“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. This certainly can be applied to antiques. Would you like to know how to start your own unique collection? How, where, when and why to buy antiques? Use this 6-point guide to steer you in the right direction.
Antique collecting is for people who have the passion and the love for the past. Hunting for antique furniture can be really thrilling and addictive. However, if we want to take home gorgeous, authentic and reasonably priced furnishings, we must do some preparatory work. During the buying process, we should utilize the sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes to pick up the best finds. Here are some useful antique furniture buying tips and suggestions to consider before our treasure hunt begins.
1. Learning the lingo
Before we start searching for antiques, it’s very important to understand some basic terms used by specialists in the marketplace.
Most authorities consider the term “antique” to mean an age of at least 100 years. However, some societies define antiques as having been made before 1930.
A collectible is an item that is worth far more than it appears because of its rarity and/or demand. The age of collectibles is not so important, except if items are labeled vintage collectibles.
Vintage means “of a certain time”. It is the description used for a range of collectibles, and especially those from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
A reproduction is something created in the faithfulness of its resemblance to the form and elements of the original. It’s an item that looks like an original but has no value at all in the antique world. However, depending on the quality of used materials and the manufacturing process, some reproductions can be quite expensive, but of course not nearly as expensive as originals.
There is also such term like “repro”. Repro is not short for reproduction. It’s a new item that has been purposefully created with the intent to deceive and sell at its genuine counterpart antique price. Generally speaking, it’s a fake.
Having a familiarity with above definitions, but also periods, styles and design elements will not only help us make a better-informed bid but could also earn us some serious cred with the seller.
2. Reasons why we collect antiques
There are many reasons for people to collect antiques and below we present a few of them:
- Collecting is a kind of hobby.
- Some people enjoy restoring antiques and selling them to others. It’s really not about the money for some collectors.
- There are such people that collect antiques for their sentimental value.
- Many people experience a certain level of excitement when searching for antique items.
- Some of us buy antiques to decorate our homes.
- There are also antique dealers that buy and sell antiques as a business.
3. What to collect – the signs of a valuable antique
We should decide what the focus of our collection will be: Are we going to focus on furniture, kitchenware, silverware, computers and accessories, personal accessories, or toys? There are many possible items that could be collected. However, there is one golden rule when buying antiques: only buy the things you like.
When searching for a valuable antique, we should pay attention to these five criteria:
What constitutes a rarity? Here are main attributes of a rare piece:
- Few of the original pieces remain.
- Few were made in the first place.
- A rare or unusual design or color for a particular type of antique.
- Unusual size or shape.
- Uncommon style or subject matter for a particular artist.
When all the elements of our antique blend together in perfect harmony, when we can look at our item without wishing this or that were different about it, and when it has an overall pleasing appearance, then we can say that this item has an aesthetic value.
Desirability is usually defined by what’s in vogue in the current market.
As technology and the ability to reproduce items become more advanced, recognizing the authentic antique becomes much more difficult. But separating truth from fiction is part of the mystery and fun of antiques.
Really great condition
The less that was done to the original item to alter it, the more it can be worth. That is, the fewer the deletions or additions over the years, the better. When examining antiques it’s important to look out for such types of flaws like breaks and tears, scratches, chips, fractures, missing parts or signs of repair (runny paint, glue, mismatched screws or nails).
4. Examining antiques
Serious antique collectors do not begin their treasure hunting without a few basic tools to help them to conduct thorough investigations. These investigations are helpful to discover the real value of the furniture or quality reproductions. Of course, we should ask for permission from sellers before we perform any product tests.
The main tool we may need is a magnifying glass just like the one Sherlock Holmes used to carry. It’s important for example to check for woodworm damage – which we want! We should search for little holes pockmarking the wood. The rule is that the older a piece, the more holes we should be able to see. Next, it’s suggested to go underneath the object where the wood is unfinished. It shouldn’t look too pristine or new.
A screwdriver can also be quite useful. If our piece of furniture has bronze mounts, we should unscrew one. If bronze is old enough, we should be able to see two colors on the back: a dark oxidized center and a tiny rim of gilding from the front. Those later bronzes will have completely gilded backs.
With a bit of denatured alcohol we can identify if furniture finish is shellac. The alcohol should cut through shellac and when applied to lacquer – it just gets glue like. Lacquer and varnish finished furniture pieces were almost always made after 1850.
Finally, when our pieces are determined to be authentic, we can do a quick search of the internet via our smartphone or tablet to find out reasonable pricing information for the items.
5. Places to buy antiques
There are many places where we can search for antiques from flea markets and the internet to auction houses and specialist dealers. Each of them provides a unique opportunity for the would-be buyer. Let’s take a closer look at few of them:
- Garage sales. Remember the saying:”One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure”? It’s not so easy to find older things at random garage sales, but we may have more luck where several households (especially in upscale neighborhoods) stage garage sales on the same day.
- Flea markets. Nowadays, most of the flea markets are actually outlets for new and imported goods, which means that finding some antiques can be really challenging – but it’s not something impossible.
- Live actions. It is suggested to arrive early to inspect the items we might be interested in bidding on to make sure they are authentic and in good condition. It’s a good idea to take notes of lot numbers and decide how much we can reasonably pay for a piece. We should use such prepared list to be sure we don’t get caught up in the action and pay way more than an item is worth.
- Antique shops. They can be hit or miss when it comes to finding nice old items. Unfortunately, most of them are full of garage sale junk and not much else. However, when we do hit a nice one filled with older collectibles and genuine antiques, there’s a big chance we can find some resale items to work with if we shop wisely.
- Antique shows. Prices are usually quite high at such kind of shows but antique shows can be great places to do market research, learn from others and see things we won’t run across every day.
- Online antique shops. If we are not living near a shop or auction house, it’s not a problem – there’s tons of interesting stuff online. We should pay attention to all online sales, especially going-out-of-business sales. The items can be even 40-60 percent off.
6. Insuring antiques
The first step each of us takes is to begin our unique collection. The next step is to care properly for collectibles and antiques. And the last major step is to protect all these items.
A devastating fire can turn our collection to nothing more than smoldering ashes. Most serious collectors insure their collections against many different kinds of losses. By purchasing insurance, we are transferring the risk of loss to an insurance company. If theft, accidental breakage, vandalism, fire, or some other loss occur, we receive payment from the insurance company. But we have to keep in mind that not all losses are insurable. For example, an item destroyed simply by deterioration, such as an old, rotted wooden antique that just falls apart, is not likely to be a covered loss.
When speaking with our insurance agent, we should ask about the following:
- policy limits and terms
- how the value of an object is determined if there is a loss
- mysterious disappearances
- accidental breakage
- what is not covered
It is advisable to maintain an inventory with photos of our collection. We should pay special attention to all the items with a value of more than $1,000. It is always up to the insured (us) to present and prove the authenticity of our claim. Good recordkeeping is crucial.
Collecting antiques can be a life-long passion, a beautiful and unique way to decorate a home and a way to steward historical objects for future generations. The joy of collecting comes with knowledge, time, and patience. Antiques are like old books. They hold a limitless universe of knowledge waiting patiently to be revealed. Happy hunting!