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Guide to Buying Antiques for the First Time

Buying antiques can be much more than just a fun hobby. It can also be a great way to make a little extra money. If you’re really lucky, you might even find a great treasure that you can sell for a small fortune one day.

Even if you never make a dime from antiquing — or you never intend to sell anything, the thrill of the hunt is enough to make this a fun and exciting hobby. You can spend hours wandering flea market aisles, antique marketplaces and estate sales, but it is all worth it once you find that one special item that you have to have.

When you’re just getting started with antiques, it can all be a little confusing. What makes an antique? How do you know if the item is authentic? How can you evaluate its condition? How do you know if you really have something special?

Experience is the best way to learn what you need to know. However, here are a few tips to help you get started so you can start antiquing like a pro:

Do Your Research

Start your antiquing journey by learning more about not only what makes an antique but also how to evaluate the item you are looking at in the antique marketplace.

First, know that an antique is any item that is at least 100 years old. You may find other collectible items mixed in with antiques, even in an antique marketplace. Items that are at least 20 years old may be considered vintage, but they are not antiques. Contemporary items may be considered collectible and of great value, but they are not antiques.

Your next step should be to purchase a good guidebook. You can use it to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of popular antique items. However, if you want to narrow your focus and you know what kind of items you want to collect, you can just purchase a guidebook for those items and save yourself a lot of time. For example, if you enjoy 18th century furniture or a certain kind of dishware, you can focus your studies on those items exclusively. A guidebook is also a good point of reference when you are out buying antiques and want to refresh your memory about a certain type of item.

Shop in Person

Though you’ll be able to find antiques for sale in online classifieds and auction sites, you’ll have to rely on the information provided about the item. Unscrupulous sellers can misrepresent an item or provide outright false information about it. An online listing can make an item appear to be in better condition than it is or it can pass off a fake item as the real thing.

The only way to know for sure that you’re getting what you pay for is to shop for antiques in person. You’ll be able to turn the item over and examine it thoroughly, looking for the signs that show it’s the real deal, such as an inscription, a label, a special mechanism, or a particular carving. You’ll be able to assess the weight, measure the item and look for other signs of forgery. You’ll also be able to get a good idea of the condition, which can often be manipulated through photos.

Buying antiques in person also allows you to build a relationship with the dealer, which can not only ensure that you can trust what you’re buying but also may make you privy to special deals and insider tips about new items.

Find a Reputable Dealer

Because there are so many people out there waiting to sell counterfeit antiques, it is essential that you find a reputable dealer with whom to do business. When you are looking for antiques for sale, start your search not with the item that you want but with the antique dealer. Ask for references from friends who have some experience buying antiques. If you don’t know anyone who is into buying antiques, go online and check out potential dealers.

Online research should include reading customer reviews and looking up complaints filed against the business with the Better Business Bureau and other consumer protection agencies. If you find no complaints, that’s a good sign. However, you should also find several good reviews to let you know that you’re dealing with a reputable dealer. A shady dealer may not have any complaints because they aren’t formally registered as a business. However, they are likely to have many negative reviews from disgruntled and swindled customers.

If you find no reviews or no information about a dealer, just move on. It’s not worth risking your hard-earned cash on a worthless piece of junk passed off as a priceless antique.

Take Your Time Inspecting Each Item

When you are buying antiques, you should take your time to inspect each item before you commit to the sale. An expert guidebook is a good item to have on hand when you shop so you can refer to it for key characteristics of a specific item. However, if you don’t have the guide, you can do a thorough analysis yourself.

Look for any signs of wear or damage on the item, such as cracks, peeling paint, loose or wobbly legs, and broken or missing parts. If it’s a mechanical item, put it through its paces to make sure that it works. Ask about the history of the item, such as the previous owner or any information about its care.

Get Proof

Many antique items will come with some sort of documentation proving what they are. This is known as provenance. At minimum, many pieces will come with a certificate of authenticity from the original manufacturer. However, other pieces may come with documentation from a qualified appraiser attesting to the authenticity of the item.

Other documentation could include information showing the history of the item, including its previous ownership.

Any information that you can get about the item can provide assurance of its age and its authenticity. This documentation can also help you prove the value of your item when you are ready to insure it or to sell it.

Don’t Overlook the Possibilities

Even if an antique is not in pristine shape, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless. When you are looking at antiques for sale, look past the surface flaws to see the possibility for the item. Can you restore it? Will a coat of paint fix it right up? Can you sand and refinish it? Can you buy a replacement part and get it back in working order?

In many cases, you can make a small additional investment or put in a little elbow grease and restore the item to as good as new. You’ll increase the return on your investment without much effort.

There are many more aspects of successful antiquing. However, part of what makes the hobby so fun and interesting is that you never know what to expect. Successful antiquing requires you to constantly be learning and constantly be searching for the right item. Using these tips can get you started on the right path, but you’ll have to dedicate yourself to ongoing education to become a real expert.

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