The scenario plays out every week on Antiques Roadshow: people bring in things that have been gathering dust in their attics for years only to discover that they have a valuable heirloom. If you can't go to the Roadshow, however, how can you find out if you have something priceless sitting in your house? A little research can go a long way to find out the value of the things you own.
Gather information about your piece. Find out everything you can about your item. Look for a maker's mark. Hunt down any paperwork that came with the piece. If you inherited the object, question the person from whom you received it about its background. Any details you can discover will help you in your efforts to research the piece and determine its value.
Check out reference books. Head to your local book shop or library to peruse collectors' manuals. There are specialised guides on almost every type of collectable. Also, there are more general guides that give an overview of a lot of different objects and their value. The most well known of these general guides is Kovels Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, which is updated yearly. There is also a Kovels' online guide of the website. Membership is free and the site offers you access to the value of hundreds of collectibles.
Look at what is selling online. If an object is worth something, there is probably somebody selling it on eBay. A quick search of the auction site will show what pieces are currently up for auction. If you register on the website, you will also have access to the records of completed auctions. This will show you what prices were realised by different collectibles.
Explore antiques and collectibles shops. Whether you decide to hit your local brick-and-mortar shops or to explore online sites, looking through antiques and collectibles inventories will help you to see what is selling and for how much. Some examples of Internet stores that have sizeable and varied selections include Trocadero, Ruby Lane, and Go Antiques.
Get an appraisal. A professional appraiser will be able to tell you the value of your piece. The International Society of Appraisers is a good source for finding a qualified appraiser for your particular piece.
For most pieces, the value is determined by the rarity and the condition. If an item was mass produced, even if it has been billed as a collectable, it will be worth less than something that was produced in small quantities. Condition is also important. For most items, any imperfections will lessen the value.