Tips for Dating Vintage & Antique Items


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 or, 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 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!


Top Tips for Buying at Auction

I have spent many years buying at auction, and here I share with you some top tips on buying vintage items at auction.

Top Tips for Buying Vintage Items at Auction

Written by Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques.

I was very nervous the first time I bid for something at auction. And the adrenaline rush, as I bid higher and higher was both awesome and scary! Nowadays, attending auctions, or bidding at them online, is a routine activity as part of my ongoing search for quirky antiques and vintage items for my online shop. But the anticipation and excitement are always there! It is lots of fun to do, but it is also easy to get carried away and swept along with the determination to be the highest bidder and win the item. It is also far too easy to end up with things that were a bargain, but which you don’t really need! There will always be things being auctioned for a fraction of what they cost, or are really worth!

So, what have I learned over the years?

Have a preferred auction house!

Find out which auction sells most of the type of items you  are looking for, at the best prices, on days or dates when you are free to attend the auction previews, available to bid (in person or online) and available to collect any items you buy. I recommend 2 or 3 visits to the previews of local auctions, a visit to each on auction day, and a review of past catalogues (online) to gauge what they typically sell and for what sort of price, before you ever go along to bid. Check what fees they charge on top of the ‘hammer’ price, and if they are happy to deliver items, if you plan to buy anything large. As weekly auctions rely on a high turnover of items, you will often be expected to collect any items within 2 days, and will be charged storage if you don’t. Attending an auction also gives you an idea of the speed of the auction, which typically varies between 80 and 120 items per hour. Then you can judge what time you need to be at the auction, or online, and don’t need to spend an entire day waiting for lots to come up. By attending an auction you will also understand what the registration and bidding system is. This varies by auction house. At some, once you have registered, you have a permanent number that you hold up. At others you wave your arm, and then just give your name if you are successful. At others you register on the day and get given a number solely for that auction.

Check out the Sales Catalogue.

This may be online the day before you go to the auction preview. Catalogues vary: some have detailed descriptions, some have guide prices, some have photos. At least have an idea of the Lot numbers of items you are interested in, to save time when you visit the preview. That way you can focus your energy on checking the condition of things.

Always Attend the Auction Preview.

Never buy, without attending the auction preview, to check the condition of items. After attending an auction preview I typically have a completely different list of items I am interested in bidding for, than I had when I went! At the preview, carefully think what your plans are for the item (will it really look good in your house? How much could you really sell it for, once you have cleaned it up? Etc) You may want to measure things, and perhaps take photos of some of the details of the items e.g. makers names, so that you can verify items.

Research Items you are Interested in.

Carry out research into the items you want to bid on. What are similar items selling for on Ebay? Or what have they sold for at other auctions recently? Is the item really what it has been described as? If you have been looking at boxes of items, research some of the key pieces that will drive the value of the Lot.

Plan Your Maximum Bids

Make a note of the maximum amount you plan to bid for each item AND STICK TO IT. There is always the temptation to think ‘I don’t want to lose it for the sake of a fiver’, but if 3 people are thinking that, before you realise it you have paid £50 more than you planned to. Auctioneers increase the bidding by different amounts, which is why it is important to attend an auction, before your first time bidding!

Learn how to play the bidding game!

If the auctioneer detects no interest in the room or online, he may very quickly drop the price very low, just to sell it (he knows if the client has stipulated a minimum price – you don’t!) but only give you seconds to bid. I have secured many items in this way, paying £10 for items listed at £50-100. So, from the catalogue, I may have thought they were too expensive, but if I really like them, will always pay attention just in case this happens. But you need to wave your arm quickly! This tactic rarely works online, as the bid doesn’t process quickly enough – as I have sadly learned a few times!

Be Seen & Heard!

Sit where you can be seen, and don’t be shy! Auctioneers are very professional, but things move very, very fast : much faster than on the TV! If all else fails, and you haven’t been noticed, shout out! No-one cares! It’s all part of the fun. I have even been known to jump up, when I risked losing an item because I hadn’t been seen.

Set a Total Budget

Set yourself a total budget for the auction. Once you have hit your budget, go home! (or log off). I typically will be interested in over 50 items from looking at the catalogue, 20 items after I’ve been to the preview and successfully bid on 5 items. But I always set the maximum budget, because there is always another auction next week!

Happy bidding!


Written by Pamela Carvell, Quirky Antiques, March 2018.