House and Home

Antiquing 101

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For some collectors, antiquing is a serious hobby.  They know which shops to visit, how much something is really worth, and how to bargain. But for amateurs, the process can be quite intimidating.  We asked antiques expert Matt Quinn for what the beginner really needs to know.

What are some specific authentic details collectors should look for in a piece?

"Collectors need to pay more attention than ever to condition. In the ever-changing world of online buying and selling, buyers are finding that they don’t have to settle for that crack, chip or hole anymore because they can find it without damage."

Quinn explains that once an item has been reproduced to be collectible (e.g., Hummel figurines or collector's plates), it loses value because the demand has been met by the manufacturer. "Collectors should remember that nostalgia drives most of our buying. Look for items that represent a period in history when they were actually first used, and avoid the later reproductions." 

What are some signs an item is not authentic?

Quinn says it's fairly easy to tell if a piece is a mass-produced reproduction, or an intentional copy:

  • Mass produced pieces: Look for labels and/or modern day construction. They have nothing to hide. 
  • Intentional copies: Often, these are of superior quality but also not necessarily hiding anything. They're usually of similar craftsmanship to the original but have less value, though they're still more prized than the mass-produced pieces and fakes.

Fakes and items made with the intent to deceive can be very hard to differentiate from the real thing. In fact, it's not uncommon for many experts to believe a piece is real, only to change their mind years later!

When analyzing fakes, Quinn says he looks to see what questions are begging to be asked. "For example, you might ask, 'Why is this particular element done this way? Why did the craftsman do X? Why isn't this part consistent with that?' Don’t try to rush to the answers of these questions (that's what pushy antique dealers do!), just listen to the questions and make your own judgment.  If you have to ask the questions, you usually already know the answer! It's fake! Perfect pieces don’t ask questions."

 

How are antiques priced?

"Something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Many dealers and estate sale professionals price items to what they know their buyers will pay, and it is often times very subjective." 

Quinn points out that the online world allows us to see how items are priced around the globe, which is how many items are priced today. "To some degree, the world wide web of information has replaced the traditional antique book. Websites like RubyLane.com, 1stDibs.com and others are allowing buyers and sellers to meet online, and prices are often published. Auction sites like LiveAuctioneers.com , Artfact.com, iGavel.com, ebay.com and others allow potential collectors to see what similar items have sold for at auction in the past."

He goes on to explain, "When all this information is combined, pricing happens. This is also the same process that appraisers follow when professionally appraising objects for insurance, estate tax and other valuations." 

When is it appropriate to bargain? When is it not?

"There is probably no more appropriate place to bargain than an antiques shop, short of the open air markets in Mexico and rug merchants in the Middle East," Quinn says. "Many items in shops and estate sales are priced with the bargaining shopper in mind. It is not uncommon for buyers to negotiate five percent, 10 percent or even 20 percent off of items in shops and sales. Regular shoppers and high volume shoppers will be more successful. Antique dealers today, like many industries, are struggling to retain customers and reward loyalty." 

What kind of antique shops should you avoid?

"Collectors should buy what they love and build relationships with their local auction house, antique dealer or estate sales company. Trust is paramount. if something doesn’t feel right about that shop, dealer or auctioneer, or you don’t like this personality or that, then I would avoid shopping there."

However, if you are looking to flip an object and make money in another environment, Quinn suggests avoiding specialists in your field. Instead, "buy objects from dealers, or professionals that don’t know all there is to know about that particular item." 

If you're building a collection, you may want to consider leveraging a dealer specialist. This is most advisable if "you are looking to find the best in a genre and want a quality name to stand behind, so you know that your object is 'right' or a great example of that particular genre or maker. You might not get the best price every time, but you will have the confidence that you didn’t make a mistake. And remember, those dealers will reward loyalty."

 

What tips would you give to someone who is thinking about getting into antiquing?

  • Buy what you love, use what you buy, and enjoy your hobby.  Remember that the joy of collecting is in the act of collecting! The thrill of the hunt and the memories of the chase all contribute to great experiences when building a collection.  
  • If you want to buy and sell, do your research and attend local auctions, estate sales and antique stores.  Find out how you can add value to the community or items that you will be offering.  Educate yourself, get involved with the community and do what you love!
  • Focus on the difference between collecting and accumulating.  An accumulation of books means that you like to read, so put them on a shelf; a collection of books means that you took pride in every purchase, and that you sought out specific editions and autographed copies in perfect condition. Don’t just accumulate items, collect them. Seek out that best example in a category and fill your collection with great examples of great things.