How Much is a Used Condition Retro Stove Worth?

 

Practically every week, a different Chambers, Roper, Universal, Magic Chef, etc. appears in the Chicago area Craigslist or on eBay. Asking prices are all over the map, from $100 to $3,000 and up. These forgotten treasures are also easily found in Chicago-area garage and estate sales, having served as second use (or "Italian Kitchen") stoves in the basements or garages of pre-1970 homes. So, for a seller or buyer of a used condition vintage stove, what's it really worth?

Short answer: it all depends. Look at regional ads, determine your price, place or view ads with lots of photos, and don't be in a hurry. Don't price a used condition stove as if it were restored. Don't expect a half-century old retro stove to be in "plug and play" condition.

Long answer: Just like houses, the value of a stove depends on many combined factors, including region, condition, make, size, features, and age. Also affecting value is the knowledge and psychology of the seller and buyer. A never-used O'Keefe-Merritt will be offered for free by someone just wanting to unload their folks' home as soon as possible. A seller might price a Wedgewood in the upper range because it's beautiful on the outside, yet oblivious that inside it's disgustingly filthy or a skeleton of rust. A buyer pining for an avocado Chambers Model D just like the one owned by their sainted Auntie May will actually pay good money for a stove considered by sensible human beings as uglier than the business end of a garbage truck.

In California, where vintage ranges have been "hot" for decades, prices for certain desirable brands like Western Holly in used condition might be equal in price to a midwestern Western Holly that's been fully restored. Regarding color, someone looking for a white Chambers for their newly remodeled, surgical white subway-tiled kitchen won't look twice at the rare example in fire engine red. A big 40", double oven, 6-burner Roper is truly an impressive sight. That means nothing to the new owner of a Berwyn bungalow wanting to slap a retro-look range into a 30" space between vintage cabinets, currently occupied by a 10-year-old stainless steel Sears with a crashed motherboard. 

From experience as a restorer, we recommend sellers and buyers do regional research of stove prices. A seller should understand the stove's condition and accurately represent it in the ad with many detailed photos. Then, be patient: you are waiting for someone to come along who's looking for your particular stove.

If as a person-to-person buyer you expect a used-condition retro range to be in "plug and play" condition, you may want to reconsider. Vintage stoves require some time and effort to purchase and get up and running. Resolve to look at a few stoves and have a thorough look at each one to get a sense of the condition stoves can be in. Then, decide on your tolerance level for grunge, and on a figure that fits your "big picture" budget, including purchase, moving, cleaning, and repair.

Buyers should also understand that while a blue Chambers in an eBay listing might seem worth the $1,200 burning a hole in your pocket because it's big, beautiful, and - according to the seller - "currently working", "working is a subjective term based on the imperfect perceptions and knowledge of both you and the seller. Recent, real story: The buyer and his son had just towed their trailer 4 hours to pick up the blue Chambers. He had arranged for us to meet him to safely move the stove from the house to the trailer. On first sight, we noticed a $1,500 problem with the broiler. Yes, an issue the buyer couldn't see and the seller honestly had no idea about would cost $1,500 to fix. Talk about awkward! We HAD to tell the buyer, who asked for (and got) his check back, driving home with an empty trailer. Moral? Value is dependent on the buyer's desire and knowledge, as well as the seller's knowledge and honestly.

Finally, when considering the value of a 60-year-old stove even without any "deal killer" issues, know that it WILL need attention, and someone - either you or a profe$$ional - will need to put in the time and effort. It's actually fun when an un-restored Crown in great shape takes only 4 hours to tweak into working condition. But 20 hours to make a grungy Roper sanitary, safe, and easy to use? Believe me, the glamor will wear off way before any real headway's been made on a 6 decades' worth of dirt and grime. As for you romantics imagining the quick resurrection of a rusty old "diamond in the rough" mouldering in some dank cellar...Got 40-80 hours? Got the skills and tools to boot? When contemplating the price you are willing to pay for a stove, you must also consider your knowledge, your desire, and the total value of all it may take to bring it to the condition you imagine.

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