What is this worth?

This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions people have when deciding whether to sell something at auction. They will show me something and ask what I think it will bring at auction. My typical answer is that it depends on how many people there are interested in it. If there’s more than one the item will probably bring a good price, but if there’s only one person at the auction interested in the item it may not bring much.

Any auctioneer who has been in the business knows what items are selling well and what items are soft, but it can be very difficult to know exactly what something will bring. That’s why it’s important to advertise every auction, get it on the Internet, and work very hard to get the seller the best possible price for their items.


It’s also important to know how things are trending in the auction world. For instance, right now glassware is soft in most markets. I was talking with another auctioneer at church recently when a lady came up and asked us what milk glass was bringing at auction. Almost in unison we told her a flat might bring $2.00. She was shocked. Even good glassware is down, at least in our area. I’m currently getting less than half for quality glassware than I was getting even a year ago. Furniture is also down as is many larger antique pieces.

What’s selling well in our area right now are primitives, smaller antiques, knives, guns, jewelry, coins, stoneware and tools. Once in a while some other things will command a higher price, but, again, that’s because there were two people at the auction who were interested in the item.

I recently attended an estate auction held by another auctioneer. A family member of the deceased was there, and from the expression on his face he was very disappointed in what some of the items were bringing. He shouldn’t have been. While some items did not command a strong price, other items did. As I often tell people, don’t look at individual items that sold but look at the overall sale. I felt it was a strong auction overall, and I hope the majority of the family felt the same way.

Especially when it comes to family heirlooms we can have an unrealistic expectation of what something is worth. I once looked at an estate a lady wanted to sell as she was moving out of state to be closer to family. As we toured the house so I could see what she wanted to sell she gave me the history of every piece. She talked about how individual items had been passed down several generations making them, in her mind, worth far more than what they would bring. I finally told her that while that chest of drawers might have belonged to her husband’s grandfather, it didn’t belong to anyone else’s grandfather. No one attending the auction would have the attachment to it that she felt, and it would surely bring much less than she thought it was worth.

When the tour was over it was plain to see that she was likely to not be happy with the results of her sale so I declined to have her auction. Another auctioneer handled her sale, and I was told she was very unhappy with the results. A person who attended the auction later told me he felt it was a strong sale, but she would never be convinced of that.

Things are worth what someone is willing to pay for them, and in an auction we never know what that will be until the hammer falls. Still, an auction is a great way to sell those things you no longer need or use. Hire an auctioneer who will work hard on your behalf, and you are likely to be satisfied with the results.

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