After 25 years of appraising and reselling antiques, I know how daunting it can be to settle an estate. It usually goes something like this: A family is overwhelmed after inheriting a house stuffed to the rafters with generations’ worth of objects. They choose a few keepsakes for themselves and then rent a roll-off dumpster to dispose of everything else.
And while that approach might feel efficient, it’s a tremendous waste. Sometimes the most mundane-looking items can be worth a surprising amount of cash. So if you’re a recent heir, take a breath — and take stock. These items are worth more than you think.
There may be money in those kitchen cabinets! Buyers love cookware that’s been proven by years of use. Look for Pyrex and Fire-King casserole dishes. Texas Ware mixing bowls (pictured) and Revere Ware pots and pans.
Beyond their practical uses, many of these brands are hot collectibles. This jadeite casserole dish by Fire-King sold for $178.40 on eBay.
2. Midcentury furniture
From architecture to accent tables, midcentury design is having a moment. If you’ve inherited a houseful of MidMod (midcentury modern) furniture, get ready to be pleasantly surprised.
Eager buyers aren’t limiting themselves to high-end designers. Decidedly midmarket when first produced, pieces by Heywood-Wakefield can now sell for several hundred dollars. And this Plycraft chair and ottoman (a knock-off of a famous Charles Eames design) recently sold for $1,350 on eBay.
3. Vintage tools
At estate sales, I’ve noticed shoppers make a beeline for the garage or basement workshop in search of tools. Vintage Craftsman, Skil and Stanley products sell well because they’re better made than their contemporary counterparts.
And don’t worry about emptying the toolshed. If you’re lucky enough to inherit one of these 20 valuable old tools, you can afford to hire a handyman anytime you need one.
4. Old phones
Princess phones from the 1960s and ’70s are in demand too. Unusual colors like pink, mint green and orange command the highest prices. This aqua blue touchtone phone made by Bell System recently sold for $150 on eBay.
5. Retro clothing
Have you inherited closets packed with vintage clothing, shoes and accessories? Buyers are waiting.
According to thredUP, an online consignment and thrift store, the used clothing market is expected to be worth $84 billion by 2030. That demand is fueled by a new generation of consumers who prioritize sustainability and appreciate the quality and style of vintage clothing.
6. Stainless steel flatware
Stainless flatware sold in most department stores today should be called “bentware.” The quality and durability just doesn’t compare with pieces from the 1960s and ’70s.
7. Old eyeglasses
Brands like Warby Parker have carved out a niche by selling vintage-inspired eyeglass frames. But there’s a strong market for truly old-school glasses. The following styles are hot sellers right now:
- “Cat-eye” frames from the 1950s
- Round wire-frames
- Horn-rimmed frames (sometimes referred to as “Buddy Holly glasses”)
Vintage examples in good condition can sell for $25-$65 per pair.
8. Vintage Christmas decorations
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Vintage glass ornaments made in Germany by Shiny Brite sell well all year long. This lot of 61 ornaments recently sold on eBay for $295, and this Shiny Brite tree-topper brought $75.
And remember those ceramic table-top Christmas trees from the 1970s? They’re selling for hundreds these days. This 23-inch tree made by Atlantic Molds is listed for $500 on Etsy.
9. Original artwork
Over the years, many older adults accumulated generations’ worth of family art. Purchased in a gallery or homemade by a budding artist, original creative work can sell for serious money.
And though it may be tempting, don’t cast aside art that looks crudely done. Sometimes referred to as “naïve” or “outsider art,” these pieces may have value. This painting of South Beach, Florida, signed simply “E.S.,” recently sold on eBay for $235.
10. Vintage vinyl
Those milk crates full of vinyl records just might be hiding a treasure. Even if you don’t have one of the rarest records of all time, you could still make a handsome sum in the resale market. This Buckingham Nicks album (by the Fleetwood Mac members) recently sold for a rockin’ $149.99 on eBay.