Discovering the value of antiques, heirlooms in your home for yourself or collectors

By Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

Antique dealer Sam Pirrello at the East State Antique and Collectible Mall in Rockford shows vintage tableware, including Jade-ite dishes (foreground), vintage Pyrex Amish Butterprint mixing bowls (center) and Mid-Century Modern vintage aluminum barware (back upper right). (Photo by Lynne Conner)

Whether moving, downsizing, or deep cleaning your house this spring, finding hidden treasures at home starts by discovering the value of your heirlooms.

According to Sam Pirrello, a Rockford-area antique dealer with over 50 years of experience, certain vintage housewares and furniture are hot ticket items among collectors.

“Glassware, pottery and barware from the Mid-century Modern (MCM) era (1945-70) Mission or Arts and Crafts style can be worth money if they are in good shape,” Pirrello said. “Blenko and Pilgrim glass from West Virginia is highly collectible, as are vintage Pyrex, and Fire King Jade-ite. The MCM look is very simple and encompasses sleek designs.

“Vintage Pyrex is and continues to be a popular item today, and there are many rare patterns desirable among collectors,” he added.

Pirrello notes that Pyrex patterns like the Cinderella-style mixing bowls in Turquoise Diamonds, Snowflake, Amish Butterprint, and Hot Air Balloons are the most valuable vintage patterns, while the worth of vintage Fire King varies widely depending on the pattern’s age, condition, and rarity.

Vintage pottery, Pirrello said, is another collectible style of dinnerware.

“California pottery has to have that mid-century appearance of the 1950s and 1960s to interest collectors. It’s still affordable; people buy it for the look, and there are some rare patterns that aficionados seek.”

Los Angeles Potteries and Metlox Manufacturing Company are two California pottery companies whose pieces are now highly collectible.

MCM barware, including cocktail shakers, stainless steel pieces, glasses in chrome caddies, and drinkware with silver and gold designs, appeals to young collectors.

“Young people buy these items for the look and their home bars,” Pirrello said. They don’t sell for big money, but they have a niche, and MCM barware gives a cool vibe when you’re entertaining guests.”

Antique dishes, bone china, silverplate and sterling silver tableware do not appeal to collectors or young consumers due to the maintenance these items require.

“The vast majority of glassware and china made before 1920 or 1930 is not interesting to young people because they don’t want to spend time polishing silver and prefer dishwasher and microwave-safe dinnerware.” Pirrello said.

When it comes to vintage or antique furniture, two vastly different styles, rustic and MCM, are currently most popular among collectors.

“Antique hunters today are looking for primitive furniture, beat-up, weathered, painted pieces that you might find sitting in an old barn,” he said.

Pirrello notes another current furniture trend is to paint, partially sand, and distress a previously refinished piece of antique furniture to create a shabby chic look.

“People buy furniture from the 1940s and beyond for the look,” Pirrello said. “They like the simple MCM designs, solid wood construction and minimal ornamentation because these pieces are classic and fit well with other elements in the room.”

Pirrello makes an interesting point about antique desks:

“With the advent of laptop computers, cell phones, texts, and emails, the popularity of antique desks has diminished. Those old secretary, drop-down, or roll-top desks aren’t practical because people want a flat surface for their computers. People aren’t writing letters like they used to, so the appeal of enclosed desks with multiple cubbies is a thing of the past.”

Figurines and Beanie Babies are finding an icy market among today’s collectors.

“Precious Moments figurines and Beanie Babies were somewhat of a fad, and that fad has gone away,” Pirrello said. “The original Hummels made by the nuns that are early and authentic with the correct markings are still valuable, but I wouldn’t buy reproduction Hummels at any price.”

Personal collectible items like vintage cigarette lighters, brooches, military, campaign and mother-of-pearl buttons are hot commodities with today’s collectors.

“Intricately shaped sewing buttons, enamel flower brooches from the 1960s, and rhinestone brooches from the 40s and 50s are trendy accessories for women’s clothing,” Pirrello said. “Androck Bakelite kitchen utensils made in Rockford from the 1920s to the early 1970s and Bakelite women’s brooches are coveted items among collectors.”

Finding the value of your vintage and antique heirlooms can be accomplished in several ways.

“Searching eBay for the sold price of an antique item you own is a good way to discover its worth. Businesses specializing in antique appraisals can also help determine an item’s worth,” he said.

For more information on antique valuation, contact Pirrello at