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Antiques - an introduction
by Michael Russel

In the mid-18th Century, Roman antiquities became popular by way of home decoration. Pots, bronzes and statuary recovered from archaeological sites were all sought after items. In order for the gentry to accommodate these (it was only the gentry who could afford to), their houses and or gardens needed to undergo a complete remodelling. As a result, their old furniture and decorative items were stored in outhouses, attics and relegated to use by the servants. It is these items, which are now so eagerly sought after.


In the early part of the 19th Century, people didn't collect things just because they were old. They may have collections of books, manuscripts, coins or maybe maps but furniture was for storage, sitting on or sleeping on and paintings were usually family portraits. Other items such as porcelain and glass were also purely functional. However, later that same century, with Queen Victoria's reign in full swing, her subjects began to take an interest in the origins of their possessions and that was the beginning of what we now know as the antiques industry.

The definition of "antique" originated in the 1930s when American customs officers needed a yardstick by which to judge whether duty was chargeable on works of art. As mass production of articles had begun some one hundred years earlier, an antique was deemed to be something more than one hundred years old. Today, however, the BBC's Antiques Roadshow defines an antique as "an older object valued because of its aesthetic or historical significance", in other words a collectible.

Obviously, there are those who deal in antiques for a living but even they may live a whole life in the field and never come across that elusive piece bought for a song and sold for a fortune. There are those, of course, who have what they call in the trade an "eye"; they have a natural ability to spot the "real thing" in the midst of a roomful of rubbish, but they are few and far between. For an amateur, the likelihood of striking it rich is even lower, so the best course of action is to collect what one likes. If one likes a piece, is happy to look at it on a daily basis and has paid a sum for it which one can afford, then it doesn't really matter whether it will bring an undreamed of sale price.

In most cases, an aged decorative item will increase in value. However, keen amateurs can disturb the market, as they did in the late 1980s, when Clarice Cliff pottery and lesser-known Impressionist 

paintings were in vogue. The market became flooded with the genuine and not-so-genuine and eventually, the bubble burst. It recovered in time of course, but too many people seeking items with not enough knowledge can cause a hiatus in the natural flow of buying and selling.

If he concentrates on one type of item; paintings, ceramics, furniture, etc., then an amateur has a greater chance of building up the knowledge needed not to be fleeced by unscrupulous dealers. Experience and knowledge can be gained by studying books and the objects themselves or better still hanging around with an expert. Even then, the diversity of styles and periods will take a great deal of learning and of necessity, information will overlap. For example, in order to fully understand English Georgian furniture and recognise it, one may need to study Louis XIV and XV furniture as well, for the purposes of comparison. There's nothing like experience, so the more time spent rummaging in antique shops and talking with the owners, the better.

Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to

antiques price guide

Find books about antiques

Miller's Antiques Price Guide Jonty Hearnden
"Only this book can give me a reference to me buying some antiques at London or when I am visiting the antique markets in England..”

Miller's How to Make Money Out of Antiques Judith Miller
"If you want to make money out of antiques, this is the book to get, it is ideal for a newcomer to antiques as it details what antiques are, how to start, buying, selling, where and how to sell.."

The Complete Guide to Repairing & Restoring Antique Furniture by Billy Cook
"This guide to basic and advanced restoration techniques is a must for antique furniture enthusiasts.."

The Antiques Roadshow price guide 2008 Judith Miller

Millers is it Genuine?: How to Collect Antiques with Confidence John Bly
How to spot the genuine article

The Big Book of Antique Furniture David P Lindquist, Caroline C. Warren
"English, Colonial, and Victorian furniture comprise the most widely collected area of antiques in the U.S. This new massive reference combines three great volumes thoroughly covering these furniture styles.."

100 Years of Vintage Watches Dean Judy
Excellent guide for the watch collector

Price It Yourself! Joe Rosson, Duane W. Hampton
The Definitive, Down-To-Earth Guide to Appraising Antiques and Collectibles in Your Home, at Auctions, Estate Sales, Shops and Yard Sales

Cash in the Attic by Paul Hayes
"If you are clearing out a loft, bottom drawer or garage and want to know how to pick out a saleable item from amongst the junk then this book is your practical guide..”

The Antiques Buyer by David Dickinson
"an extensive guide to identifying and valuing - both at auction and retail - all types of antiques and memorabilia..”

Make money from your hobby
“Using your present hobby or favorite pastime as your business base has many benefits. Why? Because any business you decide to become involved in should be doing something you LOVE something you believe in, something that you would work at NO MATTER what income it would generate...” read more

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