Knowledge can make the difference between a great buy and a high priced mistake. It’s important to know as much as possible about collecting areas of special interest. This knowledge can lead to golden opportunities and, perhaps more importantly, prevent costly errors. A little knowledge can be a valuable thing at an auction, at an antique show, or even while browsing on eBay. Time after time I have been able to make a great buy just because I knew something someone else didn’t. I can still remember an estate sale many years ago when most of the crowd thought I had gone mad when I bid $35 on an old pair of shoes. Those shoes were beaded Native American moccasins, circa 1880, and were worth over 10 times what I was bidding. Today, they’re worth even more. Any bit of knowledge one possesses can lead to an excellent investment opportunity.
It isn’t possible to learn everything about antiques. There is no such thing as an antiques expert. The field is simply too vast for any one person to know it all. The key is to try to learn as much as possible about those areas that are of the most interest. It’s a good idea to specialize in a few areas while accumulating a general knowledge in as many other areas as possible. This allows one to gain an in-depth knowledge of a few antiques and a general knowledge of many others. Try to become an expert in the areas that interest you the most. If Depression glass is your thing, learn which pieces are rare and which are common. Learn how to spot reproductions and how to tell a mint mark from a crack. If dolls are more your speed learn the important makers and the rare specimens. Learn what it is that makes some dolls valuable and others nearly worthless.
No matter what area catches your fancy, there are most likely a great number of periodicals and books that can assist you in this task.
Learning about antiques is important. No one, no matter how long they have collected and studied antiques, knows everything about them. Everyone lets opportunities slip by because they can’t recognize a bargain. Doing one’s homework can allow one to spot a $1,000 piece of pottery in an antique shop for $150 or a $100 piece of pressed glass for $5; it happens, not very often, but it does happen.
Educate yourself in the field of antiques as much as possible. The greater your knowledge of antiques the better your chances of finding a golden opportunity. A few suggestions for advancing your knowledge are listed below.
Talk to dealers and collectors, and ask questions
One of the best sources of information is other collectors and dealers. Most collectors love to talk about what they collect. Besides being interesting these collectors are a wellspring of wisdom. They can provide all sorts of information that might not be available elsewhere. Dealers are a great source as well. When you are buying, or simply looking, strike up a conversation with the dealer. A great deal of what I write about comes from my own collecting experience, but much comes from my chats with other collectors and dealers. I utilize this valuable resource whenever possible. You should, too.
Look before you buy
When one has made the decision to collect the tendency is to jump right in and start buying left and right. This is a natural inclination. We’re all enthusiastic about our collections, whether we collect dolls, 1960s furniture, Fiesta, or old advertising signs. Following this natural tendency can lead to purchases that are a mistake. Buying before learning about a collectibles field leads to overpaying and the purchase of reproductions. A little patience is a valuable thing. Don’t jump in the deep end right away. Stay in the kiddie pool until you’re confident enough to take the plunge.
Stop at EVERY antique store
When traveling, stop at every antique store, junk shop, antique mall, and flea market you can find. All kinds of goodies can be found in the most unlikely places. Many junk shops contain only junk. Many flea markets will have only socks, sun glasses, and t-shirts. But sooner or later a great find will appear that will make up for all the not-so-successful stops. Most bargains appear where they are the least expected. I have spent weeks looking for the early stoneware pieces I adore with no success, only to find a piece in a shop while I’m searching for something else. Serendipity will add more to your collecting than you can possibly imagine.
Build a mental price guide
While traveling from shop to shop, work on building your own “mental price guide.” Absorb all the pricing information possible, not only about your own area of collecting, but other areas as well. Make mental notes of the selling prices of items that are of interest. It is a good idea to learn the values of items that tend to pop up often. The information obtained may allow you to recognize a real bargain later on. It isn’t possible to remember everything, but what you can remember will help you recognize a bargain when you see one. Maybe collecting Uhl pottery isn’t your thing, but a knowledge of its value could be of great assistance later when you spot a $150 blue grape pitcher at a flea market for $35. The information you gather on other antiques may help you to finance your own collection.
Buying antiques is the best way to learn about them
Actually purchasing antiques is the best way to learn about them. They may be fun to read about, but the experience of buying antiques is far more enjoyable. When one actually owns an antique one will go through far more trouble to learn about it than one would otherwise. Looking up your newfound treasures after a day at the auction is both enjoyable and educational. Maybe the goal of the auction was to pick up some pieces of Jewel Tea, but a few pieces of Fiesta, Depression, and pressed glass were going so cheap they couldn’t be passed up. Suddenly all these collectibles become interesting because they are yours. The knowledge gained from these bargains will increase the likelihood of spotting more bargains in the future. When most collectors start buying antiques and collectibles they learn more about them than they thought possible.
Knowledge is the key to assembling a collection that you can be proud to own. Doing a little homework has many rewards. The knowledge gained will prevent overpaying and bad buys, it will keep reproductions out of your collection, and will help you get the most for your money. Don’t forget, that learning about antiques is fun, too. Perhaps that’s even the greatest advantage to learning more about the pieces of the past we all hold so dear. Take the time to learn about what you collect and don’t hesitate to expand into new areas. You will find that knowledge creates golden opportunities.
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