Kovels.com gets lots of questions asking should a collector buy damaged antiques. Dealers and collectors always say to look for pieces without damage, preferably in mint condition. But is there any value in antiques and collectibles with nicks, chips, cracks, stains, wear marks, or missing parts.
The answer is, of course, yes, in some cases. But the decision is up to the buyer. The damage could remain, or a piece could be restored so the damage doesn’t show. A few things should be considered first. How rare is the piece? Does it have a famous designer or maker that gives it extra value? Does it fill in a set of something you already collect? Does it have sentimental value? Is it something decorative you would just like to own and display? Buying an antique that is less than perfect is a way to afford something that is too expensive if perfect.
Here are 4 things the Kovels think are good bets:
1. Art pottery. While minor damage can reduce a piece’s value, not all signs of aging are bad. Light crazing on pottery doesn’t take away value; sometimes pottery is made to look crazed. A piece of Rookwood with a hole drilled for a lighting cord sells for half the price of the piece without the hole. And any large and attractive Newcomb or Ohr pottery with a chip can have value. Look for pieces with damages that have minimal impact on their beauty. Put flowers in them and let them hide the imperfections!
2. Toys. Few antique and vintage toys are in mint condition and one that has been repainted or improperly restored is worth less than half of a mint toy. But some wear and tear on toys is normal and “good” condition is acceptable. Replacement parts for almost any toy can be found, even the decals that came on the originals. Spring mechanisms can be repaired. Or old toys can be sold to dealers or restorers who want the parts. But keep in mind that a toy with even some of the original paint is worth more than one that has been repainted. A few exceptions are carousel horses and barber poles.
3. Furniture. Antique furniture has use and value and resale prices are high. Most new furniture loses value quickly. Finish is important; destroying it reduces worth. Proper restoration can retain or add value, but sloppy repairs lower value. Broken legs, arms and drawers can be fixed. Hardware can be replaced with other period hardware. Upholstered pieces should be refinished to the period – fabric with big red flowers on a Sheraton sofa will surely lower its value. But if it’s good furniture, it will sell anyway, but at a lower price.
4. Jewelry. Old damaged jewelry can be repaired, restored or repurposed. Hinges, clasps and pin catches can be fixed. Restoration would involve replacing damaged parts with like-period pieces, such as using “old mine” diamonds when called for instead of newer more sparkly ones. Repurposing implies renovating, like making a piece look more modern and fashionable or turning a hatpin into a pin, pendant or hair ornament.
The antique porcelain teapot pictured here was once broken and “fixed” with a silver pour spout. It’s an example of a “make-do,” a thrifty notion that could be thought of as an early example of recycling. People thought a broken item was worth fixing, and if it can’t be put back together as it was originally, why not repair and refashion it into something artful. Some collectors specialize in make-dos. This teapot would have been worth about $500 before it was broken. As a make-do, it might sell for $250, depending on the auction and the audience.