With the proliferation of antique-themed programs on television, antique collecting has gained popularity as a hobby. Other than needing cash to buy items (small budgets can easily find a theme to build a collection), there are no barriers to entry. It is fun, it can be done in person and online. It is ageless and timeless. Here are the basics of antiques collecting for beginners:
Find a Passion
For some, antique collecting begins with a love of something: some stems from traditional hobbies like stamp and coin collecting; other collectors are inspired by a certain designer or artisan; some are moved by a certain period in history; some collectors might be passionate about a certain animal species; and others, well they simply make the decision that antique collecting is the hobby for them and either buy just what they like, or settle on a particular theme later on. The point is that antique collecting as a hobby is about indulging in a passion.
References and Resources
There are many options for the novice, and indeed, seasoned antique collector to learn more about antiques. A novice can learn as they go, but if the intention is to not only build a collection of items to be loved and cherished but one that is of value, there are pitfalls. A lot of antique dealers will say that if you like it and can afford it, buy it. An ideal sentiment for hobbyist collectors. A collector who considers value as an important aspect will need to learn how to spot damage, fakes, restoration, and reproductions.
Obviously, a lot of this will grow out of more experience over time, but there is one reference book every antique collector should have. The Millers Antique Price Guide is pretty much the bible for this hobby (and professionals).
For anyone moving into collecting silver or gold, a hallmarks reference book is essential – various guides are available.
As previously mentioned the TV is a great resource. Watching shows like the Antiques Roadshow, Auction Hunters, and Cash in the Attic are just a few. UK TV shows like Four Rooms and Secret Dealers are sometimes in the US TV schedules.
Lastly, books and the internet are of course invaluable resources.
Tools of the Trade
Most antique collecting can be done without any tools, however when it comes to precious metals it is best to be as prepared as possible. Gold and silver prices are obviously variable by item but there is a set market price per ounce for the precious metal content.
A jeweler’s loupe and a set of pocket weighing scales are essential equipment for the collector of gold and silver. The loupe – a small, portable magnifying glass – enables a close-up view of hallmarks and other indicators that certify certain aspects of the metal. Different countries have slightly varying systems so the collector should be sure to know what to look for, at the very least for US and UK gold and silver items.
The scales are invaluable in assessing a gold item’s value. Any buyer should know the gold price on the day they are shopping and this multiplied by the weight gives the minimum value of the item – the basic price should the item be scrapped and melted down. Anything over and above the gold value will relate to design, age, esoteric appeal and collectible value.
Collecting gold and silver is more complicated than just having a loupe and some scales if it is to be done successfully, but it’s a good place to start.
Where to find antiques
One of the attractions of antique collecting as a hobby is its accessibility. Antiques can be sourced in all sorts of places.
Antique shops: Often thought as being the destination for “serious” antique collectors, the one important point to remember is that items sold in a store attract a premium. Every store owner has overheads. But, there are two types essentially. The high end will be a store with fewer items, often in room settings. The other end is far more fun, especially for hobbyists. More like a bric-a-brac store, the entire space is absolutely crammed with antiques and collectibles. Every corner and shelf and patch of floor space is a cornucopia of goodies to browse and sift through. That silver pig pin cushion you’ve been dying to find may well be hiding behind that chipped Clarice Cliff jug.
Collectibles stores: These are more specialist than antique stores. They tend to be limited in range in terms of the vast number of categories of antiques. Mostly it will be comic books, antique books, stamps, coins, teddy bears, trains and train sets, clocks and the like.
Antiques fairs: An occasional, and most-often semi-permanent affair, an antiques fair might take place in a municipal building like a convention center or in the grounds of a large house of historical interest. They might be in sporting arenas like a racetrack. They might be a mix of indoor and outdoor areas in the one venue. The fair is populated by stall holders who will be a mix of professional sellers and dealers and private sellers. Some fairs will charge an entrance fee and haggling over prices of the goods on sale is part of the fun.
Auctions: Simply, a selling event where buyers bid against each other with the highest price securing the item. Again there’s a top end and the more-accessible end. The top end will be names like Christie’s and Sotherby’s where the likes of a long lost Van Gogh will go under the hammer. Local auctions have their own flavor and real bargains can be found. The important thing to know is that the auction house will apply a buyer’s premium.
Thrift shops: Increase your collection and do good at the same time. It might only happen in a blue moon for any one collector, but real gems can be found among the piles of everything that populate thrift shops. Thrift and charity shops are places to find antiques and collectibles at dirt cheap prices.
Yard sales: Simple neighborhood sales events, yard/garage/tabletop can be a charm. Some people simply don’t know the value of stuff they might consider only worthy of the trash. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
As you can see, there’s some stuff to learn, but this is a learn-as-you-go experience and is a fun pastime for all ages.
There is no real universal definition of what qualifies something as being antique although generally, many people consider it to be something more than 100 years old.
The United States customs may define an object as being antique if it is at least 100 years old but even in the United States, it is accepted that an antique car for instance, can be less than 100 years old.
Peoples’ perception of what an antique is can also differ as, to a teenager today, an item from the 1960s could be considered an antique whilst to a pensioner an item would probably have to be from at least the 1930s to be considered as an antique.
Antiques vs. Collectables
Regardless of their own perception of what exactly an antique is, many people tend to collect antiques and of course, whilst in a collection they just get older and so can therefore become more valuable if maintained in good condition.
Some of the more collectable antiques are furniture and jewelry but often an auctioneer may place these types of items in one of two categories; antique or collectable.
A collectable is a term used for an item which has the potential to become an antique but as yet is not old enough to be recognized as one.
Of course, even by accepting an antique as being something over 100 years old, there are new antiques coming into being each year as a ‘collectable’ made in 1920 will become an antique in 2020 and so the process continues.
Although some experts consider that only certain items can or should be considered antiques and those items are what can be described as masterpieces, others disagree and consider that anything of interest, over a certain age, can be considered an antique.
Although this may present an auctioneer with a bit of a dilemma when deciding what category to list an item for sale under, it is perhaps the bidder themselves that determines whether they consider it an antique or not. There is little doubt though that antiques are perhaps the most popular collectables.
As an item which is considered to be antique can be priced higher than a similar item which is not considered to be antique, identifying genuine antiques can be somewhat problematic and so for auctions of antiques, usually an item will have been authenticated as being a genuine antique before it is presented for bidding on.
If however, you tour antique shops looking for an item for your collection, you may have to rely on your own knowledge to determine its authenticity.
In the case of furniture, it is often the design of the foot which determines its age or at least the era in which it was made. Here are a few notable antique foot designs:
- Arrow Foot – This is a piece of furniture that has a foot separate from the leg, attached by a turning ring. Even if the leg of the piece of furniture is embellished with a design, the foot will be a plain tapered cylinder. These pieces of furniture are typical of the mid-18th century and particularly well known for having being made in colonial Philadelphia. This is a typical characteristic of what is called a Windsor Chair.
- Ball Foot – This is a design that originated in the early 1600s but continued to be a popular style into the 1800s America. This design consists of a spherical foot at the end of the legs on chests and sideboards. Spin-offs of this basic design include Turnip foot, bun or Onion foot.
- Ball and Claw – This is a foot that features a bird’s claw clasping a ball and although they were usually carved from wood, some were also made with a metal claw clasping a glass ball. The design is thought to have originated in the 1700s but has continued to be a popular design up to this day.
- Block Foot – Also often referred to as the Marlborough foot as it often appears at the end of the straight Marlborough leg, the block foot which was popular from the 1600s to the 1800s in both England and America, consists of a simple square block.
- Cylindrical Foot – This is usually plain and is cylindrical in shape, tapering down to a point and although may look a little fragile, has been proven to be quite sturdy. These feet are separated from the leg by a ring and were popular in the late 18th and early 19th
- Dolphin Foot – The Dolphin foot is thought to have originated during the renaissance but became particularly popular in the late 1700s. This foot is decorated to be in the shape of a fish head and this design was often carried through to matching arms on chairs.
Collectable Jewelry can be placed in one of four categories; antique, estate, period and vintage.
- Antique Jewelry – This is jewelry which was made more than 100 years ago and can be sub divided into two categories, fine jewelry and costume jewelry. To distinguish between these two terms, costume jewelry can be defined as jewelry made without the use of gold, platinum or gemstones.
- Estate Jewelry – Estate jewelry could equally be categorized as ‘used’ jewelry as it can be 100 years old or just 6 months old, provided it has at some point been sold as part of an estate and once again can consist of both fine and costume jewelry.
- Period Jewelry – Period jewelry is considered to be fine jewelry which is less than 100 years old. This is a category which is often reserved for well- known pieces such as those made by Cartier in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Vintage Jewelry – Vintage of course means old but in the world of jewelry, vintage jewelry will mean any piece of costume jewelry which is more than 20 years old. Although this category is only for costume jewelry, it can include cheap plastic like pieces and expensive pieces like a much desirable Christian Dior rhinestone brooch simulating Jade.