furniture largely influences the act of purchase. The buyer generally prefers cheerful, homogeneous and original themes. The quality of the motifs must remain of good quality and not fall into naivety.

The accessories: The trimmings, the bronzes and other locks entries are among others utilitarian or decorative accessories which enhance the furniture by their aesthetic side. They also facilitate the identification of its style and period.

The aesthetics of the furniture influences its price

It is often recommended to buy an old piece of furniture for which you have fallen in love. It is also important to choose good quality furniture, which will certainly be resold at a higher price.

The beauty of a piece of furniture is of course subjective. It depends on the experience and expectations of each individual. However, there is a homogeneity of tastes according to the times, the countries, the social classes and the age of the population concerned as illustrated in these few examples:

  • The Japanese are very fond of 1900’s furniture – art nouveau whose style is strongly inspired by nature, which is omnipresent in their culture.
  • The wealthy classes of the Middle East prefer golden baroque furniture and the exuberant curves of the Napoleon III style.
  • In France, the straight lines of the Louis XVI style blend well with the contemporary furniture of small middle-class Parisian apartments. Among retirees, we often find an interior decoration of “Versailles” style from the 18th century.

As a general rule, each piece of furniture finds its audience as long as it is well made, in good condition and finished with care. In all cases, one can enhance the value of one’s furniture by restoring it or by working on its notoriety.

The state of preservation of the furniture influences its price

A piece of furniture in bad condition can easily lose half of its value. If you decide to have it restored, be aware that it will cost you several hundred euros. Even if you should rather buy a piece of furniture in good condition, a good restoration can be a source of satisfaction and increase the value of an old piece of furniture with a good price.

The notoriety of the furniture influences its price

What is unique is rare and what is rare is expensive. So a little marketing effort to make your furniture stand out from the crowd will enhance its value. To create a brief identity card of your furniture, you can :

Take pictures of it: Take pictures of your furniture from different angles without forgetting its specific characteristics such as its beautiful bronzes or the details that justify its age. Also, in case of damage or theft, these photos will allow you to estimate your loss with your insurer.

Gather old documents justifying the existence and the origin of the furniture: An old photo where the furniture appears, a will or an inheritance valuation, the invoice of the furniture, etc… will easily justify the age of the furniture. The sentimental value of certain pieces of furniture will continue after the disappearance of its owner if you think of noting the reason. Furniture that belonged to a famous owner can quickly increase in value.

Promote your furniture in trade publications: As with works of art, furniture featured in museum publications, catalogs, books, and art or auction magazines will automatically increase in value.

Include a detailed description of the furniture and its style when selling it

If necessary, number your piece of furniture to facilitate its later identification: Some pieces of furniture are stamped by the craftsman when they are created. A real stamp is a sure way to make an ordinary piece of antique furniture become an exceptional piece of furniture. The stamp was introduced for the guilds of artisans in the mid-17th century before being repealed during the Revolution. It indicates the name of the craftsman who made the furniture. If his reputation is acknowledged, it largely influences the price of the furniture. The simple fact of knowing the name of the craftsman who designed the piece of furniture is sometimes enough to multiply its price by two. The identity of the piece of furniture can also be done by an antique dealer who will give you a certificate of authenticity. This is a commitment that is often necessary for the sale of exceptional furniture.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the antique furniture market is divided into two sectors: the exceptional, necessarily rare, and the rest: the so-called “common” antique furniture. However, common furniture does not mean poorly made or ugly antique furniture. It is a somewhat absurd trend of the market that rejects antique furniture.

If you like beautiful pieces of furniture that will bring a touch of originality and uniqueness to your interior, you should not think twice before investing. You can’t go wrong. The antique furniture market is currently so affordable that it can only go up in a few years. And if you are lucky enough to own a beautiful country house, furnishing it with period furniture will bring back all its former glory.

If you own antique furniture, hold on to it. It’s not yet the best time to sell your family heirlooms. And who knows, your children or grandchildren may be grateful to you for saving it for them, as it will probably come back into fashion some day. After all, who would have thought that the flashy and boisterous furniture of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s would ever be fashionable again?

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