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Vintage valuables

Vintage staples making a comeback

Have you ever been ribbed by your loved ones for your ‘old school’ furniture or fashion? Well, get ready to have the last laugh, as it turns out that countless forgotten, ignored or even derided items are now very much back on-trend. We spoke to Antiques expert Mark Hill for his perspective on the most sought-after collectors' items, and which rarities might prove popular in the future. Here's a taste of some of Mark's insights:

  • The 80s is back. Nintendo consoles, Star Wars toys and Vivienne Westwood punk clothing are among the most sought-after collector trends.
  • Costume jewellery “looks set to remain hotly desirable”. Check the back of the wardrobe for 1930s (and onwards) names such as Miriam Haskell, Trifari, Dior, Chanel, Kenneth J Lane, Coppola e Topo, Gripoix, Stanley Hagler and Joseff of Hollywood.
  • Items with “positive environmental aspects” (such as recycling and upcycling potential) will be among those with the “largest rise in desirability and value”.
  • Chinese porcelain and tribal art are increasingly in-demand, and “as diversity grows and is embraced in the UK, the work of women artists and designers and ethnic minorities will (rightly) grow in desirability”.
  • “Prices are rising” for studio pottery and glass. Keep an eye out for studio ceramics by Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper, while Sam Herman glass is increasingly prized.

As we will explore, investing in items and objects – even those that seem unfashionable at first – can pay off handsomely in the end.

They say if you wait for long enough, everything comes back into fashion. But what types of valuable and vintage items are worth the most today? In no particular order, below are some of the items that Mark suggests are highly prized.

Top 10 valuable vintage items

Mechanical wristwatches gears

Mechanical wristwatches

Ring in box

Fine jewellery

Paintings

Paintings (late 19th Century Impressionism onwards)

whiskey glass and bottle

Wine and whiskey

Classic car

Classic cars

Chairs

Mid-century modern furniture

Antique pottery

Ancient antiquities

Crown

Items linked to key events, moments or people in history

Antique furniture

Traditional antique furniture by top designers

Asian ceramic

Asian ceramics and works of art (such as Chinese porcelain)

10 hidden gems

Not everyone has a Mona Lisa hidden under their mattress, so we wanted to find out which commonplace items could be worth more than people think. Got any of these in the back of the shed?

Costume jewellery

Costume jewellery

Medals

Medals

Coins

Coins

Stacked books

First edition books

Comic books

Comic books

Map

Maps

Modern art

Modern art

Glass vases

Glass

Ceramics

Ceramics

Tribal art

Tribal art

Home comforts

If you've not replaced your furniture since The Beatles topped the charts, you could very well be sitting in a mid-century goldmine. In post-war Britain, G Plan and Ercol homeware may have seemed unremarkable to their owners at the time, but according to Mark, “these are often still being actively used by this age group who are unaware that there is a strong demand for them and they can have values of a couple of hundred pounds upwards“.

The generation game

But why have these items – once considered ordinary – suddenly become so popular? It seems that time is a great healer when it comes to reassessing the worth of an object, and what was once considered bog-standard by one generation can seem extraordinary to their descendants.

“Many people furnishing their homes do not want what they grew up with”, Mark explains, “but what granny had is cool.”

As Mark suggests, fashion tastes may have a habit of skipping a generation. If we're putting a number on it, there is even a theory called Laver's Law – named after fashion historian James Laver – which claims that a trend does not become fashionable until 50 years after it first bursts onto the scene.

Do you own any minimalist modern furniture that's been gathering dust since 1972? Mark recommends looking out for trademarks like Merrow Associates, Archie Shine and the Alchimia and Memphis designers.

The 80s revival

Chairs

Mid–century modern furniture

Luxury wristwatch

Luxury wristwatches

Department store furniture

Department store furniture

Gameboy or Nintendo devices

Gameboy or Nintendo devices

Star Wars toys

Star Wars toys

80s designer punk clothing

80s designer punk clothing

Modern art

Post–war Murano and Czech glass

These days, even the 1980s feels ‘vintage’. Hit shows like Stranger Things, and a new generation discovering musical trends – from Madonna to ‘Madchester’ – means the younger generations often view the '80s through rose-tinted aviators.

“To some, pieces from the 1980s (a growth area for the immediate future) appear almost to date from ‘yesterday’ and are thus unappealing, and to others (primarily a much younger demographic) they are fashionable vintage,” Mark explains.

But it's not just young people's curiosity for a bygone age that drives interest in the 1980s. Many collectors associate the period with their childhood or adolescence. According to Mark, collectors in their 20s to 40s “nostalgically remember early computer games – for example, the unopened Super Mario Bros 64 game that sold for over $1.5m at auction – and Star Wars figures or Pokémon cards as that is what they played with as children or young adults”.

What makes something valuable?

Before you rummage through the cellar looking for valuables, is there a magic formula that determines how much an item might fetch?

“It's a combination of condition, age, rarity and desirability,” Mark says. But there are caveats. For example, “a Roman glass perfume oil bottle (unguentarium) that is thousands of years old can be bought for around £70 or less, whilst some pieces like a Murano glass vase from the 1970s can be worth many thousands of pounds”.

Changing fashion tastes can be hard to predict, and unforeseen local or global events can have an impact on supply and demand. Or as Mark explains: “In times of economic or social unrest, portable items that have an intrinsic value and demand across the world often rise in desirability and value – so gold, silver [and] gemstones such as diamonds.”

How much?!

Don't just take Mark's word for it – finding a vintage collectible down the back of the sofa can be worth its weight in gold. In fact:

  • The world's most expensive watch is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime reference 6300A , which fetched $31m (£23.7m) at auction in 2019.
  • A comic book featuring the first ever appearance of Spider-Man, titled ‘Amazing Fantasy #15’ sold for $3.6m (£2.75m) in 2021, making it the most expensive comic book ever sold.
  • Are you sitting comfortably? The most expensive chair ever sold is the “Dragons” armchair by modernist designer Eileen Gray, which sold for a jaw-dropping $28.3m (£21.65m) in 2009.

Less is more

Size matters – and gone are the days of filling a car boot with endless bric-a-brac. Whether it's due to passing fashion trends, or the changes to our living situations and priorities since COVID-19, it seems that our collecting habits are becoming more minimalist.

“To many of today's new ‘collectors’, a huge collection is not necessary,” says Mark. “It's more about lifestyle collecting, where three to five items is quite enough… Fewer collectors appear to be amassing huge collections of one type of item or items based on a theme, than before.”

The future of collecting

While no collector has a crystal ball, there are underlying trends that Mark suggests will shape the value of certain items in the future.

Perhaps more than anything, environmental concerns have the potential to transform our relationship with treasured possessions.

For example, Mark notes that “low to middle end traditional antique ‘brown furniture’ has suffered greatly in value over the past few decades, but is making a slow return to popularity due to environmental reasons“, such as the growing popularity of recycling and upcycling.

While nothing is certain, here are some of Mark's predictions on the types of items that will prove desirable in the future:

environment logo

Pieces with a positive environmental aspect

Visual style logo

Items that have “great visual appeal in terms of style”

quality items logo

Good quality items, rather than a “homogenised” look

movements logo

Items from the 1980s – “specifically Postmodernism and related style movements”

home lifestyle logo

Items that can be “integrated into today's and tomorrow's homes and lifestyles”

Some things never change

While fashion trends come and go, investing in quality can pay dividends in the long run. Among other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that our homes are indispensable places where we spend much of our time. In a world of disposable spending, it's tempting to up sticks and move to a shiny new building every few years, but equally, staying put in a beloved home means being surrounded by our treasured possessions, adornments and memories. If that sounds like you, explore your options with Saga Equity Release.

And remember, the next time you're doing a clear-out, are those unloved boxes in the basement hiding a crock of gold?

Saga partnered with antiques and collectible expert Mark Hill in April 2022 to gather findings.

There are several factors that are considered when establishing the value of antique or vintage pieces. The information regarding values provided are examples only. If you are lucky enough to have one of the items discussed in this article at home, we’d always recommend taking it to be valued by a professional.