A beginner’s guide to buying antiques

If you’re new to the world of antiques and art, it can be a bewildering experience, so read our beginner’s guide to buying antiques to get started.

There are many things to consider when looking for antiques, including:

  • are they genuine?
  • will they fit in your home?
  • Are you paying the right price?

Do your research before buying antiques However, these questions shouldn’t detract from what should be an exhilarating experience. Nothing beats the thrill of finding a real steal or stumbling across the perfect investment piece to complete your home.

If you’re new to the world of antiques and you’re struggling to know where to start, this guide is for you.

We’ve covered everything from spotting fakes to where to buy antiques on a budget.

Back to basics – what is an antique?

In today’s understanding, the word ‘antique’ is most commonly used to describe something old. However, exactly how old an object is dictates whether it can correctly be called an antique. To be considered antique, the majority of dealers will require that the object is over 100 years old.

What makes an antique valuable?

The word ‘antique’ is often used interchangeably with vintage or collectible items.

However, the terminology used doesn’t really affect the value of the item and terms may often be used incorrectly as part of sales patter.

What makes an antique valuable?

There are a number of factors to consider when assessing the value of an antique, these include:

  • age
  • rarity
  • quality
  • historical significance
  • current taste

Within the industry, and among experts, definitions of ‘antique’ will differ. However, the 100 year rule is usually the safest point to start, especially if you’re new to the game.

After you’ve confirmed it’s the right age, then it’s down to personal taste and research to determine if it’s a valuable piece.

Before you buy antiques do your research

An interior with antiquesBy now you’ll have realised that age is one of the most important factors when identifying antiques. For this reason, when buying antiques, it’s useful to be aware of the different time periods.

If you’re clued up before you go antique shopping you’ll feel more confident talking to experts and it’ll be much easier to spot a fake or bag a bargain.

Make sure you take some time to sit down with an informative book or your computer to do some research before you embark on your antiques adventure.

Analyse photographs and drawings detailing examples of furniture, fireplaces, lighting and decorative objects from different periods.

Common trends in antiques

Make sure you look out for common trends for each period, including:

  • Materials
  • Finishes
  • Decorative styles

These will allow you to instantly spot a Georgian from an art deco fireplace, or a Regency chair from a Victorian.

How to age an antique

So, you don’t feel you have to head straight to the library, we’ve created a quick set of tips to determine the age of an antique.

Applying these tips, and looking at the piece of furniture as a whole, should give you a good indication of the age of the piece.


Fabrics, woods and patterns are often a great way to identify the age of an antique. Due to trends, availability and technology, certain materials and patterns are associated with specific periods. During your research, see An interior with antique furnishingsif you can familiarise yourself with a few periods and their trends.

Uppers, unders and insides

Handmade antique items tend to have irregularities. Try looking at the bottoms and backs of items, and the insides of drawers to find imperfections. On an antique, imperfections aren’t necessarily flaws but signs that the object was not machine-made and, therefore, more likely to be an antique. Most machine-made objects can be dated to after 1860 – so it may still be ‘antique’ but not necessarily as old as it first looks.

Perfect match

Due to their age, many antiques will have hand-crafted elements. If you spot that drawer handles or feet are completely uniform it may be a good indication that it was made by a machine and might not be a real antique.

Although it can seem like a lot of effort to go to for a shopping trip, just knowing the basics will greatly enhance your antiquing experience and your chances of getting a great piece.

Where to buy antiques

Although it’s important to do your research, try not to get too bogged down with the theory, practice makes perfect. The more antique shops, fairs and auctions you go to, the quicker you’ll learn!

A buyer and trader at an antiques fairThere are lots of different places to hunt for antiques. Here are some of the best places to look:

  • Car boots – car boot sales are great if you’re just starting out antiquing. You may have to look a bit harder, but there are often great gems. Make sure you’re early to arrive, bring cash and don’t be afraid to haggle!
  • Flea markets – as with car boot sales, you’ll probably have to do a lot of sifting, but every now and then you’ll hit gold.
  • Auctions – general auction houses will often get a lot of their haul from house clearances, so they’re good for finding hidden gems.
  • Online – looking online can be a bit more difficult as you can’t see the item in person. However, there’s often great variety and often you’ll have the option to return if the piece isn’t as described.
  • Charity shops – charity shops are great for finding lower-end antiques. Dealers often check through donations to skim off the good stuff, but bargains do slip through so it’s always worth a rummage.
  • General dealers – once you’ve got a bit of knowledge, this is the ideal place for buying antiques. The chaotic caverns are perfect for having a real search. Just beware of dodgy dealers convincing you that pieces are worth more than they are.
  • Specialist dealers – specialist shops are good place to go if you’re looking for something specific. Although pieces may be a bit more on the pricey side, they will be correctly priced. If you’re looking for an investment, this is the best place to start.

Shopping for antiques is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. The more places you try and the more times you visit, the better your chances of finding something just right.

Treasured possessions

The best advice to give to anyone who’s starting out in antiques is to go for what you love. As much as an interesting backstory and period features are all part of the fun, what really matters is how it makes you feel.

If you’ve fallen in love with a piece, tear yourself away from your emotions and take a quick minute to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it well made?
  • Do the parts work properly?
  • Are there any bits missing?
  • Can you see any aesthetic faults like chips, cracks, stains or significant fading?

Antiques are unique and once they’re gone, they’re gone. If you’ve found something you love and you think it’s sturdy, or you’re happy to restore it, then go with your gut!

How to spot fake antiques

The last thing you want as an antiques novice is to be fooled with a fake. Taking into consideration the 100-year rule, it’s safe to say that if your item shows signs of post-1930s’ construction it’s probably a reproduction.

Look at various factors to spot signs of fake antiquesSo what should you look out for to avoid being fooled by a fraud?

Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:

  • chipboard
  • plywood
  • staples
  • Philips screws.

Wear and tear

Another good tip is to look for wear and tear. It’s highly unlikely that an antique will be as good as new – after all their age is their charm.

Look for signs of wear in areas that make sense, like the ends of chair arms and the runners on drawers.

Reproduction antiques

Although some reproductions are valuable antiques themselves, make sure the seller is open about the fact they’re still a reproduction.

If you’re concerned an item may be a fake, there’s no shame in asking the seller if it’s a reproduction. Most dealers will be responsive to your questions and if you think they’re being shady, walk away.

The best way to spot fakes easily is to handle as many genuine antiques as possible – so get hunting.

Finding antiques on a budget

It’s easy to think of antiques in grand manor houses and castles but you don’t have to be rich to enjoy them. Here’s a list of tips if you’re looking to bag a bargain:

  • Get your hands dirty – don’t just look at things at eye level. In antique shops, go hunting in corners and on cabinets – this is often where you’ll find hidden gems.
  • The early bird catches the worm – get to car boot sales and fairs first thing. This might mean arriving at the crack of dawn, but it will be worth it! Usually the best bargains are snapped up first thing. However, if you feel like making a day of it, it can be well worth waiting to the very end as sellers may be willing to lower their prices.
  • Be open minded – often the harder you look for a specific thing, the more frustrating it becomes. Keep an open mind when you’re looking and you never know what might catch your eye.
  • Haggle! – especially at car boots and flea markets, haggling is a must! Show off your knowledge and don’t be intimidated by sales patter. Hold your nerve and negotiate hard.

Start buying antiques!

Remember, do your research, keep an open mind and follow your heart. Good luck!

This article was written by Anthony Bridgman, co-director and head of restoration at Westland London. Their Shoreditch showroom is a housed in an atmospheric Grade I listed church, it’s packed with exceptional antique fireplaces, chimneypieces, chandeliers, furniture, sculptures and more – they are always happy to talk about their collection.

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