10 Hidden Treasures to Look for at Estate Sales

long island home hanging pots and straw hat on chair
Photo: William Abranowicz

Those houses full of collectibles, fine china, jewelry, and stately pieces of furniture you see at estate sales? You'd be remiss to pass them by. See how you can transform these common finds into something pretty and practical.

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long island home hanging pots and straw hat on chair
William Abranowicz

You can find anything from outdoor furniture to laundry detergent at the average estate sale, but dig a little deeper you just might unearth the types of hidden treasures and antiques that could make a savvy buyer some serious cash. Items that the average person would sell for under twenty dollars could end up being worth hundreds or even thousands down the line.

It takes some knowledge and a keen eye to distinguish trash from treasure. Of course, not everyone will uncover a masterpiece worth thousands of dollars at an estate sale. However, before you get discouraged, you should know that hidden treasures pop up more often than you'd think. This antique card table was purchased second-hand for twenty-five dollars and ended up being worth over $200,000. And a battered Chinese statuette that sold for a hundred dollars was later auctioned off for $2.1 million. That should be incentive enough to play close attention to what's available when you're bargain shopping.

The first step is to give yourself the best chance of success. Arrive at a promising estate sale early. Some companies will put a sign-up sheet on the door the night before and let people in the sale in bunches. The higher up you are on the list, the better chance you'll have of finding a deal. Don't worry if you can't make it to the first day of an estate sale. Many companies will offer a discount like 50 percent off on the last day of the sale, and you could potentially score an even better deal than those who got their first. Sometimes, the items that competent antique dealers passed on turn out to be worth a fortune.

You might have to hunt and take a chance, but if you find one of the following items at an estate sale, it will have been worth the effort. Remember, when it comes to antiques, the thrill is in the hunt.

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Vintage Jewelry

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

It's hard to find fine jewelry—gold or silver—at an estate sale because those items tend to sell privately before the sale. However, there is a lot of vintage costume jewelry that can be worth some serious cash. Look for signed pieces and those that are made with quality materials like crystal and glass. The more unusual the item, the more it could be worth.

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Original Artwork

picture frame molding

Perhaps some of the most valuable items that pop up in garages and attics are famous pieces of art. You might not uncover a sketch by Pablo Picasso, but any original, signed piece of art is worth researching. Keep an eye out for oil paintings, advertising posters, and drawings.

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Rare Books

Bryan Gardner

Not all antique books are worth a lot of money, but some can be worth a fortune. Look out for leather bound books or books that are signed on the cover pages. First editions or limited editions tend to sell for good money as well.

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Old Toys

Anna Williams

Old vintage and antique toys are highly collectible and can be worth tons of money to the right buyer. These items tend to do well in online auctions when they can reach the right market. Sometimes old toys go unnoticed in an estate sale, so you have a chance of scoring a bargain. Research toys that are in good condition, made of metal and wood.

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Collectible Coins

coins being weighed on a scale

The coin market is hit or miss at times. So many people collect coins that you need to find examples in mint condition or unusual, rare coins where the condition doesn't matter as much. If you want to get into coin collecting, estate sales can be a great place to start a collection for less.

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Vinyl Records

vinyl record

The vinyl record market is back in full swing, and some musicians are putting out new albums on vinyl. With that said, it's still a very common item at estate sales. Most sell for one or two dollars, but there are those rare albums that could be worth thousands. Do a little research to see what is a hot item and then keep your eye out for these when you're shopping estate sales.

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Stylish Kitchenware

Paul Costello

Jadeite, Depression glass, and signed china are all examples of kitchenware that you can find at estate sales for less. These markets ebb and flow and the value is usually not extremely high. However, if you find that one rare mason jar or that Pyrex mixing bowl in an unusual color, you might have something you could turn for a profit.

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Antique Furniture

Painted Leaf-Applique Furniture Set
Marcus Smith

Furniture is hard for the average person to appraise, but it's not impossible. Look for indicators that the piece is handmade and old. You'll commonly find Victorian and mid-century furniture at estate sales that can be worth a few hundred dollars or more. The real value comes when you find that rare piece of signed mid-century furniture or wooden furniture from the Georgian era that's still in original condition.

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Sterling Silver


Whenever you see a piece of silver at an estate sale, check the bottom for a hallmark. Sterling silver has a base price depending on what the melt value is at the time. Beyond that, ancient pieces of silver have gone for thousands of dollars at auction. Once you learn how to read hallmarks, you'll have a good chance of scoring a piece of silver that’s worth more than its ticket price.

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Signed Dècor

mother of pearl collection
Yasu + Junko

Any antique that is signed tends to be worth more than unsigned items. Keep an eye out for common and uncommon signatures on glassware and lamps like Tiffany, Quezal, or Lalique. It might take a long time to familiarize yourself with specific manufacturers, but this knowledge is essential if you want to find hidden treasures.

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