Tips for Dating Vintage & Antique Items

Introduction

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!

Experience

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.

Education

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

Research

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!

My Advice

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!

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How did I get into Antiques and Up-Cycling?

How did I get into Antiques and Up-Cycling?

By Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques

During my teens I lived in the mediaeval town of Warwick. At that time it was full of antique shops, and those sort of permanent antique markets, where many different dealers take a space. Strangely, I have always loved the modern look, which I suspect I get from my parents, as they were very much into GPlan and Ercol and Danish teak furniture.

Because the town had so many antique shops and anywhere else was a bus ride away, they were the shops I ended up browsing in at the weekends. I was most taken with the antique jewellery, if truth be told, though it was all well and truly out of my price range. I can’t actually remember the first antique I bought, but there are a couple of pieces of furniture that I have owned since my teens and that have travelled the length and breadth of the country with me, every time I have moved house. They have also received different ‘treatments’ over time, so that they look modern. The antique chest pictured here, is lined with an 1871 newspaper, and when I bought it I had to treat it for woodworm before my parents would even let it in the house! It currently has a padded seat on the top, covered in a fab bright fabric I bought last summer at a Spanish market. That is part of the fun of buying a quality piece of furniture and re-inventing it  / up-cycling it every few years.

I also love Art Deco, and own an Art Deco three-tier table which I initially painted with black laquer and polished the mahogany. A few years later I up-cycled it and painted it in yellow and gold, which was very fashionable at the time. It currently sits in my bedroom and is painted in a soft chalky green and blue.

Something else I have owned for a long time is a pair of Art Deco birds made from horns. They were bought in a junk shop in Manchester for 50pence a very long time ago.

No-one ever taught me how to up-cycle, although I am going on an Upholstery course in a few months time. I would go and chat to the local antiques dealers, because I always wanted to retain the integrity of the piece, and ask their advice. And I would visit the old-fashioned local ironmongers, who would sell me the right materials for the job. Obviously, it is much easier now. All the big DIY chains sell chalky paints, so you don’t even need to sand or undercoat a piece of furniture. Although personally I prefer to lightly sand (or clean with steel wool) and undercoat, as it produces a more durable surface. I am also a fan of a top coat of varnish. The modern matt ones are not visible, and yet they produce a more durable finish than simply waxing.

Up-cycling is very in fashion right now, and the shabby-chic look is still very popular. But my aspiration is always about how I can take a solid piece of well-made furniture and up-cycle it so it will look great in a modern home. I sell up-cycled furniture, for collection in the North East, from my Facebook Shop

Written by Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques.