Antiques aren’t just old; they are desirably old. Desirable means that there’s a market for a particular piece. It also means that
someone places value on it for his own reasons. But this can apply to vintage items as well. Vintage doesn’t
always mean antique. Vintage simply means that an item is older, brings back memories or is something that the
market has marketed well as “vintage” with collectors accepting the label. True antiques are more than
vintage. The U.S. Customs Service legally defines an antique as being 100 years old or more. But ask any collector
or antique “expert” and you will get differing opinions about what an antique is.
your definition, buying antiques is an adventure. Everyone loves finding the gem in a mountain of rocks. Finding
that gem isn’t usually happenstance. Knowing what you want and not getting caught up in all the
“goodies” keeps you focused. Ask questions. There are no dumb questions in antiquing—especially
because appearances are deceiving. Ask about the history of a piece, look for signs of restoration. Has it been
reupholstered, are there mismatched knobs or obvious signs of manufacturing that don’t jive with the time
frame of the piece? Furniture can be especially tricky. Look for signs of age in respect to where it originated.
Furniture doesn't age well in locales where high summer humidity can warp a piece.
Buy antiques that you are
truly interested in buying, not because you feel that there will be later value in it. Markets fluctuate, so
don’t “invest” thinking that as an item gets older, it is guaranteed to increase in value. An
article by The Colorado State University Extension, “Art and Antiques as Investments,” states that
collectors should avoid putting more than 10 or 15 percent of an investment portfolio into art and antiques. There
are no guarantees in antiquing. Buy because you want to, because of sentiment or love of a piece. Turning a profit
should be secondary. The sometimes-exorbitant price speculations on shows like Antiques Roadshow are
exceptions, not the rule.
No matter what your reason for buying, one hard and fast rule is not to remove the
patina. Patina is produced by the oxidation of an item over time. On bronze or silver, you might call it tarnish. On
wood furniture it just may look like it needs refinishing. If you want to keep your item’s value, do not
refinish it. Do not dip your silver to remove tarnish. Now if you buy the antiques just to use a good set of silver
for special occasions and want to restore it, then by all means, restore it to its lustrous beauty. But if you want
to possibly sell it later, keep the patina.
This is not to say that patina can’t be faked to make an ordinary piece look like an antique. It is definitely an effect sought after by collectors; and unscrupulous dealers have been known to capitalize off unwitting collectors ready to pay premium for a piece that they believe is worth the price due to its patina. Pay attention and do your homework before you buy. Patina paints and certain types of acids can make furniture and newer bronze pieces look like they are over a hundred years old.
Know before you go now that your appetite is whetted and you are ready to browse the shops. Below are authoritative resources to aid you in identifying and classifying antiques, how to care for your treasures and how to destroy their value if you are not careful in handling certain types of antiques. There are also links to antique and collector associations. Lastly, if you are ready to get an idea of the true market value of your prize, there are links to appraisers who can determine whether in fact your item is truly a treasure and estimate a price in the current market.