A Primer for Buying Antiques and Vintage Furnishings

Have you ever typed “antique” into dictionary.com? You’ll see it defined as ‘of or belonging to the past – not modern’. This vocabulary service also puts forth several grim synonyms: ‘bygone, archaic, obsolete and obsolescent’. With declarations such as these, why would anyone appreciate and value, let alone want, something antique to be part of their life today?

Well, there are many other words that can also apply to “antique”; storied, rarity, quality craftsmanship, contrasting and valuable to list but a few. It’s for these defining terms that people find pleasure in living with antiques. Additionally, buying antiques is always a very exciting event. The search and purchase experience yields two benefits. You are acquiring something for your home that has distinct character and sense of history, and – if you buy the right thing at the right price – you are acquiring an asset that can increase in value for the future.

Here is a preliminary guide to help you make wiser purchases as you add antiques to your life:

  1. You should understand what is the difference between “antique” and “vintage” when you go shopping. An “antique” is an item that is usually more than 100 years old with certain historic or aesthetic value. The classification of “vintage” is generally applied to an item that is over than 50 years old, but less than 100.
  2. The foremost thing you want to take care about when buying an antique or vintage is buying a fake. For pieces of substantial value it is best to seek advice from an independent expert before making any purchase.
  3. Once a piece draws your attention the asking price is always the first thing to consider. Of course, the idea that you are acquiring a treasure at a price of a good book is motivating. While phenomenal bargains do happen in the realm of antiques be leery when buying an item at deliberately low price. You could be dealing with a fake.
  4. Antique and most vintage furniture are often quite light compared to modern products. There are two reasons for this. First, wood dries over time reducing its water weight. And secondly, plywood and particleboard (which are heavier components) were not in use in the past. However, pieces made from hardwoods and larger items can be heavy, too.
  5. Do some research before you go shopping if you are interested in a specific historic period – at least gaining a basic knowledge about its style. Knowing that the cabriole leg is the most distinctive feature of Queen Anne chairs will help you to recognize furniture belonging to that period.
  6. Take time to thoroughly explore antique and vintage furniture before you buy. Open all the doors and drawers (including the secret ones), check under the seats and backsides of wardrobes. Such an examination will give you clues about the origin and age of an item. You’ll more likely be dealing with true antique when wood is joined in a pattern resembling dove’s tail.
  7. Pay extra attention to hardware, fasteners and trim. Look for fading shadows around hardware as it indicates it was replaced at some time. Other telltale signs that the piece isn’t a true antique will be the use of plastic, metallic wires and screws. Also check out the nails – a sure indication of a fake will be when you see old rusty nails in rust-free holes.
  8. Get to know and understand the technologies that were available at the time the antique or vintage piece was made. Carefully scrutinize a piece that is too perfect as it may have been made or reworked with machine or laser tooling.