How to shop for antiques like a pro

Can you spot a real from a fake? The sprawling Sydney Antiques and Art Fair opens at Royal Randwick today, so we’ve quizzed an antiques expert to help you unearth some real historic treasures. 

Antique ornaments, furniture, crockery and silverware, or jewellery can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Trawling the booths at the Sydney Antiques & Art Fair at Royal Randwick this weekend could be a gruelling treasure hunt – but with over 30 vendors and antiques dealers from across the country showing off their wares, it will be well worth a visit.

The fair is hosted by the Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association, and features a carefully curated selection of rare and extraordinary pieces.

Vice President of the Association and manager of The Antique Guild, Chris Hughes explains that antiques are classified as anything “over 100 years old.”

For those of us new to the world of antiques, Chris says the fair is a great opportunity to educate yourself on the tricks and trades. To give you a head start, we asked Chris for a little antiques advice.

Tell us about your first experience with antiques?

My love of antiques started with the purchase of a small sterling silver Tiffany bowl, and a set of salt dishes with matching spoons. They were the first things I had bought and they started my first love: silver. I loved how I could use them in my life and in setting a table to enjoy them with others.

At this starting out point I was transitioning from being a traveller and it was the first thing I had bought in a while that had genuine value. And of course once you have salt dishes, you need candle sticks, and then a tea set, etc. It really started the ball rolling.

What are some of your favourite antique finds to date? And have you ever made a purchase you regret?

Probably my favourite antique finds are some of my jewellery collection. I have two tiepins that I love wearing and I never tire of them. The work that has gone into them is just amazing from my point of view. My favourite of the two is a moonstone that has been carved to look like the man on the moon, with a crescent of diamonds on the side of his face.

Recently, I did make a purchase I regret. I bought a chair at an online auction because I thought it was so interesting and appealing. But then it arrived – and it has to be the smallest chair I have ever seen. I mean, it isn’t a miniature for a dollhouse, but I am not sure how small a person you would have to be and sit on it comfortably.

Can you negotiate on price with antique dealers, and what’s the best approach for this?

The best thing to keep in mind is: be kind, and balance your expectations. I am more than happy to negotiate on prices, if possible, but I am much more inclined to do so if the customer I am dealing with is kind and not demanding 50% off on something.

What’s your process for styling with antiques – do you layer old with new?

Absolutely we layer. But styling is such a personal thing.  At home, we create contrast by mixing old and new items.  I always find if I am stuck, grouping items by colour is a safe way of mixing old and new items together.  Try varying textures or heights, as well as a variety of time periods.

OK – so can we have your top 5 buying tips?

My top five tips for buying antiques are short but sweet.

  1. Do your homework. Know what you are looking at and why it is valuable. It's easy to like how something looks, but by making sure you know about it. For example who made it, when they made it, how they made it, and what they made it from.  These things can tell you a great deal about the item.
  2. Make sure you have a spot for it. I have been to houses where the owner just buys ‘stuff they really like’ and sometimes it works but quite often it just doesn’t all gel together.
  3. Check on the condition. If you are buying at auction, you should always ask for a condition report, and with retailers it’s a good idea to ask about an item’s history. If it has had major repairs and parts replaced, this can affect its value.
  4. Do you love it? At the end of the day, you have to love what you are buying, because you have to live with it. So, make sure it’s something that five years down the road you will still enjoy having around.
  5. Think, but not too long. I am constantly telling people the thing they just came back for is no longer available. We deal in one-off items quite often and it isn’t always replaceable with another, so while it can be wise to think about your purchase carefully, thinking too long can leave you disappointed.

The Sydney Antiques and Art Fair is on until Sunday 10 September. Head here for more details.

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