How to Value: Metals and Brassware

Learn about how to value metals and brassware, with our ValueMyStuff valuations and appraisals experts. Discover what to look for and how it can impact value.

Metals & Brassware

Over the centuries, metals like brass, copper, pewter, iron, tin and bronze have been discovered and re-discovered for a great variety of uses and by many different stylistic movements. Desirable for many different reasons to many different collectors and buyers from the simplest American folk art to the most ornate bronze sculpture, many types of metalwork have highly valuable examples.

Valuing Metal Household Items

Age can prove a major element to the value of a metal piece as early metalwork, in particular brassware, is quite rare. Collectors value early brassware because it compliments period rooms, particularly featuring oak furniture. Early forms are also of interest to collectors, such as early turned candlesticks (later examples are cast in different sections). As you might expect, condition is particularly important to early metalwork; wear should be consistent with the age of the object and damage/repairs minimal. For example, an 18th century candlestick would need to show scratches in the drip-trays and a believable patina but would suffer from holes due to over-polishing or from solder-repairs.

On the other hand, unusual pieces or ones of particular quality can command high prices regardless of their age. The 19th century saw the mass production of most metal items in brass, pewter, iron and other materials; as a period, it is seen as less collectible than others. There are exceptions. Tin-plate wares, known as ‘toleware’ in the US, were typical of the period but have become emblematic of American folk art and so some examples are highly desirable to the US market. Pennsylvania tinplate, particularly with appropriate signs of age, can be very valuable.

In the 20th century, with the transformation of the use of metals in Art Nouveau and Art Deco, iconic style and prestigious makers determine the value of metalwork. Pieces typifying the work of a particular artist/maker like René Lalique or Georg Jensen or of a school such as Bauhaus are most desirable.

Valuing Metal Sculpture

In general, the same rules apply to valuing all modern metal sculpture whether it be in a Classical, Art Nouveau or Art Deco style. A maker’s mark can be important and particular makers will always sell well. Quality, however, always must accompany a mark; poor work that is signed is still poor work or worse, a fake. Marks are not always easy to identify as some pieces feature the marks of the founder for bronzes and many artists used a variety of signatures.

In terms of quality, form is central. Female figures, which tend to fetch the highest prices, should be well proportioned and anatomically detailed. Stylised Deco figures, often carrying out Jazz Age pursuits such as dancing sell well. Typical rules for metal objects apply when it comes to condition; silver plating should not be over-polished and painted surfaces should retain as much of their original colour as possible and bronzes should retain their patina.

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