Antiquing! Tips and tricks for finding hidden treasures

Oct 11, 2011, 3:30 p.m.

Antiquing! Tips and tricks for finding hidden treasures

Every time a priceless treasure turns up on Antiques Roadshow, people are inspired to head out to flea markets or thrift stores to try their luck and collecting eye. Before starting the search for discarded antiques and collectibles, take some time to learn a few basics. A little effort can prevent costly mistakes. Here are tips for finding gems among the junk.

Review prices online

Internet sites from eBay to Artfacts.com can clue you in on the going rate for porcelain, glass, metalwork, toys, furniture and even fine art. Your find may be in better or worse shape than those cited online, but knowing the expected price range can prevent you from paying $100 for a movie poster worth only $10.

Focus your search

If you're hoping to uncover a wonderful antique table, don't get sidetracked by porcelain figurines. Most thrift stores, consignment shops and flea market stalls are packed with pieces. Trying to go through everything brings on visual overload—a sure way to miss something special. Always go in knowing what you are looking for.

Look carefully for needed repairs

Condition makes or breaks an antique's value. Serious bargain hunters bring a jeweler's loupe or magnifying glass to check out hallmarks and signatures. If authentic, they add value to piece and help to identify the maker. A portable black light, available from most hardware stores, is useful for examining porcelain, glass and metal. Repairs, damage and cracks, modern paints and bleached or dyed paper will fluoresce, or glow, when exposed to black light in a darkened room.

Know the signs of authenticity

Check quilts for hand stitching and "natural" (silk, cotton, wool) textiles. Old furniture will have dovetailing or square nails as opposed to round, machined ones. Often you'll find the marks of hand tools and finishing. Turn pieces over to check for cracks, additions and repairs. Avoid wood or metal that's been over-refinished because this strips away desired patinas—and value.

Negotiate, but don't insult

Ask if there is "room" in the price or offer 20% less than is being asked. Both are good ways to start. But remember, some sellers won't budge, especially if a piece is clearly valuable.

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