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5 Tips for the Savvy Antique Shopper

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We’ve all seen Antiques Roadshow and secretly wish we could strike gold, too! ‘Antiquing’ has become a hobby for many people, and there are definitely a few nearby places you can try out when you’re looking for that special one-of-a-kind gift or future heirloom.

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How can you maximize this little hunting trip? There are market realities you may not know, and research is the key to getting what you really want in the wild world of antique treasures. Let’s explore the do’s and don’ts of thrifting at markets and shops!

1. Student of History

While it’s always a great idea to ask the seller plenty of questions, this should not be enough for the savvy buyer. It’s a better idea to start reading about your specific interest in the antiques world, experts say. Many guides exist that can quickly illuminate the real value of different items in a category, and explain exactly why one version is priced much higher at a given time. Failing to do this research may mean that a smooth shop owner could convince you to accept a far higher offer than you need to! Becoming a masterful assessor is key to getting a fair shake, and the internet means that price book resources are no longer hard to find, compare, and critique.

Plants for Pets

For example, a Windsor-style armchair from the 1820’s might be worth hundreds of dollars — but another old chair might just be junk status. A hooked rug is a piece that was made by hand using a special method with a sailor’s hook. This craft from the early part of the last century involved connecting fabric scraps to a piece of burlap, and the designs are quite eye catching. It’s worth many hundreds of dollars today, but another item in the shop might just be a worthless old rug! Buyer beware: Research before you buy, or you are unlikely to choose anything with true historical significance. It’s also important to keep in mind that some experts predict the antique market will decline a lot over the next 30 years, due to the generation of millennials that are not expected to have significant future interest in the field. For this reason, the anticipated resale value should be considered if antiques are investment pieces and not just pure love!

2. Rarities are Rare

Overall, it’s no easy task to find one-of-a-kind rarities at rock bottom prices and major resale value! But the dream lives on, and many collectors simply enjoy this part of the hunt. What will I find today? An exciting question! As a prospective seller, people often have similar hopes. Even though you may believe that grandma’s old ring will one day be a valuable heirloom beyond family sentimentalism, it is unusual. Too many rings have flooded the market over the last 100 years! For this reason, many items you find at the flea market are not secretly worth thousands.

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Pro tip: A good way to really find value at antiques locations is to look for items that actually complete a set of something lost in the past. While any individual purchase may not be worth a lot, this may change when combined with the rest of its collection! Experts have one more easy suggestion for your treasure search: When things get really busy, items sitting behind other large objects or at the bottom of boxes may be overlooked. Keep a sharp eye out for neglected corners!

3. Fake Out

Online sales of cosmetics, designer handbags, and electronics have long been subject to fraud. And sadly, the antiques market is no different! Some more obscure categories like Asian art can really range in value — a $10 knockoff may seem exactly the same as an authentic vase worth thousands to the untrained naked eye.

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A lot of scams exist out there today, and the tricksters are often one step ahead of the buyers! One clever innovation is to soak new cloth in tea so it looks aged! A seller may also intentionally age a chair with physical abrasion. Would this fool you? It is important to research current fraud trends in the antique market, and ideally in your specific subcategory of interest.

4. Negotiation for Pros

The Middle East is one part of the world that hosts markets and bazaars, and haggling is actually expected in some of these cultures. It’s all part of the fun, and no one ever accepts the first offer — unless you’re a tourist! In America, the practice of negotiation with a seller is not as common. It may only exist at flea markets, actually. But is your location accustomed to this practice? It’s a good idea to ask around about exactly the way things work before you go to avoid insulting the vendor! Should you make an initial super low-ball offer, or just try to slightly bring the price tag down? These are critical questions that need to be answered by locals in the know before you get down to business.

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Experts have a few tips to sort out market behavior in general. If a seller made something by hand, it is less likely that they can negotiate very much. They spent time on the project, and they paid for the cost of the material for production in very small quantities! But for antiques at these stalls, that is not a consideration. A resale shop or market stand may have costs associated with how they acquired the piece — but that is highly variable. It is important to learn how to haggle correctly and appropriately in your region if you hope to successfully sort through these opportunities and save money for items that really demand a high price.

5. Mistakes to Avoid

For the truly savvy antiques buyer, one more thing is important for the final stage of purchase. Maybe you found the perfect item at an amazing price, and you know for sure that it is authentic. Surprisingly, there is still a big mistake you can make after passing all the other shopping stages!

Olivia Bednar

The truth is, you must get your pickup plan in order. Many places will not hold a large item until the next day, which is not exactly a long time! It is highly likely that someone else will find this item to be valuable as well. It may be gone by tomorrow! For this reason, there is no point in shopping for big items if you do not have adequate transport. Research companies in your area that are willing to do impromptu small-scale moves, or make sure you know a good friend with a truck and flexible time!


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