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 barely-used O'Keefe-Merritt might be offered for free by someone just wanting to clear out and unload their folks' home as soon as possible, while in another ad someone's pricing a Wedgewood in the upper stratosphere, mindless that while beautiful on the outside, 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 attractive as the business end of a garbage truck.
In California, where vintage ranges have been "hot" for decades, asking prices for certain desirable brands like Western Holly in used condition might be equal in price to a Chicago W/H that's been fully restored. Regarding color, someone looking for a red Chambers for their newly remodeled, surgical white subway-tiled kitchen won't look twice at the rare example in green. 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.
Now let's talk about safety and function affecting value.
If, as a buyer, you expect a used-condition retro range to be in "plug and play" condition, PLEASE think again. Wouldn't you hesitate to pay cash for, then drive away a 50 year old car just because the owner says it drives great? A test drive might show that it goes and stops, but wouldn't you want your mechanic to see what's going on with the brakes, engine and transmission? So why even consider buying a 50 year old stove and firing it up in your house without doing due diligence? While it might seem to be much simpler and safer than a car, just the oven's thermostat has multiple functions that NEED to be assessed because they are commonly out of whack after a half a century! Just because the current owner bakes a loaf of bread every day does NOT mean that the thermostat is working safely or that the standing pilot of the match-lit oven is even lighting. These problems affect both the safety and efficiency of the stove.
Let's say the eBay listing shows a big, beautiful, baby blue Chambers. Nice and clean, not a single ding on the porcelain. Plus, the owner says it's still hooked up and "currently working!". But no matter how alluring it might look, "currently working" is a subjective term based on the imperfect perceptions and knowledge of both the seller and you. Recent, real story: The buyer and his son had just towed their trailer 4 hours to pick up the above described blue Chambers. Buyer had arranged for RS&GW to meet him to safely move the stove from the house to the trailer. However, on first sight of the stove, we noticed a problem that would require a huge dismantling in order to repair or possibly replace the broiler. Yes, an issue the buyer couldn't see and the seller honestly had no idea about could cost between $500 to $1,500 to fix. Talk about awkward! We HAD to tell both the buyer and seller, and you can bet that neither appreciated the news (the buyer had to pay us for our time and drive home with an empty trailer. The seller lost the sale). The lesson? 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 50-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. You might actually have fun if it only takes 4 hours to tweak your newly acquired, pristine Magic Chef into safe and sanitary condition. But a grungy, abused 1958 Roper? Believe me, the glamor will wear off way before any real headway's been made on 5 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.
At the very least, resolve to look at a few stoves and have a thorough look at each one to get a sense of the condition they 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.