how to price and sell damaged antiques

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Sometimes we get really cool vintage items and antiques that are in very poor condition and as a result have absolutely no collector value. Can we salvage anything from these broken and forgotten would-be treasures?

The average day in our life is finding something like this antique photo below. The person who gives it to us of course tells us it is “extremely valuable” – and yet, no antique dealer in their right mind would purchase for any significant amount due to its condition and the unknown origin of the item.

how to price and sell damaged antiques

While from the picture above it may not seem so bad, I assure you – this early 1900’s image is damaged beyond restoration.

There is significant mold and water damage to the back of the item and the wooden frame. It’s basically falling apart. The damage is far too severe.

I couldn’t even convince anyone to take it for free. After I offered it for free to a few antique collectors and dealers who decided to pass on it, I then offered it for free as a “Halloween Decoration”. No takers.

Apparently, not everyone I know has the same creative repurposing vision I do!

When you have damaged antiques or vintage items, you have very limited options:

Option #1: Repair/Remediate the Damage

In this case, I would say this item is long past the point of salvaging. While I could attempt to restore it to better condition, this is not possible when there is evident mold. Mold gets into everything and I DO NOT want that stuff near me or my family!

There are some magical ways to at least make sure it is no longer an environmental or health hazard, but the process is time consuming and risky – and often destroys any value the item would have had for a collector.

Option #2: Recycle/Trash

I don’t enjoy recycling or throwing away antiques or vintage items, but sometimes it’s the only choice, especially if something may have environmental or health hazards.

Thankfully, All is Not Lost: Here’s What to Do With Damaged Vintage Items and Antiques

Fortunately, thanks to technology, we can still preserve some of the historic quality and value in an item. This is why I decided it only made sense to start selling digital and print on demand images – especially for things like vintage paper ephemera, photographs and books, as they simply cannot withstand the test of time.

If you have vintage books or ephemera that are in poor quality but you hate to “lose”  – there are a lot of great options to still salvage some value.

Tomorrow, I’ll be professionally photographing this guy.

Well, not the actual guy in the photo, because judging from the age and materials of this photo, he’s long crossed over into the great unknown. But he does have an interesting story to tell, and there are many cool possibilities for digital art graphic designs and textures!

Then we will clean up his photo and restore it digitally to preserve for historical value and artistic creative purposes.

If you have old books or photographs or other vintage items and antiques which are damaged, consider snapping a photo or scanning them.

Here’s How to Photograph Your Damaged Photos and Antiques:

Step 1: Start With a High Quality Camera

Unless you are simply snapping a photo to be reminded of what an item might have been or looked like, it’s best to use a high quality digital camera. When you are digitally preserving a piece of history or family memories, it is NOT the time or place for a smart phone photo!

We have both the Canon Rebel t6i and the Canon 8ti, both of which are fantastic entry-level DSLR cameras. The photo quality is crisp, clear, and high resolution. Using high resolution for images is important, especially if you plan on printing the photos you take, whether for personal or professional use.

Step 2: Use Good Lighting

Lighting is the next most important thing for taking good photos of the items which you wish to digitally preserve.

Indirect daylight is the best option, as it will reduce the likelihood of glare and shadows on the image. Outdoors is the best place to photograph anything, but if being indoors is required, try to photograph directly next to a window or door in a room with plenty of natural light.

If necessary, you can also always supplement natural lighting with a few well placed lamps.

Step 3: Composition is Key

Your photographs will turn out better if you have a good view of the subject and an uncluttered background. If you are photographing an item on the floor, you may need to actually get on the floor with it to get the best angle possible.

You will also want to use a tripod when photographing, as this reduces the chances of your photos to turn out blurry. If your tripod is a bit wobbly, consider connecting your camera to an app or other wireless trigger option to snap the photos without disturbing the camera.

A light box kit may also be helpful for you when photographing your subjects. I love my ShotBox, which is an all-in-one lighting and light box kit to help you get the right kind of lighting and environment you need for photographing your items.

If you are working with paper ephemera, photographs, or book pages, you may wish instead to use a scanner.

We May Not Be Able to Keep Everything, But You Can Preserve Stories & Memories

While it can be sad to see beautiful items in decay and disrepair with no hope for restoration, it is uplifting to know you can always preserve the stories and memories that an item may have.

If you have fragile antiques and vintage items, it is useful to preserve them digitally even if you have no intentions of using the digital files for art or digital reproductions.

It’s all too easy for items to become damaged while stored away in the attic, garage or basement – having a digital image of something is a great way to remember and preserve history should something happen.

It also makes it fun to share these photos with family and friends – you never know who might have some information to pass along about an item you’ve photographed!

It can be sad to see things damaged, but it’s always good to know that thanks to today’s technology we can still salvage some value from items that are destined to become one again with earth.

Have any tips for digital preservation or other ideas you’d like to share for how to reclaim damaged antiques and vintage items? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. always sell your broken antiques, especially to museums or other radical collectors (they know how to deal with them). most you can get is 1/4 the price, or, if the item is one of a kind, they will pay full price if they really want it. otherwise hold onto them until the right person sees them.

  2. I have a very rare set of bookends that sold on 1stdibs for 1850.00 l sent them pictures and they said they were very rare and they have not seen many of them. But mine has some damage so where do I go from here ?

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