Successful Antiques Collecting
(Is it Wise to Purchase Damaged Antiques & Collectibles?)

by Mark A. Roeder
Volume 27 No. 2 - Sept/Oct/Nov 2000

Is it wise to purchase damaged antiques and collectibles? From an investing standpoint, the answer is certainly no. If one of the main concerns in an antique purchase is how much it will appreciate in value, or how much profit can be realized from the investment, then purchasing a damaged antique is clearly not the way to go. Damaged pieces are certainly easier on the bank account than items in excellent condition. They often look just as appealing (if the damage can be hidden). Such pieces may even seem like bargains. From an investment standpoint, they are not a wise idea, however.

Why aren't such pieces a wise investment? There are two main points that make it wise to purchase items in excellent condition. First, damaged antiques and collectibles do not generally appreciate in value as fast as undamaged pieces. A few years ago, I purchased two green Depression glass round grill plates in the Parrot pattern. One was in mint condition, one had a serious, and yet hard to detect, crack. I paid $20.00 for the mint condition plate, $7.00 for the damaged one. At the time the mint plate was valued at $25.00; the damaged plate at maybe $10. In the latest edition of the Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass by Gene Florence. the mint condition plate is valued at $32. The damaged plate is still worth about $10. While the value of the mint condition piece has increased by about 25% in a relatively short period of time, the value of the damaged piece is about the same. When a piece is damaged, it is placed in an entirely different category. My damaged plate isn't as much a Parrot pattern plate, as it is a broken plate.

The second point is just as important as the first. Damaged antiques and collectibles are harder to sell than pieces in excellent condition. Even though the prices may be much lower, the demand is far lower as well. A piece of china or glass that is cracked will always be cracked. Any collector buying such a piece knows that. A pressed back chair with a busted seat will have to be repaired before being put into service. It is often difficult to find someone to do the repair and the cost can put the final price above what a chair in excellent condition would cost.

Damaged antiques just aren't as appealing. Would you rather have a Victrola that works or one that no longer functions? The answer is clear. Many damaged pieces can't be repaired. Repair costs of those that can be repaired often raise the price beyond what an undamaged piece would cost. Even after a repair is made, it may be noticeable. In such a case, part of the antique really isn't antique at all. This fact lessens the appeal. For those who can do repairs themselves, the cost factor is at least partially negated. Overall, however, damaged pieces are not a wise investment.

Profit and investment are not the only considerations, however. We've examined why damaged pieces are not a wise idea; now let's examine why they are. Some antiques and collectibles are so exorbitant in price that an example in excellent condition is just plain out of reach. However collector might be able to afford the same piece with a little damage. Not all damage is glaring; some cracks and chips are barely noticeable. A cracked pitcher or cookie jar may look every bit as good as one in mint condition, if displayed properly. Such a piece is damaged, but that doesn't alter the fact that it is antique. Its just as old, just as beautiful, and just as nostalgic as the same piece in mint condition. True, it may never appreciate in value, but if that doesn't bother you, then who cares?

Some antiques and collectibles are extremely hard to find. I've purchased a few slightly damaged pieces because those pieces were not an option; they just weren't available. When a highly desired object is so hard to find, a damaged piece can fill in nicely. Look at it this way, even museums have damaged items on display. Sometimes, damage is preferable over mint condition. I have a brown, three-quart pitcher made by Uhi. It's chipped and cracked and I wouldn't trade it for one in mint condition. The pitcher was purchased by my mother at auction years ago. We used it as a tea pitcher all the years I was growing up. The memories attached to that old pitcher make it far more valuable to me than any other. It even looks as good as a mint condition pitcher would on display. In cases such as this, the damage is a record of times past. It's evidence that the piece was used. The damage is a part of the piece.

Damaged pieces are also a wise purchase when one intends to actually use them. In my kitchen I have two pieces of green DG in the "Princess" pattern, a cookie jar and a candy jar. Both pieces are chipped. I purchased the cookie jar for about $16, the candy jar for $2. The same pieces in mint condition would have cost around $80 each. I bought these pieces not to display, but to use. I know that during normal use in my house, both these pieces will be chipped. Why spend the money on mint condition pieces when I know they will be damaged?

A cookie jar purchased for $60, then chipped, is not a good investment. Its far wiser to purchase a damaged piece. A little more damage isn't going to hurt it all that much. If I drop my candy or cookie jar on the floor, I haven't lost nearly as much. Neither of these pieces will appreciate in value much over the years, but that's not the point. I want to use them. In this case, damaged pieces were a wise purchase. We all have a duty to preserve antiques for the future. Actually using a mint piece can deny collectors the pleasure of that item in the future. A damaged piece is the way to go when putting it to work.

Is it wise to purchase damaged antiques and collectibles? The answer can be either yes or no, depending on the situation, the intended use, and the goal.