Antiques are an enjoyable way to revamp a decor. Beyond purely decorative aspects, acquiring antiques is also an excellent way to learn more about our own heritage or the history of another culture. But it can be intimidating to make the rounds of antique stores when you're not an expert. Happily, there are a few simple tips that can make antiquing a little less daunting.
Test the waters
When it comes to antiques, spur of the moment purchases are to be avoided. Since large pieces of furniture can prove quite expensive, you're far better off taking your time when shopping. Ideally, you should do a minimum amount of research on the type of furniture you want to buy so that you're not at the mercy of antique dealers. Most antique dealers are serious professionals, but remember: knowledge is power!
A good habit to take up is to visit local antique dealers and second hand dealers in your area regularly. This will enable you to get a feel for things and to see how the shop owner treats other customers.
What to buy?
You don't have to invest in a big piece of furniture to add a little flair to your home. Amateurs can choose to start their collection by buying smaller, less expensive pieces that have the added advantage of enabling them to get to know their own heritage and history.
In order to be considered an antique, a piece must be at least 100 years old. Anything more recent than that is not yet called an "antique", but that doesn't mean that the piece you're interested in is without value. Some of the features you might look for are : architectural elements such as corbels, mouldings, doors, etc., that can help to revamp a decor effortlessly.
Hand-painted earthenware and coloured glass are inexpensive buys that are likely to become more valuable as time goes on. The same goes for silverware, which should bear silversmith's mark to make the item easier to date. Last, leather-bound books dating back to the turn of the century, and black and white photographs, especially from the Victorian era, are a nice way to add a little warmth to your decor.
How do you go about assessing how old a piece is? It's easier than you think to date a piece of furniture. The first thing to look at is the nails that were used to build the furniture you're interested in. In the 19th century, nails had unusual square heads. This is your first clue. More revealing are the traces of oxidization you can usually see around the nails used on older, original furniture. Oxidization is the result of the passage of time.
The next feature to look at is handles and hinges. Although these may have been replaced, the originals leave an indelible trace in the wood that you should look for. The size of the planks used by the craftsman to build the furniture is another indication of the likely authenticity of a piece. The wider the planks are (between 15 and 30 inches) the more likely it is to be authentic. Wood becomes lighter with time, and an even patina on a piece is suspect, as patina is the result of variations in the light and air in which the piece has sat.
The tools from bygone eras did not have the same precision as more modern tools, so beware of overly clean cuts and perfect, consistent finishes. Last, it was common for craftsmen to use poorer quality wood for the underside and back sections of their pieces, so a quick look at the back of that magnificent commode is a must. Bear in mind that a unique reproduction is not necessarily a bad buy. A unique reproduction of an 18th century armoire made in 1910 may prove a good buy. Listen to the experts!