I deal in relatively low value items, so these tips are based on my experiences of identifying and valuing items which are typically worth less than £100.. As such, any mistakes are not costly, but obviously my reputation is at stake and I want to treat customers fairly. Millions of fake antiques are believed to be produced every year, and some are good enough to fool the experts. In the areas I specialise in i.e. Victorian, Art Deco and mid-century it is easier to identify fakes, and less lucrative for the crooks anyway!
Like so many things in life, you can’t beat years of experience! I have been dabbling in antiques since I was at school and fell in love with the Art Deco and Victorian periods thanks to history projects. And my love of advertising memorabilia stems from working for a large advertising agency, when I was responsible for branded collectables that may well become valuable antiques in future! The more often you visit Antiques Fares and markets and attend Auction previews, where you can study and hold items, the sooner you will get a feel for what things are. For example earthenware, porcelain and china look and feel very different to each other, which alone may help you identify a manufacturer or date an item.
Subscribe to magazines, watch the abundance of TV programmes, read books, read blogs and visit websites. Many companies have official websites where they explain their history, and which designs were made when e.g. Wedgwood
There is so much information available online, but always head first to ‘official’ sites such as thepotteries.org or theglassmuseum.com, or to Auction Houses, where a qualified expert has identified and dated the item, and you can often see what it sold for recently. Magazines such as Antiques Trade Gazette have a lot of useful information on their websites. As I love Art Deco glass www.theglassmuseum.com is one of my favourites. Ebay and Wikipedia are the least reliable sources in my experience!
Study the Item Closely
How well is it made? What is it made of? How well is it painted? Does it have a makers name somewhere?
If it is a piece of furniture, has it been glued together or does it have well-made dovetail joints? What are screws, hinges etc made of?
Obviously the style, shape and colour are huge clues.
If there is a makers name, there are many websites that list the date of each version of that manufacturer’s name. I am eternally grateful to those passionate people who devote their time to creating such resources for the rest of us. Thanks to such a website I was able to identify the exact 6 month period in the 1920’s that a vintage typewriter was made in the USA!
Obviously any item of china that states either ‘Dishwasher Safe’ or ‘Microwave Safe’ is not antique!
For me the quickest and most reliable method to use is to start by conducting a Google search using quite a few words e.g. vintage pink French glass decanter. Then look at all the images in the search results until you find ones that are a similar style to your item, and that the source is an Auction House or Antiques Dealer, rather than an Ebay listing! In those details you will find more information e.g. this style was typically made in the ‘such and such’ glass factory in ‘this town’ during this decade. I then Google that more detailed description, and study the resulting images. By this process of ‘drilling down’ I can normally accurately identify most items within an hour maximum.
I am not a fan of Boot Fairs for sourcing items, as I have heard far too many people lying about the age and provenance of items they are selling.
However, at the end of the day it often comes down to whether you like the item or not. When I am pricing items, my thoughts are often ‘regardless of age, what would someone typically pay for this item, of this quality and beauty in John Lewis’. And that way I am delivering value to customers even if I make the odd mistake!