Buying and collecting antiques can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Each antique has a unique story to tell and is representative of a specific time in history; and unraveling that story is all part of the fun. Antiques can also teach us a lot about fashion, craftsmanship, and can also become special keepsakes to pass down through future generations. Plus, with so much a variety – from furniture and kitchenware, through to jewellery, coins, and art – there’s an antique to inspire everyone’s taste.
If the world of antiques is new to you, you might feel a little intimidated and unsure where to start. But try not to let these feelings get in the way of your experience, as everyone has to start somewhere.
Whether you’re keen to build an antique collection, or are simply intrigued by television programmes like Antiques Roadshow and Flog It!, there are various things to keep in mind when buying antiques. In this article, we’ll cover everything from what classifies an item as an antique and how to spot a fake one, through to where you can buy them and how you can successfully negotiate prices.
What is an antique?
Generally speaking, an antique is an old collectable item that represents a previous era or time period within history. Antiques can be valuable for a number of reasons including age, rarity, appearance, condition, utility, current taste, as well as personal or emotional connection. Examples of antique items include everything from furniture and jewellery, through to clocks, coins, and kitchenware.
These days, the majority of antique dealers will require an object to be over 100 years old for it to be considered an antique. Different terms like ‘antique’ and ‘vintage’ can be confusing, but the simplest way to separate them is by age; if it’s over 100 years old then it’s an antique, and any younger it will likely be classified as vintage. Similarly, items that are over 300 years old generally fall into one of two categories; fossils if they’re natural, and antiquities or artifacts if they are manmade.
What are some of the benefits of buying antiques?
To many people, antiques might be seen as old, unfashionable objects, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Antiques are unique and exciting, and there are many benefits to buying and collecting them.
Unlike modern-day industry-produced items of which there are often hundreds of replicas, antiques are unique, and no two people will have the exact same. Having been around for a while, antiques provide us with exciting insights into the differing trends and fashions of separate historical periods, each will fascinating stories to unravel.
Not only do antique items make a statement and spark interesting conversations, but they’re also environmentally friendly. For example, by investing in antique furniture rather than buying from modern manufacturers, you’ll be playing your part in reducing the need for new items from industries that have an impact on the environment.
Another plus is that generally speaking, antique items are very well made. Rather than being mass-produced by machines in large quantities, antique items would have been handcrafted by someone who dedicated a great deal of time and care to their project. The fact that they’re still standing intact decades later is a sign of their quality.
Lastly, antique items can be extremely valuable; both financially and emotionally. Different factors can affect the value of an antique, for example, its condition, its rarity, and its history – and sometimes items can be a great financial investment. Equally, antiques can be valuable for sentimental reasons too, for example, if they’re a family heirloom, or hold a special story.
What research should you do before buying antiques?
Generally speaking, you don’t have to do any research before you start searching for antiques. However, it can be useful to gather some prior knowledge, even if it’s just a few basics. The more knowledgeable you are, the more likely you’ll feel confident talking with antique experts, and the easier it will be to identify fakes or secure a bargain.
One of the most useful ways to gather research is often to experience the world of antiques in person. This doesn’t have to mean buying anything right away, but even just standing by at an antique fair and auction house, or visiting an antique dealer, can provide useful insight into how things work. It’s natural to feel a little intimidated, but just remember that most people in the industry are antique lovers themselves and will be more than happy to chat to you and offer their knowledge.
If however, you’d rather build your knowledge at home, then you might prefer to start off by picking up some useful books and watching some insightful television programmes. There are various antique handbooks available on Amazon with useful information and guidance. For example, Miller’s Antiques Handbook and Price Guide by Judith Miller, or Kovels’ and Collectables Price Guide 2021 by Kim and Terry Kovel. Popular television programmes such as Antiques Roadshow, Flog It!, and Antiques Road Trip also offer a relaxing and easy way to see a range of antiques and pick up useful tips.
If you’d like to continue reading about ways to gather knowledge about antiques, have a read of these 10 ways to learn about antiques by Antique Collecting Magazine.
How can you tell the age of an antique?
There are a few things to look out for when trying to work out the age of an antique. By applying these tips and looking at the antique as a whole, you should be able to gather a fair indication of how long it’s been around.
The first thing to consider when trying to put an age on an antique is the material. The material that an antique is made from can help to give you an idea about the trends, technology, and availability of materials at the time. If you’re looking for a place to start, then it can help to start familiarising yourself with trends from some key periods in history, so you can tell items apart; for example, being able to separate Georgian pieces from Victorian.
It’s important to remember that handmade antiques will often have irregularities. These aren’t necessarily flaws but instead can be signs that the item was not machine-made; and therefore more likely to be an antique.
Most machine-made objects tend to be dated after 1860, so while these may still be antiques, they may not be as old as they initially look. By the same token, if you come across a piece with identical features and no irregularities, this can be a fair indication that it was machine-made. Inspecting antiques for imperfections, therefore, can sometimes help to work out their age.
Where can you buy antiques?
There are plenty of places where you can go searching for antiques, and while it can be useful to do some research beforehand to help you know more about what to look for when you get there, try not to overthink it; you’ll become more familiar with the process of buying antiques over time.
Below is a list of some of the places you might like to think about shopping for antiques…
Car boot sales are a great place to shop for antiques, especially if you’re just starting out. Car boot sales can sometimes be a little chaotic because people will try and sell all sorts, so you might have to look a bit harder, but there are often a few hidden gems up for grabs. With car boot sales, it’s best to turn up as early as possible because when items are gone, they’re gone. Just remember to bring cash with you as card payments will be unlikely. You can search for car boot sales happening in the UK by date, town, and city, on Car Boot Junction.
Flea markets usually have a similar atmosphere to car boot sales; a little chaotic and unordered. But don’t let this put you off. If you’re willing to do some sifting, then you might come across a hidden gem. You can use Fleamapket to search all flea markets and antique fairs happening across the UK.
Searching online can be a good place to find affordable antiques. There’s an impressive variety of items available online, and you can browse from the comfort of your own home. It can, however, be a little trickier because you’re not able to see items in person. As a general rule of thumb, antiques should be photographed well (including detailed shots), and come with a thorough description. It’s also worth checking the seller’s returns policy, so that if you don’t like the item or it wasn’t what you were expecting, you’ll have the option to send it back and get a refund. For help with where to start searching, check out this list of 17 of the best online antique stores, including Amazon, Etsy, and Ruby Lane.
Charity shops won’t hold high-end antiques because dealers will often sort through donations before they hit charity shop shelves. However, charity shops can be a great place to shop for lower-end antiques. Plus, bargains sometimes slip through, so it’s always worth having a browse. You can use this tool to find your nearest charity shop.
General auction houses will often acquire a lot of their items from house clearances, so they can be great for finding unique antiques. You can browse UK antique auction houses near you and read general tips for buying antiques at auction on Antique Marks. Alternatively, if you’d rather attend an auction from the comfort of your home, you could try a live online auction. Read about upcoming online auctions on The Saleroom.
Antique dealers are a great place to go if you’re on the lookout for something specific. Although the pieces you’ll find here may be a little pricier, you won’t have to worry about them being incorrectly priced. If you’re searching for an investment, then this is really the best place that you can start. For useful tips on what to expect when buying antique dealers, have a read of this article by Antique Marks.
How can you spot if an antique is fake?
The last thing you want as a beginner is to be misled by a fake antique. The value of an antique largely comes down to its authenticity, so it’s important to make sure that the item you’re interested in isn’t just a reproduction.
Firstly, if you keep in mind the 100-year old rule, it’s generally safe to assume that any item with post-1930s features is most likely not an original. Other tell-tale signs of fake antiques to keep an eye out for include a consistent wood colour, modern nails or screws, machine-cut carvings, and lack of patina (a green or brown film on the surface of metals like bronze produced by oxidation over time).
Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that manufacturers will sometimes purposely add features like older screws or wood in order to make a piece look like an antique, so rules on spotting a fake can differ. Beauchamp Antiques offer great advice on how to get past these tricks in their guide on How to tell the difference between an antique and reproduction.
Can I shop for antiques on a budget?
It’s easy to think of antiques as expensive features of grand manor houses and castles, but antiques can come in many different forms, and anyone can enjoy them. Below are a few tips that you might find useful if you’re hoping to negotiate antique prices and bag a bargain.
When you’re shopping for antiques, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and look beyond eye level. For example, in antique shops, take your search into the corners and to the top shelves of cabinets – this is often where you’ll come across hidden gems. Similarly, if you’re heading to a car boot sale, flea market, or fair, make sure you get there early because the best bargains usually don’t hang around for long.
It’s also worth going into antique shopping with an open mind. Often, the more determined we are to find a certain thing, the harder and more frustrating it becomes to track it down. Instead, going in with an open mind might allow other great things to catch your eye too. If you’re unsure of the accuracy of an item’s price tag, it’s always worth circulating different shops, stalls, and events, to see whether price levels differ and where the best deal to be had is.
Lastly, but by no means least, don’t be afraid to haggle and negotiate with sellers; especially at car boot sales and flea markets. Sometimes it can be tricky and you might feel your confidence take a knock, but try not to let sales talk put you off negotiating or doubt what you know.
3 top tips for negotiating antique prices
If you’re new to antique buying, it’s natural to feel daunted or unsure at the prospect of haggling with sellers. But the truth is that aside from high-end antique dealers, most sellers will expect a knowledgeable buyer to negotiate the price a little. If you currently feel uncomfortable doing so, luckily there are a few things that might help you.
1. Consider buying more than one item
Sometimes, one of the easiest ways to reduce prices is to buy more than one item at a time and ask for an overall discount. While a seller might not be able to change the price of one item, they could do for another.
2. Don’t get disheartened if a seller doesn’t accept the price you’re offering
It’s also important to remain polite throughout the process and to not feel immediately disheartened if the seller seems initially reluctant to accept a price offer; it’s normal for them to want to hold their cards close to their chest. Remember, you can always play the “I’ll have a think about it” card and continue browsing the shop, or come back later.
3. Start by negotiating a price that’s lower than your limit
Another top tip is to start your negotiating price lower than what you expect to pay. For example, if an item was marked £50 and you were willing to pay £40, you could initially offer £30 so that you have the space to work up. The seller might laugh at your initial offer, but if it gets you to the price you want, then it really doesn’t matter.
How can I sell antiques?
Some people prefer to keep hold of their antiques, but others might like to sell them. There are various ways to sell antiques both online and offline, which we’ll cover below.
Selling antiques online
There are various forums online where you can sell antiques. Before you get going, it can be useful to browse items similar to yours that are also being sold online. This will give you a chance to compare how similar items are priced, what condition they’re in, and how other sellers have worded their listings. It’s likely that you’ll come away with some inspiration on how to list your items.
It’s also worth remembering that when selling antiques online, photos are everything. If you take a moment to put yourself in the buyer’s position – would you be likely to purchase an item based on photographs that are unclear, or of bad quality? The majority of people will be put off by this, so it’ll usually pay off to make sure your photos are clear.
On eBay, there will be a ‘reserve price’ that bidding must reach in order for the item to actually sell. If you have an idea of the value of your antique or you know what the lowest offer you’d accept is, you can set this as the reserve price (starting bid).
Remember that many buyers will often wait until the last minute to place their bids and drive up the price. So even if it seems like nothing’s happening, it’s best to never end an auction early because you don’t know who’s waiting behind the scenes.
Other online resources that allow you to sell, buy, or swap items locally include Facebook selling groups, Antique Buyers, and Vintage Cash Cow. These allow you to connect with potential antique buyers in your local area and do in-person exchanges, meaning you can avoid shipping costs and check the item before finalising the purchase.
Selling antiques offline
If you’d prefer to go down the traditional route, offline sales to antique dealers are also an option. It’s worth bearing in mind however, that if you choose this option, it’s fairly unlikely you’ll get the same asking price you’d request at an auction listing. As a general rule of thumb, after some negotiation you’ll usually get at least 25 to 50 percent of the asking price.
Before heading to an antiques dealer, it’s best to do some research. For example, antique dealers aren’t there to tell you everything you need to know about your items, so it’s best to go in knowing exactly what your antique is, what its selling points are, and what it’s worth. Similarly, it can be useful to know how interactions between seller and dealer usually go, and what to expect from the exchange, as this can make a big difference to how well it goes.
You can find some useful pointers, including what research to do, how to state your initial asking price, and what to avoid doing in The Spruce Crafts 4 tips for selling antiques to dealers.
Buying and collecting antiques is often a fun and unique experience because you never know what hidden gems you might come across. Learning about and investing in antiques is also a real privilege because each unique item can open our eyes to the fascinating trends and stories of our rich history.
With so many different types and varieties of antiques to buy and collect, anyone can get involved. It’s natural to feel unsure where to start, but remember that searching for antiques should be an exciting and enjoyable experience. By doing some simple research, exploring different antique scenes, and getting to know different trends and fashions, you’ll soon be on the road to discovering great antiques that you can enjoy.
What do you love most about collecting antiques? Have you got any other tips for buying and selling antiques that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.