Insider’s Secrets To Buying Antiques

Before you start your collection, find out what the experts know

The prospect of buying antiques can be as daunting as preparing an oral presentation. But armed with the right information, it can be a fabulous adventure in time. An item is considered antique if it’s at least 75-100 years old, though purists believe that a true antique is an item created before the Industrial Revolution (1840).

Before building a collection, head to a bookstore. Creon Smith, an African American innkeeper in Farmington Hills, Michigan, who’s been buying, selling and collecting antiques for 30 years, says you need to be well read before buying your first piece. Chris Jussel, host of the weekly Antiques Roadshow on PBS (www.pbs.org/antiques), agrees. “Read, talk to people, go to dealers and museums, touch things and ask questions,” he says.

Research is important. First, it will help you determine what you want. After narrowing your focus, build a library of reference materials. With so many well-made reproductions in circulation, “it’s hard to determine what’s real and what’s not,” warns Smith.

Careful study of those details will teach you when, where and how items were made. If you want to buy period furniture, for example, you need to know details about construction and finish. Or, if you have a yen for porcelain or silver, memorize symbols that identify manufacturers, periods and countries of origin.

After your research, you’ll be ready to shop. But move slowly, Jussel and Smith advise. Go to shows and talk to the experts. Bring along research and tools, like a magnifying glass, Smith suggests, because you’ll need them to help prevent dealers from swindling you.

When buying purely for pleasure, trust your instincts. Otherwise, take note of markings, labeling, signatures and construction, and compare them with your research.

Visit a variety of places to compare prices and establish a pattern of how things have sold, particularly for the sake of investment or resale value. Try to work out a deal. Ask the dealer for his or her best price for the item, and get the dealer to bend on the price first, says Jussel; you never want to negotiate against yourself. When shopping, familiarize yourself with the codes found on the back of price tags. Look for the price, the dealer’s name, the number and what percentage of the price the dealer is willing to negotiate. Once dealers get to know you, they may help you out.
Another tip: Negotiate at the start or end of the day for better deals.

Negotiations at the start of a show set the tone for the day. And at the end of the show, Smith adds, “no dealer wants to pack up again to take things home, so they’ll take a break to get rid of items.”
While it’s best to purchase expensive items from reputable dealers or auction houses, you can get some unexpected deals at flea markets. Sometimes what an uneducated seller considers trash, you will discover is a real treasure! But beware-there are no consumer protections against being shafted at flea markets.

When buying from dealers at shops, galleries and auctions, however,

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