Thrift shops, flea markets, yard sales and antique stores are treasure chests for vintage and antique items worth more than their price tags suggest. And it's not as hard as you think to authenticate them yourself. But not everything from a bygone era is worth a pretty penny; in fact, some once-popular secondhand scores are losing value.
Ahead, design experts share eight once-popular items that are plunging in value along with some intel into why. Think of this as a bad news, good news situation. The bad: If you invested in, or inherited, one of these, now is NOT the time to sell. The good: If you just love the look of an item below, there's never been a better moment to snag one!
The Linen Press, or what's commonly thought of as an armoire, was a staple in homes during the 1600s-1800s, says Will Hunt Lewis, owner of Hunt & Bloom, an online vintage and antique shop with a showroom in Houston. These oak, pine, or walnut pieces were made exclusively to store table and bed linens. Some were constructed with simple, streamlined designs in oak, walnut, and pine if their use was strictly utilitarian, Lewis says. Others were fashioned with more ornamentation and inlays.
"The need for these pieces began to wane in the 1900s as more built-in cabinetry, millwork and built-in closets became commonplace in the home," Lewis says. But, they made a comeback in the 20th century when people were looking for visually appealing ways to store electronics within the home—a more attractive "entertainment center." Many were retrofitted with openings in the rear to allow cords to pass through for televisions and stereos, he says.
"This demand increased their value and at their peak, these pieces were selling for thousands of dollars," he explains. Then, along came the flat-screen televisions mounted to walls and the demand for the linen press once again diminished. These days, it's easy to find a linen press for just a few hundred dollars, Lewis says. And if you do, and you love it, buy it! "I still love a beautiful linen press and think they will always have a place in the home to tuck away clothes, dishes, or, just as they were intended centuries ago, linens," Hunt says.
With the rise of smartphones and other forms of technology that make it easy for us to stay up to the minute ("Alexa, what time is it?"), the demand for antique and vintage mantel clocks has dramatically fallen, says Lewis. Even in the last 25 years, these intricately-made antique and vintage timepieces from makers like William Gilbert, Junghans, and Sessions could demand upwards of $1,000 as they were still en vogue in homes, he says. Now, "Many of these once sought-after styles are selling in the market for less than a hundred dollars.”
They're undeniably lovely, but porcelain trinket boxes and dinnerware sets aren't fetching as much as they once did. As entertainment needs have changed and some of us are living in smaller spaces, many don't have interest in large tureens or traditionally decorated complex serving sets, says Jarret Yoshida, an interior designer in Brooklyn, New York. But, he says, even as prices continue to drop, experts consider hand painted Limoges porcelain—which was popular among royal families and produced in Limoges, France, a UNESCO Creative City—to be of good value because of the high level of draftsmanship and craft. Yoshida says he likes to use these kinds of dishes to decorate clients’ walls, and that's more affordable now than ever. Recently on an online antique marketplace, a 10-piece set from around 1960 is listed for $515, but a decade ago would have retailed for more than double, Yoshida points out.
American Empire Wood Tables
Popular in the early 19th century, American Empire furniture isn't as ornate as France's iteration, which was popular during Napoleon's reign, according to the Hill–Stead Museum in Connecticut. American Empire is characterized by simple curves of dark wood and veneers such as mahogany. It also has some playful designs, including animal-like claw or paw feet and decorated with gilded bronze designs. A shining example is the Red Room at The White House, which preserves the American Empire style from the John F. Kennedy administration, with decorative, gilded bronze hardware that features designs such as dolphins, acanthus leaves, lion's heads, and sphinxes.
For some reason, though, American Empire furniture continues to lose value, even as its emblematic characteristics of solid heft and deep color make a comeback in contemporary furniture, Yoshida says. He theorizes that it's likely American Empire fell out of fashion, particularly with Baby Boomers, because it represented a heavy tradition-burdened style belonging to their parents. Mid-century and other more modern manufactured furniture styles became the light, new alternative antidote.
Solid wood tables from the American Empire era could fetch around $5,000 two decades ago and now, even with inflation, are worth less, he says. Which means it's a buyer's market for fans like Yoshida. "Since I design with multiple styles and periods in nearly all of my work, I do feel like this neglected style is long overdue for a renaissance," he says.
Since most people no longer have music parlors or formal drawing rooms in their homes, pianos are becoming less popular, Willow Wright, owner of Urban Redeux Vintage in Alexandria, Virginia. They are expensive to move and have tuned, and they also take up a considerable amount of space. She often sees them listed as free, or priced super low, so long as someone is available to pick them up. (Fancy the player piano above? It can be yours for a dollar, plus free local pickup.) Oftentimes, pianos are conveyed (or transferred in ownership) when a home sells, Wright says.
Wooden Dining Sets for Eight
Big and bulky, the dark wood dining room set that seats eight and is encircled with floral and beige upholstered chairs has fallen out of favor. They don’t fit well into a minimal aesthetic, says Mariya Snisar, the Head of Interior Design at Renowell, and they often look outdated, even in vintage interiors. Because of this, you can find antique dining room sets in the $3,000 to $7,000 range, compared to $20,000 in decades past.
Designed by Eero Saarinen, Tulip Tables were highly sought after mid-century modern designs, and they still are to some extent. However, the high demand for the originals has diminished with so many replicas now available, says interior designer Jenny Kozena.
Resale for the low-slung Kangaroo Chair (Pierre Jeanneret) and the throne-like Peacock Chair (Hans Wegner) have also decreased due to a market saturated with replicas, she says. But, it's hard to find the same level of craftsmanship with mass-produced replicas in these tables and chairs, she says. If you see an original, spring for it rather than a low-cost dupe.
"You can see meticulous attention to detail and quality in original pieces," she says. "Technology has helped manufacturers accurately reproduce the form and create highly accurate replicas that closely resemble the originals. Still, in many cases, the replicas tend to use lower-cost material substitutions."
Antique China cabinets are losing value because they no longer have a practical place in more contemporary homes, says Kozena. "With open-concept living spaces and minimalist aesthetics gaining popularity, the need for large, ornate China cabinets has gone down significantly," she says.
For similar reasons, she says, antique roll-top desks and Victorian tea sets are also declining in value and popularity.
Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter (The Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera) turned freelance writer. Before she struck out on her own, she covered just about every beat—from higher education to crime. Now she writes about food, cocktails, travel, and lifestyle topics for Men’s Journal, House Beautiful, Forbes, Simplemost, Shondaland, Livability, Hearst newspapers, TripSavvy and more. In her free time, she coaches basketball, crashes pools, and loves hanging out with her rude-but-adorable Boston Terrier that never got the memo the breed is nicknamed "America’s gentleman."