Are Those Antique Dishes Worth Something? Here’s How to Know
It’s always the season to clean out closets, basements and attics and cash in on some of that stuff that doesn’t “spark joy” as organizing guru Marie Kondo would say.
Believe it or not, your grandmother’s World War II antique china collections with the floral patterns may well spark joy for someone else even if you can’t get your kids to take it. Or it could mean money in your pocket — there are antique dishes worth something.
Depending on the pattern, condition and current supply and demand, you can make a few hundred dollars when you sell Nana’s china plates collection. But, unless you have some of the more rare patterns that can fetch $1,000 a plate, don’t expect to get rich. What was sentimentally valuable china to your family may not be worth thousands of dollars.
“The question I hear most often when I give somebody a quote for what we’ll pay is ‘is that for all of it?’ ” said Larry Weitkemper, one of the owners of China Finders in St. Petersburg, Florida. “The demand is less. Prices are down.”
Someone with a five-piece place setting (dinner, salad and bread plates with cup and saucer) of Wedgewood may get around $40, Lennox about $25 and Mikasa around $20. Resellers and dealers, however, may pay up to $1,000 for a Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica dinner plate, the golden ticket of pre-owned china.
China Finders, which stocks thousands of pieces of china and crystal in its 4,900-square-foot store, is one of about 50 independent resellers across the country. A decade ago it had 14 employees buying and selling china, crystal and other collectibles. Today, four employees buy in person (by appointment only) then sell on their eBay store. For people on the hunt for rare patterns, an internet search is likely the best way to find valued old dishes.
Pattern Prices at a Glance from Replacements
Forest Green ‘51-’59
Poppies on Blue
Salad serving bowl
Crescent salad plate
Rim soup bowl
Chinese Bouquet (rust)
Dinner plate (Portugal)
Dinner plate (Thailand)
Dish Habits of Modern Newlyweds
For well over 10 years, people getting married or stocking their kitchens and dining rooms have been straying from traditional fine porcelain dishes and opting for mass produced dinnerware from retailers like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Target.
Also, it’s gotten much easier for anyone looking to buy previously owned traditional china on the Internet with just a few clicks, so the services and inventory of stores like China Finders aren’t as in demand, Weitkemper said.
Replacements Ltd., in McLeansville, North Carolina, is the largest buyer and seller of previously owned china, crystal and flatware with 450,000 different patterns listed in its database from antique china with floral patterns to highly valuable dessert plates. It stocks new and preowned products in 500,000 square feet of warehouse space.
Keith Winkler, media relations manager for the 40-year-old company, said while prices fluctuate greatly, fine china and crystal are still popular with a wide range of customers.
Again, many variables go into placing a value on it.
“It’s all about whether we stock that pattern or not and how easy it is to find it,” he said. “Some of it is also how popular it was when the pattern was introduced. Was it successful and continues to be sold in stores or was it extremely popular for a 10-year period of time and now it’s gone?”
He said they are are seeing an increase in business from a younger demographic.
“A lot of them might have received their grandmother’s set and they are building on that for their bridal registry,” Winkler added.
Others are looking for their own china. In fact so many couples getting married were registering on Replacements’ website through Myregistry, that they came to the china dealer five years ago and asked to join forces on gift registries.
10 Things to Know If You’re Selling Nana’s Antique China
First you need to know if it’s antique and just because it’s old to you, doesn’t mean it’s a legit antique or has a lot of value. Antiques are generally at least 100 years old; newer older items are considered vintage. Look to a professional for help. The market determines the prices so your dream of getting rich off a single item for thousands of dollars is likely just that. Still, there’s money to be had.
Our vintage china and glassware experts have done their research and here is their best advice for those of us surveying Nana’s china cabinet and trying to get past the floral bouquet in the middle of the plates. These 10 tips can help you find the best value hiding on the shelves.
1. Patterns Don’t Gain Value With Age
“We have to buy something people are still using,” Weitkemper said. Now, that doesn’t mean old patterns are necessarily not worth good money as long as they are still popular with current consumers. But they are just not like other collectibles such as coins that gain value as they age.
2. Make Sure You Get Top Dollar for These
“Most patterns from Herend sell well,” Winkler said. A platter recently sold for $200 on eBay while a salad plate went for $100. Herend originated in Hungary in 1839 and its pieces are typified by fine floral patterns. The history of the manufacturer and the fine craftsmanship overrules the fact that many younger people don’t want fussy porcelain pieces.
Royal Copenhagen Blue Fluted
A cup and saucer recently sold on eBay for $100 and a salad plate fetched the same price.
“It’s a very high quality brand and it’s in high demand. It’s made really well,” according to Larry Weitkemper.
Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica
This is about the most expensive player in the fine china reselling market. Two salad plates sold on eBay recently for $375 while a pickle dish sold for $500.
3. Know Other Popular Patterns
Replacements lists its top selling patterns, which is a good indicator the valuable china is selling well on other sites, with dealers and individually. But that doesn’t mean they will always command top dollar.
“We may have a piece retailing for $50 but have a 10-year supply on hand and therefore we may not be purchasing it at all or would offer a nominal amount for the piece,” said Winkler.
Here are the links for:
4. Extra Pieces Vary in Demand
Butter dishes and salt and pepper sets are more sought after than spoon rests and coffee pots. The current values reflect modern cooking habits, and the selling price and pattern don’t much matter. Many companies have produced these pieces and they can be found online and in antiques shops in abundance.
“Teapots hold their values better than coffee pots,” said Noah Weitkemper, one of the China Finders partners.
5. Wine Glasses are Out, Goblets Are In
“Wine glasses are going out of style because they are too small in older patterns. (Consumers) use water goblets for wine,” Noah Weitkemper said.
Even baby boomers are likely to want glasses that can hold a larger pour. These days, a standard wine glass holds about 12 ounces and vintage wine glassware might be half of that. The green-stemmed German wine glasses used for white wine are a good example of smaller capacity bowls, especially the older vintages.
6. Gold Trim Can Kill the Sale
The 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds — heck almost everyone — buying china today want to put their dishes in the microwave or dishwasher. Washing individual pieces by hand isn’t going to fly no matter if the current value is affordable and even if they like the pattern. And reheating ramen in the microwave is standard these days. The dishes have to fit the job, and just being valuable doesn’t cut it.
“Anything with gold trim can’t go in the dishwasher and it can’t go in the microwave. So they don’t want it,” Larry Weitkemper said. Sorry, Nana. The Noritake vintage china is a no-go even though there’s enough old dishes to serve 12. That’s just more washing.
7. Shipping Is Costly
If selling to Replacements, you will pay for packing and shipping your china. That can cancel out or at least heavily cut into whatever profit you expect to make. Consider this if you purchased good-condition china to resell. Always do your research first.
“A person really needs to consider all of that when they are wanting to sell. it’s going to be so expensive to ship,” Winkler said. “It might be better to donate it.” Do some internet research or head to your local library to look for organizations that take donations of dishes, glassware and other pieces.
8. Country of Origin Counts
China and glassware made in America or England is more desirable. China produced after the Civil War often has identifying marks on the back of each piece indicating its country of origin. Bone china made in England usually has a crown stamp on the back. If the pieces are bright in color — lime green or purple even — they are likely not vintage.
In the table above, you can see how Dansk’s Christianshavn Blue is more valuable if it is manufactured in Portugal than when they are made in Thailand.
9. Christmas China Patterns
Many manufacturers have lines of Christmas china. It tends to sell well throughout the year, but especially in September and October. Some of the most popular Christmas china patterns are Spode’s Christmas Tree, which was first made in 1928; Lenox’s Holiday holly pattern (beware the gold leaf), and Johnson Brothers’ Merry Christmas, made from 1958 to 1995.
The Johnson pattern has a cozy Christmas scene on the middle of the plate, complete with a roaring fireplace.
If you find a set for 12 of any of these patterns, it’s still not likely you’ll bring in thousands of dollars, though a Johnson Merry Christmas dinner plate is fetching about $70 on Replacements. The current value of a dinner plate of Spode’s Christmas Tree with gold trim is about $40. And Lenox’s Holiday holly plate could get nearly $70 through an antique dealer but Replacements had the dinner plate on sale in January 2022 for $40.
10. To eBay or Not to eBay Those Porcelain Dishes
If you sell on eBay you may get more money for your china or crystal than selling to an antique dealer who is going to resell your King Louis XV antique furniture or valuable china. Obviously, you are then also the one who has to pack it (or pay someone else to pack it) and ship it so it arrives to the buyer in tip-top shape.
Customers buying on eBay have the right to refuse the product and ship it back at the seller’s expense if they say it arrived in worse condition than expected.
China Finders has been burned several times with eBay buyers who say the items they bought arrived chipped.
“We check it completely for chips when we buy it, when we sell it and when we ship it,” Larry Weitkemper said. But they still have to pay the cost to ship it back and refund the buyer’s money. Several times customers have shipped back different china, and once even a box of rocks instead of what they bought.
For China Finders, which sells hundreds of items on eBay each month, if a customer falsely claims the products weren’t in good condition once a month, it’s a cost of doing business.
But if you are selling a whole set of china or box of crystal goblets only once and a customer claims it arrived in poor condition then returns other items, your one shot at profiting off of Nana’s collection is shot.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and reporter living in St. Petersburg, Florida. She’s the author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.