How to Identify & Value Antique Shovels (Expert Guide)

If you love collecting antique farm tools, trust me, there’s nothing more precious than an old shovel. Small or large, every old shovel is valuable because of its rare designs. And if it’s still usable, you can use it to increase your returns too!

But how do you know which shovels are antique and which are not? Well, you’ll obviously see some handwork and motifs. But if your shovel’s rusty, that might be difficult. So today, we’ll see some other useful features to identify and estimate your shovel’s worth!

Key Takeaways

  • Old shovels with t-handles, grooves, stems, and scoop blades are the most precious.
  • Always check if your shovel has any etched logos, rail marks, or patents on its handles. They will help you trace the age and brand.
  • Look for antique shovels with a one-piece, wood, brass, bronze, or iron blade for the best returns.
  • Try to get stamped railroad, military, and mining shovels for a good valuation. If not, you can get long, 40 – 50 inch shovels to get good returns.

What Features Make a Shovel Old & Antique?

Well, it’s not that any rusty cast iron shovel is antique. In fact, vintage lovers will value your shovel only if it’s about 100 years old. Plus, it must also have some visible wear and tear, a yellow patina, and some features as below:

  • Hand-carved handles and blades with sheet metal or iron cores
  • 30 – 40 inches long, straight handle with pointed, 6 – 10 inch blades
  • Folded seam or hem sockets at the base
  • T-piece handles with grooves or punctures for grip
  • Small cast iron kick plate or stem at the topmost corner

Origin of Antique Shovels

Basically, shovels aren’t a new invention. They have been there since the Neolithic age! And at that time, people made them from sticks, stones, and shells. So, they had no concrete design! Plus, they weighed about 6 – 7 lbs! So, people were literally tired of using them.

It was in the 1700s that designers had a solution! They started using hollow, softwood for the handles and hammered the blades. So, the shovel’s weight was reduced by 2 – 3 lbs. Later, they also added D-handles and seams for grip.

Fancy, decorated shovels were a trend in the 1800s. That’s because there were different shovel brands, each using gold and silver designs. So, most of these branded shovels are rare, costing $200 – 600 today.

However, during the 1900s Economic Depression, people had no money. So, shovel makers moved back to minimal forms with low metal and steel. Thus, these new, thin designs, like the edging shovels, are common and cheap.

7 Factors to Estimate Your Vintage Shovel’s Value

The average value of common antique shovels is around $10-$15, while old and rare, branded shovels in excellent condition can sell for up to $100 to $200. Now we know that an antique shovel’s worth changes with its use. But other factors like age, material, and brands also impact its cost. Let’s see how!

1. Age & Patent Numbers

Vintage Shovels

Dating and aging antiques is usually an expert’s job, right? But, with antique shovels, it’s just a matter of a few visual tests! Like, if your shovel has a wooden body, it’s a 1700s one. And if it has composite or metal bodies, it might be from the 1800s or 1900s.

But, if your shovel’s broken or painted, here are some other clues to track its age:

The 1700s – 1800s

Any old, handmade shovel with visible lacquers, custom handles, and a single-joint body might be a 1700s shovel. Such shovels are blackish and often have curved and beaten edges. Plus, you’ll also see simple d-shaped handles and flat blades, costing $40 – 250.

The 1800s – 1870s

The 1800s shovels are more like scoops or caddy spoons. Like, they are comparatively shorter but have deep, double-joint bodies for strength. In fact, you’ll also find adjustable handles and screws with them.

And don’t miss the filigree work! Since the 1800s was all about ornamentation, so you can expect carved birds, flowers, and leaves on your shovel. They cost about $40 – 125 when polished.

The 1900s

If your antique shovel has flexible steel blades and minimal designs, it might be a 1900s shovel. Such shovels are also more pointed, long, and y-shaped. Plus, they are lightweight and don’t cost more than $50, even for branded pieces.

Another way to date your antique shovel is by its patent numbers. You’ll usually get them on the blade’s base and handle. And here are some references:

YearAgePatent NumberEstimated Valuation
1914109 yearsUS1107583A (for Adjustable Garden Shovels)$10 – 45
1900sAround 120 yearsUS20100156124A1 (for Ice & Snow Shovels)$50 – 100
1902121 yearsUS736798A (for Scooped mining / fire Shovels)$30 – 50

Usually, shovels with flat, wide, and shallow blades are old and handmade. Also, look for hammered edges and solid-wood bodies.

2. Types of Shovels

Back then, people didn’t limit shovels only to farming and mud work. In fact, they used different shovels for each activity, leading to six types as below:

Farm Shovel
Farm Shovel

Farm or agriculture shovels are round and straight. But their base points are sharp and trowel-like for easy digging. You’ll also see flat, y-shaped handles that attach to carts and tractors. But you won’t have any grip grooves or decorations with this one.

Next, check the shovel’s handle. If it’s 30 – 40 inches long, you can price your farm shovel for $20 – 50. But if it’s over 50 inches in height, you can charge up to $100.

Construction Shovel
Construction Shovel

If you have a short, 20 – 25-inch shovel with square or scoop blades, it must be a construction shovel. Such shovels have solid metal, upturned blades to hold rocks and bricks. Plus, you might also see flat edges and looped handles, costing $70 – 100.

Mining Shovels
Mining Shovels

Mining shovels were basically made for picking coal. So, they are wider, flat, and slightly curved than the rest. They are also more sturdy, with superior d-handles and rivets for strength. So, you can charge about $40 – 60 for them.

Military Shovels

Military shovels are long, narrow, and portable shovels for army men. Usually, they are pointed and have clawed blades and edges for fast digging. Also, look for leather covers and steel rings at the base. Overall, they cost about $30 – 90, along with their cases and belts.

Snow Shovels
Snow Shovels

Does your shovel have long, 48-50 inch handles and curved blades? If yes, it might be an old snow shovel from the 1800s. Such shovels are flat, tilted, and have chiseled grooves for better leverage. But since they are mostly branded, you can price one for $50 – 100.

Railroad Shovels

You can spot old railroad shovels by their deep, pentagonal blades and rail logos. On one hand, they have new-age features like steel frames and two-piece designs.

But on the other hand, they also have rare government stamps and marks. So, they are valuable, costing around $50 – 130.

3. Vintage Shovel’s Shape

Different Shape of Vintage Shovel

Although old shovels were deep and scoop-like, collectors also love the trench ones for their military roots. In fact, these long, pointed ones cost up to $500 if repaired. Also see if they have slanting blades and walls for more returns.

You can check the table to see how each shape affects the shovel’s price:

Old Shovel ShapeTop FeaturesEstimated Value
Trowel or Spade ShapedTriangular or Rectangular blades with small, flat handles$10 – 30, but Sterling silver ones can go up to $50
Round point or Square pointCurved, pointed shovels with a u-shaped or flat tip$20 – 60 for unbranded, and up to $80 for branded ones
Scoop Shaped ShovelsDeep and Curved blades with a tilted section$40 – 120
Trench or Drain Spade Shaped Long and curved blades with a flat tip$12 – 100; but military ones cost $500

Get shovels with D, T, or Split-wood style handles for a handmade finish.

4. Old Shovel’s Blade Material

Well, pre-historic shovels obviously had bone or hide blades. But sadly, you’ll see them only in museums. So, if you want an easy-to-collect option, get the iron or bronze shovels. And, with some polishing, you can easily price them up to $50.

But, if you want an investment, get the old wood shovels that fetch up to $100 on restoration.

Old Shovel’s Blade MaterialValue for Long, Pointed ShovelsValue for Short, Flat Shovels
Wood – Oak, Hickory, Birch, or Dark Iron Wood $20 – 100$6 – 130
Bronze & Brass$30 – 125$3 – 25
Forged or Carbide Cast Iron$20 – 130$10 – 50
Solid or Alloyed Steel$20 – 50 (branded ones can go up to $150)$7 – 30

Look for antique shovels with Hickory, Ash, or Black Locust handles for best returns.

5. Vintage Shovel Brands

Branding is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in valuing your old shovel. Well, it so happens that branded shovels have precious silver work and carvings, which hike the cost by 20 – 25%. So, don’t forget to check your shovel’s handle for any stamped logos.

Once you find them, you can check their value from the table below:

Old Shovel BrandsBase Price (for Large Shovels)Base Price (for Small Shovels)
Tiffany & Co$100 – 160$50 – 160 (silver ones can cost up to $500
Keen Kutter$80 – 120$25 – 200
Magor Railroad $10 – 50N.A
Darice (Only for Snow shovels)$30 – 100N.A

Avoid getting old shovels with chipped, rusty, or broken handles, as these might lose their value by 10 – 12%.

6. Old Shovel Construction Technique

Antique Shovels

If you want an old, handmade shovel, ensure it has a single-piece body and folded seams. Also, it shouldn’t have new hardware like screws, soldering, and rivets. You can get wood or leather cases, but even those will have tongue and groove joints.

But, if you want a portable and functional shovel, get the flexible T-shape ones. These have a two-piece construction and come with fixed backplates and screws for more strength. But they don’t cost more than $70, as they are new and common.

Used shovels with visible patina, lacquers, and wood-plane chiseled handles cost more than the new, painted ones.

7. Antique Shovel Patterns & Carvings

Well, it’s obvious that the simple, hand-beaten shovels are the most precious. But carved shovels are nothing less than a fortune! For example, Victorian shovels have flower designs, costing $50 – 100. And if you see letters or scrolls, you can even charge up to $150.

What Type of Oil Do I Use to Lubricate Antique Shovels?

You can use any regular linseed, motor, oil lamp, or cooking oil to lubricate antique shovels. Other than that, even WD 40 or dry silicone lubes might work well.

How Do You Save an Antique Shovel From Rusting?

Rinse your shovels with white vinegar and rub some lemon or potato peels on their surface. This will dissolve the oxides and wipe off the rust. Next, dab it with some paper towels and dry it for at least 12 – 13 hours before storing.

Why Were Antique Shovels So Long?

Antique shovels were long and pointed to help people dig around trenches, plants, and saplings. And such high-precision shovels are very precious today.

Well, antique farm tools are always valuable! And among these, old shovels fetch even better returns. All thanks to those hand-beaten bodies and deep profiles you don’t get today! So, check their materials, brands, and age as discussed above.

And if you want to get more antique farm tools, check our articles on vintage plows, broad axes, and handsaws right away!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

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