What Are Antique Collectibles and Which Are Most Valuable?

Updated July 25, 2022
vintage collectibles for sale

Your grandmother's Dresden china figurine is probably worth more than her Franklin Mint collector plates, but it can be difficult to understand what makes some antique collectibles valuable and others not worth much. Being able to identify a valuable collectible is a great skill, whether you're cleaning out your grandmother's attic or browsing at a thrift store. These tips can help.

Know What Makes a Collectible an Antique

For something to be considered an antique, it usually needs to be at least 100 years old. Certain categories, such as cars, can have different rules, but most collectible items need a century of history behind them to be genuine antiques. Items that are at least 20 years old but less than 100 years old are considered vintage. There are some signs that collectibles are old enough to be antiques.

Keep an eye out for the following as you're identifying antiques:

  • Signs of wear - An antique item often has signs of wear, such as scratches, rubbed areas, paint loss, or other imperfections. This wear appears only on surfaces that get touched or used, which makes it easy to distinguish from intentionally distressed items made to look old. A collectible like a figurine might have tiny chips on areas that are delicate and exposed, for example.
  • Patina or tarnish - In addition to obvious signs of wear, an antique collectible may also have a patina. This is particularly true for items made of metals that tend to tarnish. If you collect brass trophies, for instance, old examples will show tarnishing.
  • Fine details - You may have heard the saying, "they just don't make them like they used to." This is true when it comes to collectibles. Older collectibles often have fine craftsmanship, such as hand painting, delicate carving, and other details.

Look for Collectibles That Are Rare

vintage collectible dolls

Even if you can identify something that's old, that doesn't mean it's interesting to collectors. Rarity is one of the qualities an antique needs to have to be appealing to potential collectors. Rare antiques are more collectible because they are harder to find, making the supply lower than the demand.

These are a few signs that an antique collectible is rare, and therefore, likely of higher value:

  • Errors - Look for errors and misprints when you're browsing collectibles. When the manufacturer makes a mistake in the production of an item, it usually becomes rare. For example, coins with rare minting errors are worth more than more common examples.
  • Limited series - A series or group of items can be worth more, especially if the group is limited. For example, a collectible antique doll might be worth more if it's part of a series. This doesn't always make an item collectible, but it can help.
  • Few remaining - When something is really old and used regularly, it can become rare over time, even if it was common when it was made. For instance, a comic book that sold for 10 cents back in 1938 sells for millions of dollars now because so few of these fragile paper issues still exist.
  • Precious or no longer used materials - Some collectibles are made of things that make them rare. For example, Bakelite is an early plastic, and it's quite collectible because it isn't used anymore. Precious materials also make something rare, since these materials tend to be valuable because of their scarcity.

Find Antique Collectibles by Desirable Manufacturers

Antiques can also be valuable and collectible because of the company or person who made or designed them. Many people collect antiques from specific manufacturers, such as Hummel or Royal Doulton. In some categories of collectibles, there are especially desirable brands. For example, many people collect antique cast iron doorstops, but Hubley doorstops tend to be among the most valuable.

Famous designers or craftspeople can also make a piece collectible. For instance, if you collect antique sterling flatware, certain brands like Durgin or Tiffany & Co. are especially high value.

Choose Collectibles That Are Beautiful

A beautiful antique is almost always more collectible than something less attractive. This is particularly true when the piece is handmade or decorated by hand. Collectibles that are attractive are worth the most, all other factors being equal. Beautiful collections are simply more charming to display in your home. Look at some valuable old postcards, and you'll understand completely.

Consider Looking for Valuable Collectible Antiques

Certain types of antiques are valuable, and it's good to know what to look for when you're browsing. Original art, Depression glass, rare books, light fixtures, and other categories tend to have high value among antique collectors. If you keep an eye out for these items as you browse in thrift stores and antique shops, you can add value to your collection.

What Are Antique Collectibles and Which Are Most Valuable?