Buying antiques can be such a satisfying experience. There is something wonderful about being enchanted by a piece, finding yourself driven to discover every little thing about it, then attaining the piece and taking it home to enjoy for years to come.
Unfortunately, if not done carefully, buying antiques can also be an experience with so many pitfalls that a lot of collectors are put off at the first hurdle. With many unscrupulous dealers, auction houses and private sellers setting up shop online, it is getting increasingly difficult for antiques buyers to separate the real from the fake.
So, in an effort to help, we’ve come up with 3 simple rules for you to follow to make sure you have a positive experience when buying antiques.
If you are parting with any meaningful amount of money it is terribly important you purchase your antiques from a reputable source. You need to be able to trust that the antique is as described and that it has the value ascribed to it.
One simple way of finding out whether your dealer is reputable is to clarify that they are part of a Trade Association with a strict Code of Conduct that the dealer must adhere to in order to attain membership and remain a member.
We would recommend you purchase antiques from a dealer who is a member of one of the following:
UK Antiques Trade Associations:
LAPADA – London and Provincial Antique Dealers Association
BADA – British Antique Dealers’ Association
Worldwide Antiques Trade Associations:
CINOA – Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvre d’Art
NAADAA – The National Antique & Art Dealers Association of America
AAADA – Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association
CADA – Canadian Antique Dealers Association
It is also important to check your dealer is a member yourself and not just take their word for it. You can look for member organisations quickly and easily on the association’s website.
As well as enforcing codes of conduct, these bodies ensure their member organisations have the high levels of experience and expertise necessary to provide an impeccable service to their clients.
LAPADA also offers the LAPADA Conciliation Service to either party (under the scrutiny of an independent supervisor) as a prompt conciliation facility should anything go awry. All items sold by LAPADA members must give clear and accurate information and must disclose any relevant information about restoration.
If your dealer is a member of one of these bodies you can have plenty of confidence in them, but you may wish to seek additional assurance by talking to previous customers and reading testimonials or reviews.
Alternatively, you could purchase your antiques through websites and fairs that only allow suitably qualified dealers to be represented. Here are a few antiques websites we recommend:
2. Ask Questions
Whether you find the piece that catches your eye online or at an antique fair you should never be afraid to ask for more information, and no dealer should begrudge this as long as you are a serious potential customer.
Whether done by email or in person, this process also helps you establish a relationship with the dealer, making it easier to draw on their years of expertise for the initial selection of the piece as well as gain advice on the follow up care and maintenance. A good relationship with your antiques dealer also often heralds additional perks such as them using their connections to purchase pieces with you in mind, and gaining access to discounts only available to returning clients.
Aside from questions about the era, artist or piece itself, you may wish to ask whether there is any notable provenance. Often, the provenance is built up from the history of sales, so again it is important to buy from a trustworthy dealer as you need to be able to take them at their word.
3. Make sure the paperwork is in order
Having everything written down in plain English can save a lot of hassle down the line. A good place to do this is on the invoice, which should be kept as a record. You should make sure the key details of the piece are written on the invoice, such as the name, artist, period, and if the piece has been restored or added to at a later date. Documenting this information gives you more room for recourse if anything turns out to be inaccurate down the line.
You should also give yourself the extra protection of buying antiques from an antiques dealer, as unlike private sellers and auction houses, antiques dealers must comply with consumer protection laws, specifically the Consumer Rights Act. If you buy from an auction or private source you will be buying items ‘as seen’, the consequence of which is ‘Caveat emptor’ or ‘Buyer beware’.
If you plan to export your antique you will also need to check whether the item has any export restrictions and if it does then the correct paperwork needs to be provided. Many countries allow antiques to be imported free of all or most duty, but you will need a Certificate of Age (which may be issued by trade association members) as proof that an item is more than 100 years old.
As we’ve said before, the most important rule to stick to when buying antiques is to buy something you actually like! That way, if the investment doesn’t pay off for whatever reason, at least you will enjoy the art in itself.
Do you have any advice for buying antiques that you would like to add? Let us know in the comments!