Hunting for antiques is an interesting pastime, whether you’re a serious antiques connoisseur or simply looking for a morning’s entertainment. If you’re considering an upcoming jaunt to an antiques fair, these 7 tips will help you make the most of the time you spent browsing and buying.
Dealers at antiques fairs typically anticipate that buyers will want the opportunity to haggle a bit. They therefore could be expected to allow some leeway in their pricing structures. You can feel free to offer to buy an item you’re interested in for less than the dealer’s quoted price; this is perfectly acceptable behaviour, and no one will accuse you of breaching etiquette if you ask for a bargain. However, it’s a good idea to keep your offers and counter-offers realistic and fair; ideally, each transaction should be a win-win negotiation between buyer and seller, with both parties achieving satisfactory value from the transaction.
Antiquing is an ideal pastime for those who like to rise early. This is because you don’t want other collectors to beat you to the best opportunities for prime pieces and fantastic bargains.
Think of each piece offered for sale by a dealer at an antiques fair as a unique opportunity, quite unlike each piece mass-produced product offered for sale at your local shopping centre. When a piece at a fair sells, you probably won’t find another one exactly like it. If you want to see the widest and best possible selection, it pays to arrive early.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to pay a follow-up visit to any dealer whose merchandise you might still be interested in buying. If a dealer hasn’t yet sold the pieces you’re interested in by the time the fair is over, you might be able to negotiate a last-minute bargain. Sometimes it’s preferable for a dealer to sell a piece at a bargain price at the end of the day than it is to pack it up and transport it.
“Provenance” is a fancy word referring to an item’s origins and past ownership history. If you ask about this, dealers may provide interesting insights and details you wouldn’t have known otherwise. However, you won’t usually be able to get conclusive answers to questions about provenance, so don’t infer anything nefarious at times when dealers have no details to give you.
If known, provenance is one of the things that contributes uniqueness to each piece that comes up for sale on the secondary market. This is true whether the item in question is a vintage piece, an antique or a contemporary collectible item.
Let’s say you were to have a choice between purchasing two similar Andy Warhol paintings, one that was from an unknown source and one that was part of noteworthy art connoisseur Charles Saatchi’s collection. Which do you think would be the more credible, and thus more valuable, painting to purchase?
Antiques fairs offer you more than just purchasing opportunities. They’re great opportunities to research and educate yourself about antiques as well.
The best way to recognize a fake is to study the genuine article. For example, bank employees who must handle cash are routinely taught to study genuine currency. In much the same way, buyers of antiques and collectibles benefit from familiarizing themselves with the intricacies of the types of items they like to purchase.
We’re acquainted with a USA-based dealer of antique and vintage needlework patterns who once remarked, “Vintage booklets, paper and ephemera have a certain feel that you learn to recognize once you’ve handled enough of this material. When you’re familiar with the way it feels, it’s easy to recognize a contemporary reproduction simply by handling it. Contemporary papers don’t feel the same.”
Forgeries, fakes and reproductions are not always automatically a bad thing. There are some that can be quite valuable. What’s bad is when a dodgy dealer tries to pass off a less-valuable fake as a genuinely valuable antique.
Most dealers appreciate interacting with knowledgeable buyers and collectors. We don’t recommend making a nuisance of yourself by asking excessive questions of any dealer. However, we do recommend being observant and asking relevant questions when its warranted, particularly before making a purchase.
There are many good reasons to request a detailed receipt. Be sure the dealer includes all relevant details, particularly things like the maker, materials, and age plus any flaws, restoration work or damage.
Keep the receipts for your records. You may not remember the details of all your purchases later, and your receipts can help refresh your memory on the important details. Having them could prove to be beneficial if you ever decide to re-sell items from your antiques collection.
Be sure to bring a snack, bottle of water and other essentials with you. You’ll also probably want to have a list of things you’re looking for, plus a pen and paper for taking notes. A tape measure is also helpful to have if you are shopping for furniture, art or items to fill a specific space.
Peterborough Festival of Antiques is held twice a year in Easter and September so a great way to begin the years antique hunting and end your summer at what has become the Europe’s largest antique fair, held over two days at The East of England Showground in Peterborough.