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Both advanced and beginning collectors need to understand how the complex process of buying and selling antiques. These three steps will help collectors: (1) Become a connoisseur in your collecting field (2) Learn to authenticate (3) Become a skilled evaluator.
The dictionary says a connosseur is a person with expert knowledge or training, especially in the fine arts. A skilled connosseur can pass critical judgment on the merits of an antique. It is not necessary to take college classes in order to become an expert. Well-informed collectors can become connosseurs. In fact, some of the most knowledgable collectors have professional careers in unrelated areas and were not born into a family that had expertise in their collecting field. Instead, they chose to be connosseurs.
To become a connosseur in any area of antiques, look at as many outstanding examples as you can. Look at items of interest to you in historical society museums, antique shows, historic homes, antique stores, and internet auction sites.
Learn to disguish the unusual from the commonplace. Beginning collectors often get excited over a "rare" find that is actually an ordinary piece.
Read and study. Ask dealers at local shops and at antique shows to recommend antiques publications so you can keep informed about upcoming shows and auctions. Attend auctions featuring a lot of items in your collecting field and note the prices. Check on internet auction sites to see the final selling price of items you collect. As your collection develops, it is important to invest in reference books and magazines about your speciality.
As you learn more about your collecting interest, you'll learn certain features or marks that were used during specific time periods. You'll learn styles of manufacture that were characteristic during certain eras. This will help you authenticate the region in which an item was made, as well as the manufacturer or artist.
Reproductions can be a problem in many collecting fields. No dealer objects to people selling lower priced reproductions of expensive collectibles, as long as they are marked as such. The problem occurs when "new" is passed off to unwary customers as "old." Knowledge is your best protection against total fakes, new objects fashioned from old parts, and altered antiques.
Knowledge is power. What kinds of drawer pulls should be on an original Chippendale highboy? What types of fabrics and stitches would have been used in a quilt made in the 1880s?
Know before you buy. The more you spend, the more important your education becomes.
When deciding value, it is important to evaluate design, quality, scarcity, and possibly historical importance. Originality of design is often rewarded with a higher price tag in the marketplace. Quality is also measured in terms of materials and workmanship. If two similar antiques are in the same physical condition, the highest monetary value will go to the one with the highest quality materials and workmanship. Objects of the highest quality in their field tend to appreciate faster when the market is high and depreciate less when the market declines. Scarcity is another key player in determining value. Very few items are rare; beware when they are advertised as such. Historical importance plays a key role in elevating values, as evident at the Jackie Kennedy Onassis auction. If you plan to pay more for an antique because of its historical significance, be sure to get a letter of authenticity from an appraiser or expert dealer. This written history is known as provenance and it is essential to determine the market value of an item attributed to a famous person.
Values of antiques are fluid; no antique is unaffected by supply and demand of the marketplace. The antiques market is still governed by the immeasurable factor called personal taste.