Vintage view: Six Tips to avoid a Vintage Lemon

WE all want to thrill at finding something highly desirable, but running after the extra satisfaction of a once-in-a lifetime price on an antique or vintage item can easily cloud our judgement.

Have realistic expectations and erect a few simple defences when buying in person or online.

1. Buy from a reputable dealer or auction house. Cutting corners and hunting the market yourself is intoxicating, but in the case of a big investment, you really need to know your stuff. Yes, you’ll appear to pay a premium buying retail, but the experience and knowledge of a trade professional is often the very best deal in the end. With their reputation and integrity, you can generally be assured of an authentic piece. Even better, developing a one-to-one relationship, you can ask him or her to source things from their network. Find antique shops, auctions and specialists in your area at, home of the Irish Antiques Dealers Association.

2. If it seems too good to be true? Well, do I have to say it? Yes, spectacular finds for half-nothing do happen, but more common are reproduction, altered or heavily restored furniture and outright fakes passed off as once-in-a-lifetime bargains. I picked up a 1960s Charles Eames Softpad chair at a junk shop for under €100, but it’s a piece I’d been chasing for more than five years. When you buy from a known dealer you can ask for a written receipt. If the piece turns out to be wrong (and even trade pros can be fooled) you have some come-back.

3. Know your stuff. Becoming educated in antiques, especially the minutiae of an area of collecting is not only fascinating but empowering as a buyer. If you love Guinness collectibles from the early 20th century for example, you’ll know they are widely and expertly faked in the Far East. Other pieces have been genuinely reproduced under license over the years. Collectors’ clubs have written features and guides that can spare you buying a clanger. Go online and Google your niche.

4. Examine the best to judge the rest. If you watch a specialist looking at an antique or vintage item on a TV programme, having walked around it and absorbed it as a whole, they will pick it up or in the case of a larger piece, run their hands over it. Where you have the chance at an antiques fair for example, ask to see desirable pieces at closer quarters. Most dealers are still passionate about their collections, and will gift you tips on features to look for and the history of individual items. Educating your eye and developing that essential ‘feel’ for good quality, period things takes time.

5. Get to know the jargon of the auction floor. ‘In the style of’ does not mean the thing is made or designed by the inspiration name or that a piece is period. It could have been made yesterday or 20 years after a painter/ manufacturer or whoever died. If you want Georgian, then the words ‘Georgian’ should be blankly stated on the auction catalogue without caveats, and there’s some confusion about dates here, so you need to determine just what you accept as Georgian. Items must be ‘as described’ in the catalogue and you have some come- back if you can prove your purchase is a lemon and misrepresented.

6. Be wary online. I’m not talking here about the online presence of dealers with a shop front and years in the trade. We’re focusing on online auctions — Ebay in particular. Again, Ebay as a host has its own rules and regulations about items being ‘as described’ but it can be a lengthy process to run through a buyer/seller dispute and a nightmare if buying something overseas. Take a look at Ebay’s own guide to translating ‘weasel words’ and spotting a fake or counterfeit. Examine the seller’s score set in percentages, their length of presence online (a terrestrial shop and landline is a must) and read feedback from former buyers. What guarantees do they offer, and what returns policy?


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