How to Decide Whether to Sell Your Art & Antiques


The decision-making process is rarely simple when dealing with fine art and antiques. “Should I sell it?” is a nuanced question, since there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when making the decision to part with or keep a treasured–and possibly valuable– item.

Does it have sentimental value?

There may be great sentimental value if an item has been passed down from a loved one or it was purchased to commemorate a special occasion. Perhaps it was inherited from a cherished grandmother or received as a wedding gift. Even if your item does have potential resale value, your emotional attachment may make it far too difficult to part with it. If you are not personally fond of an heirloom or memento, you should always ask family members if they have a special connection to it and might like to keep it prior to making your decision to sell. Don’t assume your children will want to inherit your 18th century mahogany sideboard (it might not match their modern aesthetic) or that they won’t be upset if you sell Aunt Sue’s silver tea service (they may have wonderful memories of her serving tea at family gatherings).

silver Image Left: Set of Twelve Sterling Silver Bread Plates, Gorham, Providence RI, ca. 1907 Image Right: American Silver Well and Tree Platter, Shreve & Co., San Francisco, ca. 1905-1910


Does the item bring you pleasure?

Marie Condo, best-selling author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” advises that you should discard anything that does not “spark joy.” Most items in our homes serve practical or functional purposes, but we’re meant to love and enjoy decorative items such as art and antiques. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

-Does this item give you a feeling of happiness when you hold or see it?
-Do you think this item is rare, unique, or special in some way?
-Are you proud to own this item?
-Is this item currently displayed in your home?
-Do you feel that your item deserves the physical space it currently occupies?
Would you feel a sense of loss if you sold it?

If you answered “NO” to the majority of these questions, you’re unlikely to miss your item if it’s gone.


paintings Image Left: J.A. Kingston, Landscape, early 20th century Image Right: Pierre Bittar, Coastal Scene


Does it have monetary value today?

Perhaps you’re wondering if you should hold onto your art and antiques, to see if they will increase in value, or to leave them to your children as a part of their inheritance. Many people assume that the longer they hold onto art and antique items, the more valuable they become. Unfortunately, it is simply untrue that all art and antiques appreciate. Tastes change, certain types of items go in and out of fashion, and new trends develop. Save for a selection of blue chip artists, it’s nearly impossible to predict which items will be worth more tomorrow than they are today, and you should never assume that age equates value.

Fair market value–what someone is actually willing to pay for your item on the secondary market–might differ greatly from the amount you or a family member originally paid for it, or from what you’ve been told it might be worth. If you’re hoping to sell an item, it’s important to set realistic expectations, so you’re not shocked or disappointed about your item’s current value. The best way to do this is by familiarizing yourself with recent resale values for items similar to yours. You might be pleasantly surprised that the oil painting that hung in your Uncle Frank’s foyer was painted by a listed artist whose works sell for several thousand dollars at auction, or you might learn that the china set your mother always told you is priceless is actually not worth very much money at all.

There are plenty of excellent resources online that can help you educate yourself–from auction record databases like Artnet to sold listings on eBay. For any item that you think might be worth a considerable amount, it would be wise to get a professional opinion of value from someone with extensive knowledge about the type of property you wish to sell. A formal appraisal can cost several hundred dollars, so getting a sense of value before engaging an accredited appraiser for a full report is generally a good step.

chineseceramics Images (Left to Right): Japanese Colored Glaze Porcelain Jar in the Chinese Style, early 20th century; Chinese Celadon Porcelain Moon Flask Vase; Chinese Porcelain Rose Canton Vase with Mandarin Pallet, Spring Bird and Floral Decoration, late Qing Dynasty


Regardless of how you choose to educate yourself about your item’s potential value, always remember that valuing art and antiques is an art, not a science. You should think about value as a range, rather than a fixed price.

Once you’ve researched how much similar and like items are fetching on the secondary market, figure out what fees and costs will be associated with a sale at the venue of your choice (auction house, consignment shop, art dealer, online platform, etc). Are you selling your item directly or will you owe a reseller or intermediary a commission for finding a buyer? Will you be charged for photography, marketing, shipping, or insurance? Take all of the associated costs into account to determine if you will reasonably be able to walk away with an amount that would make this sale worthwhile to you.

To make your final decision, you will need to weigh your item’s sentimental value against its potential resale value. Ask yourself if you would rather own the item or have access to the net proceeds from a sale. If potential profits outweigh any emotional attachments to the item, it might be time to sell!

Want to know more about a treasured item or family heirloom? Follow this link to start you free evaluation:

Featured Image: Detail of L.K. Haddon, Still Life with Flowers, 1879