Antique shopping can be an incredibly fun and rewarding hobby. There is something magical about rummaging through dusty old items and discovering unique treasures from decades or even centuries past. For antique aficionados, the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of uncovering a rare find makes antique shopping a fascinating way to spend an afternoon.
The Allure of Antiques
What is it exactly that makes antique shopping so enjoyable? There are several appealing factors that draw people to this activity:
A Glimpse into the Past
Antiques provide a tangible connection to history. When you pick up an antique item, you can imagine the story behind it – who owned it, how they used it, and where it was originally purchased. Handling antiques gives you a glimpse into what life was like in previous eras. For history buffs, this opportunity to physically connect with the past is fascinating.
The Thrill of the Hunt
One of the biggest thrills of antiquing is never knowing what you might uncover. Sorting through stacks of old knick-knacks and sifting through piles of dishes takes patience, but the payoff of finding a unique vintage treasure is exhilarating. The unpredictability keeps antique shopping exciting, since you never know what rare or unusual artifact you might encounter around the next corner.
Unlike mass-produced modern goods, antiques were constructed by hand using high-quality materials and artisanal production methods. The superior craftsmanship and attention to detail seen in antiques is a lost art in our modern disposable culture. Appreciating the durable construction and ornate detailing of antiques is deeply satisfying.
Style and Design
The vintage aesthetics and charming retro designs of antiques have a widespread appeal. Mid-century modern furniture, Art Deco glassware, Victorian jewelry – the list goes on. Antiques reflect the popular styles and fashions of previous eras, giving you an opportunity to surround yourself with unique period pieces full of character and nostalgic design elements.
While not every antique turns out to be a buried treasure, some can be extremely lucrative finds. Rare or highly sought-after antiques can be worth a considerable amount of money. Even more common pieces tend to increase in value over the years as they become rarer. Purchasing antiques can be a smart investment for collectors hoping their finds will accrue value down the road.
Getting Started with Antique Shopping
For novice antique shoppers, the world of antiquing can seem daunting at first. Here are some tips to help you start exploring antiques and get the most out of this rewarding hobby:
Learn About Eras and Styles
Research popular designs and trends from key eras like Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern, and others. Understanding the stylistic characteristics and historical context behind different periods will help you better identify and evaluate potential finds while shopping. Study hallmarks, patterns, materials, and manufacturing methods from major design movements.
Initially focus on inexpensive starter pieces like decorative plates, vases, or glassware to develop your antiquing skills. Look for charming vintage items in the $10-$50 range. Starting small will allow you to hone your hunting abilities and learn how to spot quality craftsmanship without breaking the bank.
Arm yourself with some basic antiquing equipment to examine potential purchases: a magnifying glass, blacklight, tape measure, and field guide book on hallmarks, makers’ marks, or popular patterns. These tools will help you scrutinize an item’s details and determine if it’s worth buying.
Visit Many Different Types of Retailers
Each antiquing retailer offers a unique inventory. Hit up antique malls, thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales, auctions, antique shows, and reputable online sellers to encounter the widest variety of merchandise. Visiting multiple sources gives you more opportunities to uncover hidden gems.
Make antiquing a consistent habit rather than an occasional activity. The more frequently you visit antiquing haunts, the more likely you are to come across exciting new inventory and snag an exceptional find. Checking your favorite local shops regularly prevents you from missing out on short-lived deals.
Since many antique retailers don’t accept credit cards, always carry cash on antiquing trips. Running to the ATM after spotting a must-have vintage treasure might mean someone else snags it first. Having cash on hand ensures you can immediately purchase your unique finds.
Carefully inspect items for any damage, repairs, or alterations that could devalue them. Look for repairs like seam stitches, filled holes, added paint, glue marks, and replaced hardware. Use a blacklight to check for restoration work. Identify any embellishments, damage, or missing pieces.
Research how to detect fakes and reproductions for the type of antiques you’re interested in. Learn hallmarks, markings, materials, and manufacturing techniques. Request proof of age like labels or tags. Authenticity dramatically impacts an antique’s worth.
Helpful Resources for Antique Shopping
As an antique shopping novice, don’t be shy about asking for assistance or seeking additional information sources. Here are some helpful resources to support your antiquing endeavors:
- Antique Collectors’ Club Books – This publisher offers hundreds of detailed field guides on many specific antique categories from furniture to jewelry to lighting. Keep a few key titles in your reference library.
- Price Guides – Annual paperback price guides like Kovel’s and Warman’s will help you estimate the fair market value of antiques as you shop. Having a price guide on hand prevents overpaying.
- Collector Clubs – Joining local collector clubs or associations for your favorite antique categories provides a community to teach and advise you. Check clubs for porcelain, jewelry, furniture, clocks, or whatever you collect.
- Auction Catalogs – Studying catalogs from prominent auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s will educate you on rare finds and their valuations. You can request print catalogs by mail or view online.
- Antique Magazine Subscriptions – Consumer magazines like Antique Trader and trade publications like Antiques and The Arts Weekly keep you informed on market trends and latest news.
- Online Forums – Utilize websites like GoAntiques.com to connect with fellow collectors. You can ask questions and gain insights from more experienced antiquers.
- Online Databases – Resources like Replacements.com have extensive galleries of patterns and images to help identify your finds. They also provide up-to-date market values.
- Museum Exhibits – Visiting museum decorative arts wings and browsing their antique collections is an invaluable learning experience. Take notes on eras, styles, and pieces that interest you.
Top Places to Shop for Antiques
Now that you’re armed with essential antiquing know-how, it’s time to start treasure hunting! Here are some of the best sources for uncovering amazing antiques:
Dedicated antiques stores offer curated, higher-end merchandise conveniently in one place. Shopkeepers often have specialty expertise and fair prices. Larger stores may be organized into eras, styles, or item categories. Stores specializing in your preferred collecting niche are ideal.
For sheer volume and variety, visit massive antique malls housing hundreds of individual dealer booths under one roof. Malls contain a diverse mixture of merchandise, letting you efficiently comb through a huge inventory in just a few stops. Check each booth thoroughly so you don’t miss hidden treasures.
Live, in-person auctions provide excitement and entertainment in addition to great merchandise. Auctions allow you to compete and strategically bid on selections like furniture, art, jewelry, lighting, and more. View items in a pre-auction showcase first to inspect condition.
Estate sales offer the opportunity to purchase antiques still staged in their original context of someone’s home. Imagine inheriting an entire house full of lovingly curated antiques! Estate sales typically have lower prices due to quick sell-offs, so expect bargains.
Thrift & Consignment Shops
It takes some digging, but thrift and consignment stores frequently have antique finds mixed into their modern merchandise. Check stores in affluent neighborhoods where residents are more likely to donate quality pre-owned pieces. Search carefully, because antiques may be mislabeled or categorized inaccurately.
Flea Markets & Swap Meets
Outdoor flea markets are treasure troves for antiques and collectibles, especially if you arrive right when they open. Vintage chances are plentiful, but be prepared to scrutinize for authenticity and haggle over deals. The social, bustling atmosphere enhances the antiquing adventure.
Online Auctions & Retailers
While you miss out on examining items in person, online shopping allows you to easily browse thousands of offerings. Look for sellers who provide thorough descriptions, high-resolution photos, provenance details, and return policies in case an item differs from its listing once received.
Don’t underestimate networking with fellow collectors in your region. Attending local antique club meetings and talking with other enthusiasts can lead you to “picker” sources, small dealers, and collectors looking to downsize their overflowing troves.
Prime Categories to Collect
The possibilities in antique collecting are nearly endless, but some categories tend to be more widely appreciated and available. Consider focusing your hunt on these popular and intriguing niches:
From Georgian cameos to Art Deco filigree to retro cocktail rings, antique jewelry spans countless eras and styles. Vintage jewelry is relatively affordable and easy to display. Study marks and materials to identify designers and estimate precious metal content.
The nostalgic retro designs and sleek silhouettes of the 1940s-1960s make mid-century furnishing highly collectible. Look for Danish Modern and Art Deco styles, iconic designs by Charles & Ray Eames or George Nelson, and funky atomic age decor.
Handcrafted wood furniture pre-dating mass manufacturing is always in demand. Popular styles include carved Renaissance Revival, Rococo Revival, Eastlake, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Art Nouveau. Study woods, joinery, finishes, and hardware.
Build a collection of historically significant designer dresses, handbags, shoes, hats, or accessories spanning the eras. Key names include Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and more. Focus on condition and provenance.
Circulated antique coins have intriguing backstories and artistic detail. Silver dollars, large copper cents, and flowing-hair Liberty coins are widespread. Study identifying attributes like mint marks and dealer resources to build a valuable collection.
For history buffs, collectible antique arms range from Medieval swords to Revolutionary War firearms. Focus on non-functioning weapons only. Study types, makers’ marks, actions, calibers, and other qualities that contribute to value and authenticity.
Wristwatches became popular in WWI, making early 20th century examples collectible. Key names are Cartier, Patek Philippe, Omega, and Rolex. Research movements, faces, bands, and conditions extremely carefully.
Helpful Tips for Scoring Great Deals
Beyond knowing where to shop, there are some additional tricks of the trade to help you secure antique treasures at unbeatable prices:
- Look in overlooked spots like the bottom shelves of booths or stuck behind other items. Dealers tend to showcase pricier items prominently, hiding bargains out of direct sight.
- Ask if shops offer any discounts for buying multiple items or “if you can do better on the price.” You might be surprised what deals sellers will offer if they want to make a sale.
- Be prepared to haggle and negotiate, especially at flea markets. Offer 30-50% below asking price and settle on a mutually agreeable price in the middle.
- Shop for out-of-season antiques to save significantly. For example, search for vintage Christmas decor right after the holidays or warm weather gear in winter.
- Consider pieces with easily repaired damage or flaws since they are drastically marked down. Refinishing, reupholstering, mending, cleaning, or polishing could restore them to glory.
- Follow antique dealers or auctioneers on social media for preview sneak peeks of upcoming inventory. This could give you a valuable head start on competition.
- Time your antiquing trips strategically, arriving as early as possible when vendors are freshly set up for the best selection. Be there when the doors open at stores and events.
- Sign up for shop email newsletters to receive notices about sales, coupons, invites to presales, and listings of newly acquired items before they hit retail displays.
Beginner Mistakes to Avoid
As a newbie antiquer, steer clear of these common initial pitfalls that could damper your enjoyment of this rewarding hobby:
- Don’t assume higher price equals higher value. Inflated price tags are common. Focus on educating yourself to learn the fair market values of antiques.
- Avoid impulse buys just because an item is old. Make sure any piece you purchase is an antique you truly love and value, not just a dust-gatherer.
- Don’t expect antiques to be in pristine museum condition. Some wear adds character and makes a piece affordable. As long as structural integrity and function aren’t impaired, minor flaws are fine.
- Don’t get discouraged easily during dry spells. Finding outstanding antiques takes persistence. You may search weeks before uncovering a single gem. Patience during slow periods will pay off.
- Never buy cleaned or restored antiques as your first pieces. Begin by studying original examples to learn how to evaluate items properly before purchases.
- Don’t neglect small details that can dramatically influence worth, like maker marks, material purity, hardware, finishes, or labels. Minor factors hugely impact desirability and value.
- Avoid guessing games about mystery items. If you can’t properly identify or date a piece through research, pass it over rather than wasting money on a potentially worthless fake.
- Don’t just cherry pick pristine examples. Consider purchasing high-quality antiques that would benefit from minor repairs to improve appearance and value.
Decoding Antique Labels & Markings
For the antique shopping novice, one of the most intimidating parts of evaluating a potential purchase is deciphering the many labels, hallmarks, signatures, and markings you might encounter. Here’s a cheat sheet of what to look for:
These engraved or impressed markings identify who crafted an antique. Study marks on ceramics, silver, furniture, art, and other types of pieces. Research marks in databases or field guides to authenticate origin.
Found on the bottom or back of antiques, these logos indicate manufacturer origin. Look up trademarks to date and properly classify items. Popular examples include Limoges marks on porcelain or Anchor Hocking marks on glass.
Date Letters & Date Stamps
Used frequently on silver and porcelain, tiny stamped letters or numbers specify the production year. Reference charts to interpret date codes that vary by maker. This crucial dating can confirm age.
Marks noting metal purity like sterling or 14k gold are vital for antique jewelry, silver, and other precious metal pieces. Study where stamps appear and check them against standard references.
Look for original paper labels from manufacturers or print ads glued to the bottom or interior. These help prove age and increase collectibility. Even small fragments of labels are valuable.
The signature can make or break an artwork’s value. Verify signatures against authenticated examples from the artist. Signatures typically appear in the same location on every work.
Patent dates marked on antiques can provide exact production dates if you look up patent filing info. Patents revolutionized mass manufacturing, so focus on patents filed between 1810-1930.
Caring for Your Antique Treasures
Once you’ve amassed some antique finds to start your collection, proper care and cleaning are essential:
- Always check care directions specific to your item’s material, era, and construction. Use the least harsh cleaning method that will be effective. Prioritize stabilizing and preventing further damage.
- Keep antiques away from direct sunlight, heat vents, moisture, and fluctuating humidity which can all cause rapid deterioration.
- Dust regularly using a soft brush or cloth to prevent buildup and abrasion from dirt particles. Avoid commercial dusting sprays which can react with surfaces.
- Ensure antiques are fully dry before storing to prevent mold growth. Check for hidden dampness in components like upholstery stuffing or backings.
- Position heavier antiques like solid wood furniture or stoneware on lower shelves rather than elevated spaces. Place delicate items in secure display cases.
- Wrap or pad antiques with soft cotton cloth when moving or transporting them. Use furniture blankets secured by ties rather than plastic sheets.
- Consider professional appraisal and restoration for valuable finds. Expert services can repair damage and maximize financial value, while providing historical documentation.
- Inspect items regularly for new condition issues like loose joints, insect damage, or fading. Address problems immediately before they worsen. Preventative care is key!
Displaying Your Finds with Style
One of the most satisfying parts of antiquing is finding creative ways to highlight your discoveries at home. Follow these tips for showcasing antiques with flair:
Create Themed Vignettes
Group related antiques together in artfully designed vignettes, like silver serving pieces on a bar cart or vintage medical tools framed in a shadowbox. Cohesive displays unite your treasures.
Mix Styles Playfully
Don’t be afraid to blend antiques across eras for an eclectic aesthetic. A Victorian portrait hanging above mid-century furniture has quirky appeal. Juxtapose your finds in surprising ways.
Spotlight prized items using directional lighting. Try