10 Tips for Investing in Antiques
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Published by TOP4 Team
Explaining the process of buying antiques is like trying to tell someone how to climb a mountain. Your neighbourhood flea market is a bit like your local hill while the fury of a storming Mt. Everest is something like a major auction house when a multimillion dollar piece hits the floor and bids rise to seven figures with a rapid bidding and escalating emotions.
Here are some effective measures you can take when investing in antiques.
1. Don't buy anything at the start of the year.
What you buy at the beginning of the year won't even resemble with what you purchase at the end of that year. Over the course of the year, look, ask questions and learn. Your eye will become more trained in everything from line and proportion to patina and construction. You'll be a more sophisticated buyer and make a much smarter choice at the end of the first year of your education.
2. Learn why something is valuable.
While every good dealer and auction house will stand behind the things they sell, you should learn about authenticity because it can help you know what makes a piece "period" and why the object is valuable. Take the time to learn and enjoy the process. If you make smart decisions, you'll make smart investments.
3. Ask questions.
Don't be intimidated. If you don't ask, you won't learn. Good dealers love to teach about pieces because then you'll recognise why one object is mediocre and another is great. This helps you understand price structures and value. Know that smart dealers recognise smart buyers. Your knowledge will help you obtain a quality piece at a fair price. And if you find something priced too good to be true, it probably is. By the time you see that object, dozens of dealers and collectors have already turned it down.
4. Go to the best dealers.
Don't worry if you can't afford a single item at the top dealer. The best antique shops will have the best examples of merchandise with the best teachers to help you understand why an object is great. If you only expose yourself to mediocre material in any medium, you'll only understand mediocrity, never superior material. Always push yourself up in the market, not down.
5. Go to museums.
Go to museums and pay attention — read the descriptions, take the tour, ask questions. You don't need to spend the day — just an hour or two every now and then will do. Your eye will see the best among the best examples. If you read the descriptions, your brain will understand why these are the best. And slowly, you'll begin to distinguish a really great object from a mediocre one just by sight and exposure.
Read books, magazines, museum catalogs, auction catalogs, descriptions in shops. Read it all. Soon you'll recognise who actually knows something and who just gets paid to write. Read information only from those who know something and you, too, will begin to learn. One of the best books written about furniture is "The New Fine Points of Furniture" by Albert Sack. Sack uses photographs and text to illustrate the differences in quality, which include comparisons of good, better, best, superior and masterpiece. You'll learn about line, proportion and carving even if you're not particularly interested in furniture.
7. Decide your tactics.
You must make decisions as you embark on this endeavor. Will you collect quality antiques that will appreciate in value? Or are you going to decorate first and buy things that appear to be antique? It's fine to decorate in an "antique manner," if that's your priority. Just don't fool yourself on the availability, quality, and value of the pieces you're buying.
8. Decide how to spend your money.
You either buy one really great investment-level period piece per year (knowing it will appreciate consistently) or several mediocre pieces (knowing over the course of several generations they'll appreciate somewhat). Keep in mind you can always upgrade as your means increase. However, there's nothing wrong with buying altered or out-of-period pieces as long as you don't think you're making phenomenal investments. Don't expect the same appreciation rate for altered or out-of-period material that you expect for a period, authentic material. It will never happen.
9. Get a written bill of sale.
You should get the bill of sale in writing for many reasons. It's a legal transaction, and you should have a record. Keep a written description for your records. Where, when and from whom the piece was purchased is valuable to know. Ask the dealer to offer you some sort of means to help you sell the piece. While some pieces appreciate so a dealer can't afford to buy the piece outright from you again, a dealer can help you sell it privately or via consignment. In any form, this assistance tells you that the dealer believes in the item's integrity and value.
10. Learn to care for what you have.
Condition is one of the important factors as a piece ages. Not only that you want pieces that are unaltered, you also want pieces that have been well-preserved. Many sources, such as books, dealers, and museums, can give you information on learning to care for your antiques. Always have artwork "museum mounted" with acid-free paper, and never use any spray substance on antique furniture. A dry cloth or lamb's wool duster is all you need.
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