Vintage View: Our 10 golden rules for successful vintage and antique hunting

Vintage View: Our 10 golden rules for successful vintage and antique hunting

Kya deLongchamps has 10 golden rules for successful vintage and antique hunting.

Whether you’re looking for that perfect 19th-century rosewood sofa table, or are wild for a 1960s cherry red, Eames Times Life chair, the rules of engagement are the same.

Finding and acquiring vintage and antique pieces requires discipline.

To avoid purchasing lemons (or simply paying too much) navigate those deals with a consistent, relaxed, steady buying mechanism of your own.

Spurring your confidence, these personal guard-rails will support your decisions at boot sales, markets, stores and auctions from Cork to Copenhagen, New York to Nottingham.

KNOW YOUR QUARRY

The more time you put in, the more likely you are to succeed. Specialist publications and the internet offer an infinite resource for finding out about the era and objects tempting you out.

Collector’s clubs are a favourite of mine as the discussion boards open up minutia not covered in a dry market guide, and their galleries throw up unusual rarities.

Try Gemr (gemr.com) for clubs covering everything from anime to fine jewellery.

HAVE A BUDGET

Once you’re set on something be honest about what you can comfortably afford, and keep in mind those buyer’s fees at auction which can lay another 5% on the hammer price.

Be imaginative. If you want 8 Georgian diners — could you tolerate a set of six and two harlequin carvers?

Sets of chairs and interesting singles often straggle at a sale’s end. Always look for “prices achieved” in guides like Millers, rather than asking prices online.

QUALITY COUNTS

Museum quality Oiseau de Feu (Firebird) c.1922 by studio of Rene Lalique. Perfume bottle made into a lamp.
Museum quality Oiseau de Feu (Firebird) c.1922 by studio of Rene Lalique. Perfume bottle made into a lamp.

Find the best examples of whatever it is. Even if you’re buying three levels below the very best, you should know what the very best looks and feels like.

If you love Art Nouveau glass, ensure you have held a piece of perfect period Lalique or Daum, turned it over in your hands, examined the pontil marks, the weight, texture, depth of colour and exquisite acid etching. Labels reading AI, is :as is” — code for mortally wounded.

DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE

There is often a very small material difference between an expensive, highly desirable thing and the large group of similar objects in the middle of the market.

Going to fairs and auctions and talking with dealers will show you why some examples demand more.

Sometimes it’s not an intrinsic value, but market demand for a rare thing — even a rare plastic thing.

This is where fakes and forgeries can dupe the unwary. Hone up on your authentication skills and purchase from reputable sellers as far as possible.

ORIGINALITY SPEAKS

Marcel Breuer chair and desk S285 by Thonet. c.1935, still in production, en.shop.thonet.de.
Marcel Breuer chair and desk S285 by Thonet. c.1935, still in production, en.shop.thonet.de.

Collectors of vintage guitars often want the scrubbed out surface of played guitar — they don’t want a diamond shine of restoration.

If the bridge or pick-up is replaced — that’s a negative chord.

Very old furniture and particular materials, including bronze, will be at their most valuable in original, untouched condition — with that patina of age intact, layers of old beeswax and the nibbles of embroidery frames to a table’s edge.

Only place valuable pieces in the hands of seasoned specialists.

BE PATIENT

Determine what you want, what you can afford and put the time and leg work into finding it — that’s muddy boot sales and classifieds included.

Poor condition can decimate value and tempt the unwary.

There are only a few rare pieces where damage is acceptable.

Don’t compromise and buy something chipped, faded or incomplete.

The journey is just as pleasurable as the final seizing of the thing, and you are learning all the way and making contacts.

USE PHONE (WITH CAUTION)

Taking and exchanging images is a phone’s greatest strength.

Along with the access that a smartphone gives you to research objects in real time — there are other useful apps in that goggle box.

Google Lens can do a rough identification of an object from a “look”, but don’t expect it to fathom a cheap 1980s Czechoslovakian wine glass from an 18th-century treasure.

Antiques Navigator has mixed reviews and many apps pull you back to shopping.

INVEST OR ENJOY

Times Life executive chair by Charles Eames in red, 1stDibs.com.
Times Life executive chair by Charles Eames in red, 1stDibs.com.

If you’re hoping to make a future return on your antiques and collectables — selling them on, or passing them on as part of your estate — the approach to buying will be highly specific.

Build relationships with dealers who can help source pieces and offer written provenance.

If you want to surround yourself with eclectic, unusual things don’t have to be pristine — that’s something else.

Ensure this latter category is usable and structurally sound and don’t pay topflight prices for middling goods.

TURN LEFT

At antiques fairs, 99% of the crowd will turn right on entering the event. Old hands turn left and turn up when the tent or hall opens. Speaking of dealers — be respectful.

Most dealers are happy to share their knowledge and to discuss characteristics and provenance. Making an offer?

Try a reasonable duck to 15%-20% off and expect to be talked up. If you can wait — there’s nothing more vulnerable to an offer than a jaded seller packing up a van at the end of the day.

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

Buying vintage or antique pieces should be a passion. Trust your instincts. If you love it, if you cannot live without it (and the mortgage payment won’t suffer) — enjoy.

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