An introduction to antiques: how starting buying antiques

How Antiques work:

Starting an antique collection and buying antiques can be very exciting.
Collecting comes naturally to human beings, usually sparked by our curiosity about things. As kids we all collected all kinds of things from toys to rocks to butterflies.

It is also human nature to possess and is deep-rooted in all of us.

The act of collecting is generally motivated by emotions rather than money. There are companies and individuals who collect for investment purposes, but those collections are normally determined based on trends and advice from specialists and curators.

We all want a part of history, want to connect to a part of history that we were most fascinated about when growing up or to a time we feel very strongly about.

Everyone enjoys the thrill or the hunt and collecting is more like a quest – a lifelong adventure.

Always remember: buy the best antiques you can afford and if it’s for your own personal use or collection.

  • Only buy the things you love.
  • If something appeals to your sense of style or your idea of beauty, you will develop a passion for it.
  • Whether you are buying antiques as an investment or for a collection or to sell them on, always buy what you like and buy what you are interested in.

Buy fom accredited dealers.

If you want to be certain that the antiques you are buying are genuine always buy from an accredited dealer and check to see if they are a member of the National Antique Dealers Association of South Africa

Invest in pieces you fall in love with.

Just like any other relationship in your life, your bond with your antiques works in a very similar manner.

You should invest only in antiques that make you happy and pieces that you would like to have in your home for years to come. You should have an interest in the financial value of your collection, but this should merely be secondary. Just like any market, fashions and tastes change over time. This means that something that is not valuable now may become so in the future, and vice versa.

Looking for original untouched pieces.

Pieces which have not been restored, preferably with provenance, are likely to be among the best investments. There are times when restoration does help increase the value of a piece, this is normally the case in furniture and art. However, it depends on the item and the quality of restoration work done so we suggest you get advice from an expert in such cases.

“Using a recommended restorer is key to the preservation of the integrity of the piece.”

The importance of the condition of a piece is critical. A dealer who is a member of NAADA, will always inform you about the condition of the piece and about any restoration work undertaken but if you are buying elsewhere you always should ask if the piece has undergone any restoration.

Always get a receipt.

It does not matter in whatever manner you decide to make a payment – cash, credit card or a bank transfer – please make sure you get a receipt that lists what you are purchasing:  the age, the material, any damage or restoration and its value. When buying an important piece please insist on an evaluation certificate.

Buy rare pieces and unusual pieces.

The most valuable antique and collectables are the unusual pieces.

One needs to look for the quirky, edginess and anything that makes a piece uncommon, such as an unusual factory mark when it comes to porcelain, ceramics and china.

There were small factories in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which produced pieces which did not have any markings on them. Some of these pieces are extremely rare and valuable because of excellent craftmanship and the fact that they were produced in limited quantities.

Mistakes in stamps and coins are rare, which makes flawed pieces extremely valuable.

To understand this further one needs to do extensive research on what one is collecting, and you need to speak to a dealer who specializes in that field.

When it comes to furniture always try and buy useful pieces: you can never go wrong with Georgian and Regency pieces as the trend at the moment is to collect from this period.

You can now find a dealer in specialist collecting fields on our new website here

Beware of fakes, reproductions and forgeries.

If you suspect something is a fake, resist the temptation to buy until you can get confirmation that the piece is authentic.

At times, a piece could be an amalgamation of parts from different periods. An expert will be able to tell if a piece from different periods have been put together.

You should do your research on what interests you before you start buying:  attend lots of antique fairs, speak to dealers, there is so much information out there: read, familiarize yourself with stamps, markings, signatures, glazes, hallmarks:  look for little tell-tale signs which can give you a lot of information.

People who make replicas are always in a rush and often miss some vital period detail, or the finish will not be on par with original pieces.

Dealers often say that every piece “talks” – it sounds strange but it is true;  if you carefully observe a piece it will “talk” to you and will tell you where it is from and who is its creator.

It is always better to buy from an accredited dealer.

Don’t be scared to handle and examine an item in your hands – get to know your antiques.

As you are going to spend your hard-earned money on a piece, you are entitled to pick it up, hold it in your hands and examine it. Check the bottom, the top, the sides and look at it from odd angles and use a magnifier if necessary to look closely. Never be afraid to pick anything up in a shop, at an auction, at a fair or at any other sales event. It helps in understanding the condition and the quality of the craftmanship of the piece. And at the end of it if all fails go with your gut feel, if it feels good when you hold the piece – you know exactly where the piece is going in your home or office – and it makes you feel happy then go for it.

Ask questions.

Researching and reading through reference books and the internet will provide a background to the history of a piece. Try and pick a specialist’s brain, ask as many questions as possible. There is nothing that a specialist with a little time on their hands likes better than to talk about their subject, you will be amazed. The more questions you ask about the piece the better, you will automatically come to know if the piece is genuine and if the dealer knows everything about the piece.

Ceramic Restoration.

It depends on the item, the era, the quality of workmanship and the provenance.

For example, on a 17th century porcelain charger, you would expect to see some kiln grit or kiln dust to the base and perhaps a firing flaw that would have occurred in the kiln. These would be acceptable.

However, you would not expect to find these kinds of flaws on an 18th-century Imperial mark and period ceramic because the firing techniques would have been refined.

Fifteen years ago, only mint-condition mark and period ceramics would have been considered acceptable, now collectors will consider ceramics that have been broken and restored or which have hairline cracks.

Rarity of the items also plays a very big role and the origin of the piece.

Art Restoration.

Some items appreciate in value after restoration. For example, the beauty of a 19th century Dutch school painting can be assessed and seen only if it has been cleaned by a conservator.

As Joshua Glazer, Christie’s specialist, Vice President, Old Master & Early British Paintings department says, “the conservation of Old Master paintings should always be guided with the principle of reversibility.”

Whether your painting is an oil on canvas, tempera on panel, oil on copper, or a work painted on an unusual support such as lapis lazuli or marble, any conservation work that is done should ideally be able to be undone. Essentially, this concerns the materials and techniques that your conservator will employ while cleaning and restoring your painting—retouches need to be applied in a way that they could be removed should a new owner wish to see a painting free from any cosmetic repainting.

Buying from an Auction house.

A few things to keep in mind – do your research, ask the auction house as many questions as possible, speak to their specialist, insist on a proper condition report, check the piece thoroughly.

Check the commission rates and don’t forget about the VAT which is added on to the commission and then do a comparison. Be aware of the auction houses terms and conditions there is a lot of important information for the buyer to be aware of.

Make sure you go to a reputable auction house.

Ready to Buy online?

Many of our members do have websites, if you go to the listing section of the members you will be able to click on the link of their websites here.  When purchasing online look for testimonials from clients. When buying online buy from accredited dealers.

When buying online insist on getting as much information and images about the item as possible and try and speak to the person selling the item. It is also important to look at payment methods and how you are protected as a purchaser.

Insuring your pieces.

You need to insure any antiques you buy. The premium does not necessarily have to be expensive even if you have only a few valuable items.

Please bear in mind that many standard insurance policies will require items to be specified if they are worth more than a defined amount. Specialist high-value policies, however, tend to need items to be specified only if items are worth more than a certain amount.

Make sure you keep an up-to-date valuation of the items insured.

For particularly high-value items, insurers may require evidence of a valuation before they will offer cover.

If you require any further assistance, please send the association an email.
We look forward to hearing from you all.

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