Here at The Warehouse Antiques and Collectables, we’ve created a beginners guide to demystify antiques. If you’ve always wanted to get into antiques as a hobby, or you’re looking to buy your first piece of antique furniture, this guide is for you
Learn just what an antique is, what to look for when choosing an antique, and which factors affect its value. Finally, we end our introductory guide with three top tips for beginner antiques collectors.
But before we get into the informative part, we’d invite you to consider why you want to start collecting antiques . . .
Determine your motivation
There’s a vast antique market out there with so many fascinating niches, but it can feel overwhelming to the beginner. However, if you can identify why you want to start buying or collecting antiques, it might help you decide where to start. Not quite sure yet? We’ve suggested some of the common reasons people get into antiques below.
Perhaps you’re attracted to the aesthetic quality of antiques? You might be looking for something to display with pride in your home or a perfect statement piece to put the finishing touch to a room.
The visual appeal of an antique item will be most important to you. However, a statement piece with an unusual story could also make a good conversation starter with guests.
Some people get into antiques because they’re interested in history or a particular period in history. It’s thrilling to see items that have survived for so long and consider how the world has changed since they were made.
We’d suggest starting with antiques from a period in history that you love – having an interest makes it all the more enjoyable to research antiques from this era.
Other collectors are in the antique world to try and make some money. Perhaps you’re excited by the idea that you might find a hidden bargain that turns out to be worth a lot more!
We’d recommend reading up a bit first if you want to make money from antiques. You want to make sure you know how to spot a good deal. Staying on top of antique trends is important, so start building your network of people in the know by hobnobbing at antique fairs and auctions.
Finally, buying and collecting antiques is a fun hobby! If you like collecting things or even just browsing shops for something that catches your eye, getting into antiques could be for you. With antique shops and fairs year-round across the UK, it’s a great way to get out of your area and see the rest of the country.
LEARN THE BASICS
Now you’ve understood why you want to get into antiques, you might already have an idea of what type of antiques you’d like to buy. Before you head over to The Warehouse Antiques and Collectables, learn what makes an item antique, the difference between antique and vintage, and how to look at antiques like a professional appraiser!
Antique vs vintage
First of all… what does ‘antique’ actually mean? An item is considered antique if it is desirable or collectable because of its age, rarity or relative condition. Generally, items are antique if they’re over 100 years old. There are some exceptions to this, such as with cars, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Another term you might come across is ‘vintage’. The age of an item to be considered vintage is not defined but many antique dealers consider items over 40 years old to be vintage.
How to ‘appraise’ antiques like a pro
Professional antique appraisers use their wealth of knowledge and experience to estimate the value of antiques. Many appraisers will also be specialists in certain types of antiques. We share some of the core principles that professionals use to estimate the value of antiques so you can learn what to look – and what to avoid!
Whilst age is often a factor in the value of antiques, older doesn't necessarily equal higher value. If an item isn't rare or desirable it won’t be worth much, even if it's very old. For example, Roman pottery is ubiquitous and hence not very valuable, despite being thousands of years old.
If the age of the item is unknown, you’ll probably have to do some research to estimate the period it comes from. Learning about the fashions and trends of the times for that particular maker, or type of item, will help you spot features that might indicate the age of an antique. The more you research, perhaps the more precise you can get with the age of the item – an exciting challenge for the beginner collector!
The condition of an item is how well preserved it is. Any marks, scrapes, dents, scratches or damage will affect the condition. Repairs or alterations to the original presentation or function of the antique also tend to reduce the value.
Generally, the better and more original the antique's condition, the more valuable it will be. For some items, such as vintage die-cast toys, the original packaging raises the value significantly.
However, don’t immediately discount something just because it looks a bit scruffy. If an antique is rare, lower condition pieces can still be worth quite a bit. Even broken antiques can be worth something for parts, or to be combined with another item to make a whole piece.
Condition isn’t so important for all antique collectors – if you’re looking for an antique for your home, perhaps you don’t mind a few scuffs or scrapes where they won’t be seen.
An important factor in antique collecting is how many of the same items are available. Just like any market, the value of antiques is affected by supply and demand.
There are several reasons why an antique might be rare. Perhaps only a few were made to start with – for example, gold snuff boxes were only affordable to the richest, so very few were made in the first place. Or, perhaps few remain because they were delicate or easily damaged, like intricate glassware or highly decorative porcelain. Finally, the item might be an unusual variation, such as a rare colour or one-off design.
So, we know rarity is a factor for antiques… but how do you find out if an antique is rare? This is the trickier part – and it usually requires some research. The internet is a great resource and there are plenty of antiques websites and blogs out there where you can try and find out more about a particular item or period of history. If you prefer offline guides, Miller’s guides are a great place to start.
If you’re really stumped, you can enlist the advice of an expert, though usually, you’ll have to pay a little bit of money for their services.
The quality of an antique refers to how it was made, the materials used and the design and level of detail put into decoration. In general, hand-made items are more valuable than machine-made pieces. Secondly, the level of detail put into the production or design of the antique generally increases its value.
Hot tip! Look for ‘Maker's Marks’. In general, antiques with brands or ‘makers marks’ that signify a particular manufacturer are more desirable. The maker's mark can also be a sign of authenticity or originality. However, you still need to make sure the makers mark fits with the style and design of the item for that period – otherwise, you could be looking at an imitation!
Provenance / story
One of the most enticing things about antiques is learning the stories behind the items. A good story, unusual circumstances or a famous previous owner could increase the desirability of an item.
The story may also help to determine the authenticity of the piece. If you’re looking for antiques for your home, an item with a colourful history could also be just what you’re looking for to add character to a room.
Like any market, in the antiques world trends come and go. The value and desirability of certain antiques changes over time, as new generations of buyers enter the market, different global markets open up and tastes evolve.
So, if you want to sell an antique item it’s worth keeping this in mind – perhaps your item isn’t in vogue right now, but wait a few years and you may get a better price for it. This is
one of the things that makes antiques so exciting – you never know what the future might bring!
AND FINALLY . . . SOME TOP TIPS FROM OUR DEALERS
At The Warehouse Antiques and Collectables, we have the largest collection of antiques in East Anglia, with over 100 antiques dealers and exhibitors. We asked a few of our dealers for their top tips for beginners – and here’s what they had to say:
“Start collecting or buying antiques that interest you”
• Antique collecting as a hobby should be fun, and you’ll find collecting and researching antiques much more rewarding if you’re passionate about your collection.
“Learn to spot a fake”
• Brush up on the common features of fakes for the types of antiques you’re collecting, so you don’t get fooled. Be on your guard if something looks too new or is significantly undervalued for its age, rarity or condition.
“Buy what you like – you may have to live with it!”
• As a beginner, you’re likely to make some mistakes. Sometimes you’ll realise that your new purchase isn’t worth what you thought it might be. However, if you like it anyway, you won’t mind looking at it on the mantlepiece every day for the next few years while you wait for its value to (hopefully) increase!
That’s the end of our beginners guide to antiques. If you have any top tips for beginner antiques collectors, or questions you’d like us to answer in upcoming blogs, please feel free to share them in the comments.