Crystal decanters for storing alcohol have been used for decoration and function in the American home for over a hundred years. Collectible decanters can be old or new, as age is not a requirement for appeal or value. Identification of the maker and age of a crystal decanter will help determine the value, but other factors are equally important. Condition is a key element in determining value.
Determine the maker to help with valuation of lead crystal. Many decanters still have the foil label, and others are marked on the bottom with an acid etch identifier or a stylus. Lay the decanter on the side between two books so it will not roll, with the base facing the light. Use a magnifying glass to scan the entire base for a maker's mark, with special attention to the center and along the edge. Use a loupe to check closer, and look across the flat surface of the bottom. If you find a mark, write it down or copy the logo for reference and attempt to match it in a standard reference guide such as "Glass Signatures Trademarks and Trade Names" by Anne Geffken Pullin.
Look at the condition to help determine value. New in the box is more valuable than well used. Check for damage, particularly around the lip and base. Cut glass often has chips on the facets that show with the magnifying glass or loupe, and these devalue a crystal decanter. Look for cloudiness and rings inside a crystal bottle, and clean any residue or removable dust. Engraving may also devalue barware, especially if the name or initials are uncommon.
Check for quality, rarity and artistic merit. Hand-blown decanters have a pontil mark on the bottom or a hand-cut lip; fewer of these made than factory products. Glass with manufacturing flaws might be factory seconds or not the retail line. Seconds have flaws, but the flaws are not so serious that the items are discarded. Some of these were sold at outlet stores, some identifiable with an "X" over the etched maker's mark. Unusual pieces and shapes are more valuable than common ones.
Realize the value of crystal decanters has gone down in recent years. Demand and the economy control value, but decanters have another factor: a potential health risk caused by the release of lead into the liquid. Manufacturers responded to the claims and decreased maximum lead oxide content in crystal from 32 percent to 24 percent, "The Washington Post" reported in 2006. Steuben suspended production of crystal decanters after the initial reports, according to a "New York Times" article from 1991. The crystal makers changed the formula, but wary collectors have kept values of lead crystal decanters low.
Consider maker, condition, quality, rarity and artistic merit to value a crystal decanter, and compare the decanter with others with similar qualities. Review current prices for new decanters and arrive at a value.
Things You'll Need:
- Magnifying glass
- "Glass Signatures Trademarks and Trade Names"; Anne Geffken Pullin; 1986
- Neiman Marcus: Catalog: New Decanters
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.