Oooh how I love that heart-skipping moment of unearthing that one-of-a-kind, keep-forever, mind-bendingly beautiful treasure. But while antique-hunting fledglings like myself revel in the thrill of the chase, there are plenty of others who turn the game into serious mint (and don’t we all cling to the hope that the vase we picked up at a junk sale is in fact a long-forgotten masterpiece that will fetch thousands at auction?)
The antiques business is a finicky one – rarity, condition, provenance and current trends all play into the price.
“It’s ultimately a perception – a market driven purely by what people are willing to pay, says Fiona Lewin, Antiques Specialist at Southern Antique Centre. “Valuing antiques is more than an art. It’s a very fickle industry,”
With no set market prices for antiques and vintage, it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting a fair price when selling or buying.
But, provided that you know what to look for, they can provide potentially impressive long-term returns. And don’t they look so much prettier than a number in your bank account?
Here are Fiona’s top tips on how to spot a money-making find.
1. Condition is paramount
Think that small chip in your vintage plate won’t matter when it comes to sell? Yes, it will. “For anything that is considered vintage or antique, condition is paramount,” says Fiona.
Condition is even more important for items such as toys. “Mint packaging is expected as well as mint condition of the toy. Working order really ties into the value and how collectable it is.”
“When it comes to crockery and porcelain, any kind of chip or crack just won’t do.”
2. The exception…
The one item that wear and tear won’t necessarily impact on the value? “A furniture piece with a few scrapes, I think really adds to the aesthetic and in some ways to the value. Not everyone subscribes to that view, that’s one area of antiques that has divided opinion.”
3. If you’re going to invest, mid century is where it is at.
“Mid century is gaining and holding its value very well,” says Fiona. “It’s very classic in it’s aesthetic so it’s doing well. That includes early retro pieces right through to the 70s. Of course a little bit of art deco holds its popularity very well but it’s more designer pieces which have the real value.”
4. Forget nick knacks, collect functional.
The trend of decluttering has had an impact on the antiques market, says Fiona. “People don’t’ want ornamental things that serve no purpose any more. So objects that were once very collectable, and in demand are not so much any more.”
“That decluttering philosophy is really changing the way people collect. People might want to collect china – not to put behind a glass case, but to use for afternoon tea in their home. So we’re now catering to different demands which is in some ways exciting, and in other ways challenging.”
5. Repairing an item won’t bring it back to its original value.
“In general, the cost of expert repair will be as much as replacing the item,” says Fiona.
But don’t toss it out just yet. “If this piece is something that has importance to you or is something you’re going to keep and cherish, then go ahead and fix the damage. But in terms of retaining value for resale purposes it’s totally futile.”
And don’t totally disregard practical items such as kitchenware or a teapot that may have some damage. “If it’s got a slight chip, you’re going to get it at a much cheaper price and if something happens to it, you won’t feel as guilty.”
6. Just because you think it’s valuable, doesn’t mean someone else will.
Have you ever been surprised to find Granny’s figurines you’ve coveted since childhood sell for less than $20 each in an antique store? You’re not alone.
“It’s a real problem that we encounter as sellers in the industry,” says Fiona. “It’s very difficult to navigate the emotional minefield because a lot of times you’re dealing with people have a great deal of attachment to an item.”
If you’re serious about selling something to a dealer, then it’s important to remove all emotion, says Fiona. Also remember that dealers have their own overheads and costs; so don’t expect to get what you see it for on the floor.
7. Look to home decorating trends to find out what’s in demand…
“Certainly, shows and movies such as the Great Gatsby and Downton Abbey have an impact but it’s a lot less than what you may think,” says Fiona.
“Home decorating trends have far more of an impact than any film. For example there was the shabby chic movement then French provincial then industrial that had an impact right across the board.”
9. Keep your eyes peeled for designer items.
“The customer can identify with that, and more importantly, we can authenticate it, which is really important in terms of value.”
10. Value can and does change…
If you’ve have something that’s on trend and in demand, you’d be smart to take advantage of the market while it’s hot.
“Ten years ago, Royal Doulton, was worth a lot of money, the greens were fetching $500 each average, sometimes a lot more. Today, you’d be lucky to get $100 dollars. And even then they don’t sell.”
“The demand has just crashed. And it’s something we don’t always have answers to. It just went out of fashion.”
11. Don’t hang onto something just because you’ll make some money
The only things you should hold onto when it comes to antiques and art? The things you genuinely love to have in your home.
“The value of antiques wasn’t it what it was, not like it was in the 80s or 90s,” says Fiona. “So you could be hanging onto something until you’re an old lady, hoping it will be worth something, and what’s the use of that?
“Rather than buying it because you think you’ll make money down the track, buy something because you absolutely love it.”
13. Jewellery will always hold its value.
If you’re going to invest in antiques, jewellery is a sure bet, says Fiona. “Jewelry is a stable market. It’s is something that you can buy and it’s not going to crash like less predictable items are.”
And a beautiful piece with stones is always going to have a market.
“With vintage and antique jewelry, the older style of cut is something that’s not replicated today so you can get something that’s more unique.
14. Just because something is listed online at a certain price, doesn’t mean it’s worth that.
“EBay is very misleading,” says Fiona. “They often have a backyard seller that lists something at a very high price, and someone else will see something they have similar and think it’s worth the same value. It can be very misleading. Its not ideal because its not necessarily answering the market.”
“I saw a 1980s TV cabinet being listed as a Victorian TV cabinet. So you do have to laugh. But that is what you’re dealing with online, right across the board. People who know what they’re doing are certainly on there, but so are people who don’t.”
15. Now is the time to get out there and grab a bargain.
“Because the industry has suffered, dealers have to respond to that by lowering their prices. For example, with Royal Doulton, it’s not a good time to sell it, but it is a good time to buy it.
“I think it will come back, it’s just a matter of when. So if you like it, if you have an affinity with it then why not? It’s a quality item, that’s stamped and no longer in production, so that would be a smart investment.
“There are bargains galore out there!”
Do you have any tips for making money off antiques? I’d love to hear about them! Let me know by commenting below.
For more information and a great range of antiques with expert advice, visit the Southern Antiques Centre in Kograh, Sydney.