Inheriting a houseful of items usually comes at the end of a long and emotional journey. In these moments, the treasures passed down to us take on a whole new meaning and value.
Sadly though, many things we inherit have limited resale value. In my 20-year career as a professional reseller, I’ve seen people struggle to let go of items for a tiny fraction of what they were once worth.
Still, having a clear view of the resale market can make liquidating an estate easier. It helps set expectations and allows friends and family to focus on high-demand, high-worth pieces.
With that in mind (and with the understanding that every market is different), here are some commonly inherited items worth almost nothing.
1. Silver-plated flatware
Though beautiful, silver-plated flatware sets are a tough sell. Buyers don’t want to spend time polishing the silver before and after large family meals.
Individual forks and spoons usually sell for a dollar or two in antique shops. Primary buyers for these pieces are jewelry makers and crafters who turn the ornate handles into cuff bracelets, rings and keychains.
Pro tip: Look up how to distinguish silver plate from sterling silver. Sterling has a market all its own, and full flatware sets contain enough silver to be valuable by weight alone.
2. Large pieces of furniture
In the estate liquidation business, wooden hutches, sideboards and formal dining room sets are collectively referred to as “big browns.” Notoriously difficult to sell, these large pieces can linger for years in consignment stores.
More mobile than previous generations, young buyers simply don’t want hulking pieces of furniture. Instead, they favor small-scale furnishings that are easy to move and multifunctional.
But sellers, take heart! Antique wardrobes are one important exception to this rule. Wardrobes are popular among apartment and condo dwellers with limited closet space. Other buyers repurpose them as entertainment and gaming centers.
3. Formal sets of china
Lifestyles change. Though it may be tough to admit, there’s a very limited market for grandma’s prized wedding china.
Today’s homeowner doesn’t entertain the same way our parents and grandparents did. Gatherings tend to be smaller and less formal. As a result, a single set of neutral dinnerware is preferred over five-piece place settings with a matching gravy boat and teapot.
4. Mass-produced collectibles
Items made to be collectible seldom hold their value over the long term. Tastes change, collectors die and hot markets cool off. Here are some of the most common collectibles that are worth almost nothing today:
- Souvenir thimbles
- Souvenir miniature spoons
- Commemorative plates
- Beanie Babies
- Hummel figurines
- Precious Moments figurines
- Longaberger baskets
5. Avon perfume bottles
While technically a collectible, vintage Avon bottles deserve a category all their own. The sheer volume of figural cologne bottles sold by the company means that most households have at least a few laying around.
But the market stinks (pun intended) for vintage Avon. With the exception of its 32-piece chess set (which can sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay), the majority of Avon bottles aren’t worth anything.
6. Many types of crystal
A quick review of completed eBay listings shows that most lead crystal just doesn’t sell. Blame it on a shift in taste and lifestyle. Like silver, crystal requires hand-washing and meticulous cleaning to keep pieces looking their best.
But before you donate your grandparents’ prized crystal collection, check the labels. Crystal pieces by these makers are bucking the trend and selling well:
- Kosta Boda
7. Most books
At the last estate sale I attended, books were priced at $2 per box (and the boxes were big). Expect to get similar prices for inherited books unless they fall into one of these categories:
- First edition: Depending on the popularity of the book and author, first-printings may be more valuable. Unsure about a book? Here’s how to identify a first edition.
- Author-signed: Again, depending on the popularity of the book, signed copies may carry more value.
- Decorative: Leather-bound and antique books with decorative covers sell well. Homeowners and interior designers use them as accent pieces.
8. Contemporary holiday decorations
Although the price of new holiday decorations goes up every year, the market is miserly for used items. Expect to sell inherited artificial trees, ornaments and yard decor pieces for slightly more than a lump of coal.
One bright spot: There’s a strong collectors’ market for antique Christmas and Halloween items. In 2020, I bought an old papier-mache Halloween lantern for $9. Within days, I sold it to a collector for $235.
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