Tips for Antique Buyers on a Budget


Buying antiques as a new collector is an adventure. Follow these tips and you can make any purchase with confidence.

Choose a theme

Rather than attempting to tackle the entire world of antiques in one fell swoop, stick to a theme that naturally interests you. By focusing your efforts and resources, you can quickly amass a coherent and satisfying collection. Begin by choosing a type of object that appeals instinctively and consider narrowing your selections to a single material, historical era, or place of origin. Plan to buy items that you would like to have in your own home.

Do your homework

Visit relevant exhibitions and read about art historical movements. Examine illustrations of one or two articles from each period of interest, and attempt to fix in your mind’s eye a representative sample with characteristic features. Once learned, you will be able to remember these features and recognize other articles from the same period.

Understand rarity and limitation

Items that are produced in limited quantities are generally more desirable than those that have been mass-produced; and objects that have been shaped by human hands are generally more desirable than those made with industrial processes. However, be cautious to avoid items that are not categorically recognizable. While unique objects may come with an interesting backstory, they can also be of dubious merit.

Inquire about provenance

It is important to understand where any object has been. Provenance should be demonstrable for major works. If the trail of ownership breaks down or was never recorded, ask “why?” Request a written guarantee that the object under consideration is genuine.

Know fair market values

You will benefit from the transparency of open markets. Follow auctions, and take note of prices when the hammer falls. Whenever possible, ask to view price lists and catalogs. Compare prices for similar objects and understand factors that can alter the price of an interesting piece. Remember: if the price seems to low, it is most likely for a legitimate reason.

Scrutinize closely

Know the relevant conditional hazards. Look especially for re-paintings or repairs, evidence that an item could be a modern copy of an original, and check for any evidence of damage. Ask to see clear pictures and take care to survey the inside and undersides of the piece. If possible, examine the object under a bright light. Confirm that any moving parts are functional. Don’t be afraid to pull out the figurative magnifying glass!

Consider buying items “in the rough”

This way you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have gotten exactly what you paid for, and can take control of any restoration work. Always ask if any repairs have been undertaken, whether by the current owner or another party.

Get to know experts in the field

Visit dealer organizations like The National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, Inc. An expert can be a valuable friend and their advice can help you detect forgeries. Have items appraised by an expert before you purchase, and consider asking for an appraisal of your current collection.

Bargain strategically

While you may be tempted to bargain a dealer down to the lowest price you could possibly get, this is not recommended in the first instance. In the long run, you will benefit more from strong relationships, because dealers and experts will be willing to hunt for bargains on your behalf. Consider asking instead for a multiple item discount.

Find rewards in possessing history

The more you give to a collection, the more it rewards you back. Enjoy the process as you refine your own taste. Always believe that there are greater treasures to be found. Trust your own judgment – know your point of view and find the confidence to act on it in the marketplace. Only buy when fully satisfied!

Featured Image (From Left to Right): Chinese Export Famille Rose Porcelain Vase, 19th century; Sumida Gawa Ceramic Vase, Japanese, early 20th century; Chinese Famille Verte Porcelain Jar and Cover, Republic Period, early 20th century