How to Identify an Antique When You See One
This will come in handy at the flea markets, estate sales, and antique shops this summer.
Identifying antiques is no easy task. People dedicate their lives to learning about the intricacies and nuances in old, valuable objects. However, inquiring minds have to start somewhere. If you're most curious about the value of antiques, try not to get ahead of yourself. The first thing savvy thrifters need to learn is the age of any given item before they can successfully appraise the value. How do you identify the age of something (or whether or not it truly is an antique) when you're shopping at a flea market or trade show? For starters, don't assume that everything is old. Unfortunately, there are plenty of reproductions and brand-new items in antique shops and other second-hand stores.
To determine if an item you're eyeing really is old (and therefore, more valuable), familiarize yourself with these key points.
A maker's mark is one of the main clues in figuring out the age of something. These marks can also tell us who made the item and where. To locate a potential marking, look underneath the object and in hidden spots. Remember, not everything will have a maker's mark, so don't give up hope if you can't find one.
Maker's marks can come in the form of a label, tag, imprint, or signature. Take a photo of the marking and research it. This step might take some creative searching if you've never seen the trademark before. For instance, if you found a stamp of a bird inside a circle on the bottom of a silver bowl, you might research "silver hallmarks of an encircled bird." (This isn't a real-life example, but just so you get an idea.) Pro tip: Some more popular maker's marks have been faked. For example, some diamond rings have been fraudulently imprinted with "Tiffany." As a backup, you'll need to examine the quality and make of the piece to determine authenticity.
Many things were handmade 100 years ago, even at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. If an item wasn't handmade, it was usually made with quality in mind. Do your best to examine items like furniture, china, and jewelry with the intent of finding indicators that the item was handmade or built to last. A typical example of this is looking at the inside of a dresser drawer. Dovetailing is an older technique used to connect a drawer face to the sides of the drawer. In general, older pieces of furniture had wider dovetail joints. Handmade dovetail joints are slightly irregular and custom to the furniture.
Signs of Age
When evaluating objects, it's important to remember that some signs of age can be faked. For instance, someone can intentionally tarnish a piece of silver jewelry to make it look older. However, many signs of wear aren't faked because their presence would devalue the antique. For example, most antique gold rings show some wear to the ring shank because gold slowly rubs away with use. Someone wouldn't want to fake this attribute because worn rings sell for less than pristine rings. Some other signs of age include: Scratches and imperfections on wood furniture; chips, hairline cracks, or crazing on dishes; tarnish or discoloration on metals like tin, silver, or gold; dents, dings, loss of paint, or other signs of use; or areas of repair, like solder joints or mismatched nails.
Once you know that something is old, you can begin the task of dating the item. Antique dating involves identifying styles and common motifs used during various design periods, ideally with the input of a professional's appraisal. Happy hunting!