Shopping for Antiques: A Beginner’s Guide

Delving into the world of antiques can be as exciting as walking into Aladdin’s cave, but it can also be overwhelming for anyone new!

You don’t need to be a specialist to go antique shopping, but it helps to have a bit of basic knowledge tucked up your sleeve to ensure you come home with a genuine, antique gem. So as a beginner, where should you start?

So, what are Antiques, and why Should I Buy Them? 

Before you begin shopping, it’s important to understand what an antique is to avoid being mis-sold. Put simply, an antique is generally considered to be anything over 100 years old. But antiques are defined by much more than just their age, with specialists often valuing them on their aesthetic, rarity or historical significance.

Both functional and aesthetically pleasing, antiques can be real showstoppers and are made to last, hence the reason why they have stood the test of time. Antiques also hold their value, and as they’re so steeped in history they often carry a story of their own.

Do your Research Before You Shop

So now you know what an antique is, it’s advisable to do a bit of further research before you go shopping. While you’re unlikely to become an expert overnight, it’s certainly helpful to familiarise yourself with the styles, finishes and materials of various time periods. For example, Victorian antique furniture is often identifiable by its dark wood, such as mahogany or walnut, while antiques from the renaissance usually have strong architectural elements. Getting to know the different trends and characteristics of a particular era will also help you work out your own tastes and decide what you think will look best in your home.

Reading up on antiques can easily be done online or with a recommended book. You can also develop a keen eye for common era styles by scouring antique specialist websites and comparing photographs of antiques from one time period to another. Doing your research before you venture out to antique fairs or auctions will also increase your ability to ask informed questions and will give you more confidence when it comes to negotiating on the price.

Ask Questions

Reputable antique dealers are often armed with bags full of knowledge, so venture out to antique shops, auctions or fairs and acquaint yourself with specialists who are usually only too happy to impart their knowledge.

Things to Look Out For 

There are a number of things you can look for in an antique to help you identify its age, value and condition. Make a mental checklist of all the things you want to examine when you spot an antique you like the look of. Begin by checking out its surfaces, backs, bottoms and insides. Fabrics and woods are often a telltale sign as to what period the antique is from, so use them as clues to help you piece together a history of the piece itself.

You might also want to determine whether there are any imperfections; for example, any handles or edges that are slightly different will be an indication of its craftsmanship.

Where to Buy Antiques

 There are lots of places for antique novices to go shopping, but it’s important to remember that you might not always come out with the perfect find. Often it’s all about luck on the day, so if you don’t find that special something don’t let it put you off.

Antique centres, fairs and dealers (both in store and online) are a safe haven for beginners as you can usually be rest assured that what you are buying is authentic. General antique dealers usually cover house clearances, so here you are likely to find a wide range of items, making the shopping experience a joy. Antique centres gather lots of different dealers meaning you can explore the offerings from various different suppliers all under one roof. Auctions may sound intimidating, but these are often one of the safest places to buy antiques from, as the items are already correctly dated and valued. If this wasn’t enough, antiques can also be picked up from car boot sales and charity shops too, where you might be able to find a hidden gem.

How to Find a Gem and Identify the Fakes

One of the biggest pieces of advice given to people buying antiques is to follow your instincts. While examining an antique’s intricacies is important, you’ll know in your heart if it is the right piece for you. Once you’ve spotted something, ask yourself if you can imagine leaving the store without it, or if you’ll regret not buying it.

Try and determine whether the antique has been well looked after. Take a closer look to see how it has been constructed and if it has all the components it was originally intended to have. Ask the dealer about the history of the piece, and work out whether its faults are acceptable or if they might be a point of price negotiation.

While it may be difficult for a beginner to correctly date an antique, taking the time to really examine what you have in front of you will hopefully help you rule out any fakes.

There are tell-tale signs of mass reproduced items. Anything made out of ply-wood or chipboard and containing phillips screws or staples is likely to be in reproduction from post 1930s. In addition to this, antique furniture is usually made out of various woods, while modern pieces tend to use just the one. Remember those imperfections can be a good sign and an indication that the piece was made by hand, therefore more likely to be an antique.

Antiques on a Budget  

Often it is the price tag that puts some people off buying antiques, but they don’t always have to be expensive. Dedicating some serious time to antique shopping will help you sniff out a bargain, as will haggling. Begin by asking the dealer what their best price is. From here you will be able to gauge whether they are open to lower offers.

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