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It goes without saying that authentic antique furniture is not cheap. To ensure you get the best deal and a high-quality piece, you need to not only do your homework but be a savvy negotiator. Due to common yet avoidable mistakes, collectors often pay way more than they need to or end up acquiring an item with major existing damage. Know what these mistakes are so you don’t make a regrettable faux pas.
Antiques at the very least are several decades old if not several centuries. Even with proper care from diligent owners over the years, blemishes are ultimately going to arise with the passage of time. While you shouldn’t be okay with missing pieces or rot, you shouldn’t expect the piece to be in pristine condition either. Depending on the material, expect scratches, nicks, oxidization, and patinas.
If you insist on perfection as if the piece was just rolled off the assembly line, then aim for a modern reproduction rather than an actual antique from decades’ past.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to negotiating. Experienced collectors change their tactic depending on the type of seller. If you’re buying from a flea market, for example, then you have more leeway for haggling and bargaining to bring the price down. On the other hand, don’t expect a killer offer if buying from a dealer from a boutique store. Shop owners have a higher overhead; don’t storm off because the dealer wasn’t willing to sell at half the asking price. As a general rule, don’t expect store curators to shave more than 10% off the price tag. With flea market vendors, anything goes.
New collectors often fail to discriminate between flea market vendors and boutique-based dealers. As such, they have unrealistic expectations, especially when negotiating with the latter.
If you know ahead of time what you’re hoping to buy, then take time to really research the item. Find out all you can online or through other sources. At the least, you should know how to spot an authentic vs an imitation or reproduction for that particular piece.
Let’s say, for example, that you have your eyes set on a mid-1700s French wooden armoire. In this case, the condition of the wood tells you all you need to know regarding its authenticity. As wood ages, it shrinks across the grain, causing warping. Do the outer edges appear slightly misshapen? Do the wooden pegs jut out a bit more than normal. These are signs of age-related shrinkage and is a good indicator of authenticity. You can even examine the nails. Rose-head cut nails were commonplace during that specific time period.
You should have this level of knowledge when examining a vintage item regardless of its material.
As mentioned earlier, authentic antique items are going to have imperfections. Some collectors prefer visible signs of blemishes because it shows its age. However, if you prefer to restore the item, then you’re going to have to consider the costs in relation to the antique’s price and worth.
A total restoration may require complete stripping of the surface and a refinish. For an item like, say, a five-drawer dresser, this may range anywhere from $300 to $500. Newer collectors tend to overlook this fact and only consider the upfront sale price of the antique itself.
Don’t think you know it all because there is always someone who knows more than you. Antiques fall into so many categories depending on their time period and geographic origins. There are collectors, curators, and dealers that are knowledgeable in particular antique categories. Do you have your eyes set on a 19th-century German gramophone? Seek someone with knowledge in that specific area. Once you’re at the dealer, don’ be afraid to take pictures of the piece and send them to a knowledgeable acquaintance. He may be able to tell you whether you’re looking at a national treasure or a knockoff.
Antique fairs are a great starting place for learning about antiques and gaining some negotiating skills. With experience, you’ll know when a particular vintage piece is worth bartering for.