A beginner’s guide to buying antiques

Beginning your journey into the world of antiques can be a bewildering experience and not one to be rushed. By taking a bit of time and reading about the basics of antiques, you will gain the knowledge to buy with confidence. Here is a small guide for beginners to help you get started.

What are the things I should consider when shopping for antiques?

Here is a beginner’s guide to buying antiques that will show you what to consider when buying antiques for the first time.

Genuine or reproduction?

The main thing is to make sure the piece you are looking at is genuine and not a reproduction. 

Will they fit in my home?

When buying antique furniture for the home, it is wise to double-check your measurements to be on the safe side.

The right price?

Antiques are rare by nature which means pricing will vary across the board. Meaning it can be hard to know if it’s a good deal or not. That said, it’s still a good idea to know how much money you are willing to spend on an item by doing a bit of price research on the internet beforehand. 

Buying antiques for whatever reason, investment, or decorative purposes can be exciting, and finding that bargain or hidden treasure is always a great moment. And if you are new and would like a helping hand in where to start, this guide may be able to help you.

What is an antique?

An antique is an item of value because of its aesthetic or historical significance. As for the age of a piece to be an antique, if it is 100 years or older it can be classified as antique.

In Latin, antiquus means old, ancient, but an antique item is usually desirable due to other aspects along with the age. The rarity alone plays a significant part in how valuable an item is, and if there’s only one, then the price comes down to how much someone is willing to spend. If there’s a large amount of a said item available in large supply, then the average sales price will be low and can be easily defined. 

Other factors that make an antique collectible or desirable include the condition, beauty, uniqueness, and history.

If you are wondering what age is something to be classed as vintage. Something collectible and old but not older than 100 years would be classed as vintage.

You can buy antiques from a variety of sources such as estate sales, auction houses, antique shops, or find them at house clearances, car boot sales, and flea markets. 

Antique dealers belong to CINOA, “the confederation of art and antique associations”. Which span 21 countries and represent roughly 5,000 dealers.

What makes an antique valuable?

You may find the word antique getting used to describe items such as collectibles and vintage pieces, especially by crafty traders. However, there are many factors you will want to assess while figuring out the value.

The age and condition will always intertwine with each other when it comes to the asking price of an item. Older items will incur wear and tear, and in most cases, experience a level of damage over the years. If you are lucky enough to come across such an item in better condition than most on the market, you will be able to ask and achieve a higher sales price.

An item will need to have other things going for it to be valuable in the first place. Being over 100 years old and getting called antique won’t create value alone. The rarity and quality have a large significance in the value, as will the historical value of the piece. If all the above conditions are met, an item can be highly sought after and command a hefty fee. 

Pieces that meet all these criteria will often be investments, rising in value over time.

Doing your research – Identifying price.

The amount of money you are willing to spend on an antique may vary depending on your needs. Your taste may see you spend more on an antique simply because that rare piece fits your room perfectly.

But when identifying the price of an item, the first thing to do is figure out the age it is one of the most important factors that’ll help you identify the antique. And if you are not familiar with the different periods of the past, it is worth doing some research as the designs and features reflect the period of the piece. Making it easier to figure out its age at first glance.

Common trends in antiques

Make sure you look out for common trends for each period as these are indicators of the period when the piece was made. 

The materials and decorative styles allow you to quickly spot a Regency Chair from a Victorian chair or a Georgian from an Art Deco fireplace.

How to age an antique

Here are a few tips that will help you figure out the period when a piece is made. 

Using these tips will help you determine the age of a piece of antique furniture at first sight and save you time when buying antiques.


A great way to identify the age of an antique is by checking the materials that have been used to make the piece. Certain fabrics, woods, and patterns are used in different periods due to trends and available technology. The same goes for patterns and finishes.

Familiarising yourself with the trends of each period will give you a good advantage when buying antiques from dealers etc.

Uppers, under, and insides

Finding imperfections on an antique piece may not be as bad as you thought. And actually, it is what you want to see as it indicates whether the item is handmade and not mass-produced in a factory. Machine-made antiques can be dated to after 1860, and although still antique, they tend not to be as old as they look.

Finding imperfections means the item is more likely handmade, meaning it’s likely to be older. Look underneath, check the backs or look inside for imperfections.

Antique furniture typically has various handcrafted elements and if you spot drawer handles or feet that are completely identical in form, it is a sign the piece is factory-made and not as old as it looks at first glance. It may also be a reproduction piece to be avoided.

Understanding these basic principles will greatly increase your antiquing experience, and also increase the chances of you finding a great piece for the home.

Where to buy antiques

Practice makes perfect is what they say, and understanding antiques are no different. It can be easy to get bogged down trying to figure out where you should buy your pieces from, but the truth is, the more shops, markets, and fairs you go to, the better you will become at picking up bargains and the quicker you will learn.

There are many different avenues to go down when looking for antiques. Here are some of the best places to look if you want to find bargains

Car boot sales

Car Boot Sales are one of the best places for beginners to learn the ropes, and there are usually great bargains to be found. You might have to look a bit harder to find those gems, but more often than not, you will find something of interest. Don’t be afraid to haggle on the price either, as this is part of the game, and most/all experienced traders/sellers would be more surprised if you didn’t try to haggle.

Flea markets. Much the same as car boot sales. You will have to put in some effort when looking to hit gold, but now and then, you will find some gems. Flea markets are also a good place for beginners to gain knowledge.


General Auction Houses are where many traders go for inventory. Most items at auction will be from house clearances which means there are bargains but don’t expect to put up your paddle once. You will be up against many experienced buyers who know the value of what bidding on.

And be careful not to allow your emotions to come into play when buying at an auction, as it is easy to get caught up in the moment and find yourself in a bidding war. The last thing you want to do is spend a fortune on something worth little or is of no use to you.


Finding antiques online is more difficult as you can’t see the piece in person. This makes it harder to check the condition and details. But looking online gives you more variety, and more often than not, a seller will provide the option of returning an item if it is not in the condition described in the sales pitch.

Charity shops 

The place where many great antique investors hone their skills, Charity shops are ideal venues to find antiques on the lower end but are still sellable. One downside to note is that most of the good stuff will be skimmed off by dealers early in the day. But bargains still slip through the net, so don’t give up on hitting gold in a charity shop.

General dealers  

Buying from general dealers is good once you have gained a little knowledge, as some dealers will try to make their money out of you. Having that bit of experience will let you know if you’re dealing with a dodgy trader who’s trying to convince you that some things are worth more than they are. But don’t be put off as most general dealers are honest and will help as best they can. 

You have more than likely already come across these types of shops on your travels. Often called Aladins caves, these are chaotic caverns that seem to be filled with everything you could think of and make great places to get down and dirty and have a good old search.

Specialist dealers 

Specialist dealers and shops are where you would go when looking for a specific piece. You won’t find many bargains here but you will be paying the correct price for the item with things most likely being on the pricey side. Specialist dealers are where you would go when buying antique pieces for investment purposes.

Treasured possessions

Good advice for beginners is to start in an area of antiques that you love. Owning a rare, well-made antique can make you feel great, and that is what matters in the end. Well, that and you paid a fair price, with the latter coming down to experience.

But before you let your emotions spend all of your money, tear yourself away from those emotions for a few seconds and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the piece of high quality and well made?
  • Do all the working parts function?
  • Are all the pieces there, or are some bits missing?
  • Do you see any cracks, stains, chops, or fading which could affect the price?

If you have answered all these questions in your head and still feel comfortable going ahead with your purchase, it is time to go with the gut and make that piece yours. One more thing to ask yourself, would you be willing to restore or have the piece restored by a professional if the need arises? Often this will affirm whether or not it is worth spending money on in the first place.

How to spot fake antiques

Nobody wants to find out later on down the line that they own a fake. So always use the 100-year rule, and if the item shows signs of post-war construction, it’s most likely a reproduction and of no real value.

There are various factors we should consider when looking to spot fake antiques. Here are a few of the tell-tale signs you’re looking at a fake or reproduction.

Materials such as chipboard, plywood, staples, and Philips screws are all signs of later production.

Wear and tear

Wear and tear add beauty to antique pieces and is also the place to look to help identify genuine pieces. As the word antique suggests in Latin, the piece should be ancient and have enough wear and tear to prove as much. If there is a piece described as antique but looks like it just came out of a showroom, it more than likely did if you know what I mean.

Good places to look for wear and tear are underneath, especially on glass pieces. On furniture, you would be looking at the end of chair arms or checking the runners on drawers for signs of aging/use.

Reproduction antiques

Some reproductions can hold a little value and still be collectible but never forget that they are reproductions and not original.

If you are looking at a piece and are having doubts about whether or not it’s a genuine piece, never be afraid to ask the seller if it is a reproduction or not. And like I said before, most dealers are honest, but if you do get the sense that they are not being overly responsive to your question, it’s best to walk away and move on to the next piece.

The best way to learn about antiques and know whether you are looking at a fake is to be surrounded by genuine antiques as often as possible. It can be difficult to describe, but after a while, you instinctively know whether or not the piece staring at you is genuine or not. It can take years of practice, but everyone can get to this point with some dedication.

Finding antiques on a budget

Antiques do not have to be expensive and are often found at bargain prices. Here are some tips to help you find a bargain.

Get your hands dirty!

Most people shop at eye level, and when shopping for antiques, you don’t want to shop like most people. It’s time to go hunting in the faraway corners of the shop, at the bottom and back of display cabinets, etc. Increasing the chances of finding a piece of value that others have walked past on many occasions.

The early bird catches the worm

The saying the early bird catches the worm can be applied to antique hunting and means if you want to get the best pieces, you’ll need to get up at the crack of dawn. Because all of the best bargains will be snapped up by other buyers first thing. You want to be the person who gets there first to see what is available before others snap up the bargains.

The early bird rule applies to Charity Shops, Car Boot Sales, and Flea Markets, but don’t be put off from waiting till the end of the day as this is when traders are more likely to lower their prices for a quick sale before closing.

Being optimistic is best as it can often become frustrating when looking for a specific item, and it is nowhere to be found. But always have an open mind and keep going as you never know what you will come across or what will catch your eye.

And as touched on earlier in this article, never be afraid to haggle and haggle hard if you must. Never be intimidated by fancy sales patter. Keep your nerve and negotiate hard. 

Good luck finding those gems!

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