Top 15 Secrets of Antique Dealers Revealed

Want to bag yourself an antique bargain? According to the experts, there's no better time than now. Here, we reveal the top 15 secrets of antique dealers.

We’ve all heard those stories where the discovery of a dusty painting in someone’s attic made them rich. But it happens less that you may think. “Valuing antiques is more than an art, it’s a very fickle industry,” says Fiona Lewin, Antiques Specialist at Southern Antique Centre. “There are a number of factors that play into objects of value. It’s ultimately a perception – a market driven purely by what people are willing to pay.”

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. So Fiona lets us in on a few industry tricks that may help. 

For more information on buying and selling antiques, tune into Posh Pawn, 9.30pm Fridays on the LifeStyle Channel. 

1. Condition is paramount

Think that small chip in your vintage plate won’t matter when it comes to sell? Think again. “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 esthetic and in some ways to the value. Not everyone subscribes to that view, that’s one area of antiques that has divided opinion," Fiona says.

3. You won’t get a bargain antique from an op shop

“There seems to be a misconception that you can get an antique bargain at op shops," notes Fiona. "Often, they don’t know the industry as well as they should, to be pricing the items so high. You could be paying double for something just because you found it in an op shop."

“I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but in the antiques range, anything old they seem to amp up the price without any knowledge behind it, and that’s not great for the consumer.”

4. Head to markets and antique centers instead

Most dealers are a wealth of knowledge about the history and the market for the item that you’re selling or buying – because it’s their job. “Consumers would be better to come to an antiques center and they will be often be surprised that the prices are very competitive," notes Fiona.

“Markets are really good, you’ve got everyone there from dealers to every day people, and you can often barter.”

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 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 who 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." 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…

“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," says Fiona.

“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."

8. 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 its 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.”

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," notes Fiona.

10. Value can and does change…

"If you’ve got something that’s on trend and in demand, you’d be smart to take advantage of the market while it’s hot," says Fiona.

“10 years ago, Royal Doulton, was worth a lot of money, figurines 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 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.”

12. Forget nick knacks, collect functional

The trend of de-cluttering has had an impact on the antiques market. “People don’t want ornamental things that serve no purpose any more," says Fiona. "So objects that were once very collectable, and in demand are not so much any more.”

“That de-cluttering 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.”

13. Jewellery will always hold its value

"If you’re going to invest in antiques, jewellery is a sure bet", says Fiona. “Jewellery is a stable market. It’s something 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 jewellery, 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; it's not ideal because it's 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 get a bargain

“Because the industry has suffered, dealers have to respond to that by lowering their prices," says Fiona. "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."

For more information and a great range of antiques with expert advice, visit the Southern Antiques Centre in Kogarah, Sydney. 

For more information on buying and selling antiques, tune into Posh Pawn, 7.30pm Friday on the LifeStyle Channel.

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