Collecting Antiques: A Practical Guide for Beginners

Published March 12, 2021
woman collecting antiques

Collecting antiques doesn't have to feel intimidating, and it doesn't have to be expensive. If you're a beginner, considering a new hobby, or want to add a bit of history to your home with the perfect antique collection, these tips can help you get started.

Start by Collecting Antiques You Love

From coins to clocks to comic books, there are thousands of different types of antiques to collect. The key to choosing the right collectible for you is knowing what you love. You may want a collection of antique silver if you enjoy entertaining for holidays, or you may simply want to fill your home with a variety of pieces of antique furniture. Before you begin researching items or perusing the wares in an antique shop, take some time think explore what you might enjoy. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you plan to do with your antique collection? Will you be using these items in your home?
  • Is there an era you especially enjoy? For instance, do you like items from the Victorian period?
  • Are you fascinated by specific types of times, such as sewing-related antiques or hand tools?
  • What kinds of things catch your eye as you walk through a flea market or shop? What do those things have in common?

Understand What "Antique" Really Means

In most cases, for an item to be considered "antique," it must be at least 100 years old. Something younger than that may still be collectible and valuable, but it is "vintage." Understanding this distinction is very important if you're going to be buying or selling antiques because the age of an item can be a major factor in determining its value.

Old metal tableware collectibles

Know Your Goal in Collecting Antiques

As you get started, it's also important to consider your motivation. Why do you want to begin collecting antiques? The answer to this question can affect how you approach buying and selling, the type of antiques you plan to collect, and how you go about the collecting process. These are some of the main reasons you may want to start an antique collection:

  • Fun - This is a fantastic hobby, and there are all kinds of things to collect. If you're just doing it for fun, you won't have to worry quite as much about the value of the items or their history. You can simply enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
  • Investment - Depending on what you choose to collect, there are some types of antiques that can be valuable. If you can learn to spot one of these valuable antiques and get it for a good price, it can be a great investment.
  • Decoration - Decorating with antiques is a wonderful way to add a sense of history to your home. You can choose to collect antiques from a specific era or simply select pieces that work with your decorating style. You can also stick with collectibles to use in your decor or mix them in with investment pieces.

Learn How Antique Values Work Before You Buy

Whether you're buying investment pieces or just having a good time, it's important that you learn how antique values work. Sellers can ask any price they like for an item, but that does not mean the piece is worth that much money. This is not like buying something in a regular store; you need to think about whether the asking price is fair. There are several ways to determine the value of antiques. Here are some of the factors can can affect antique values:

  • Rarity - How many of this item are there?
  • Condition - Is it in good condition, or does it have a lot of wear or damage?
  • Age - How old is this piece?
  • Quality - Is it well-made, and does it feature the best materials?
  • Provenance - What do you know about this item's history?

Understand Which Antiques Not to Collect

Just like it's important to consider what you might like to collect, it's also essential that you know what you should not collect. Certain types of antiques are illegal to buy or sell, so you should stay away from transactions involving them. Here are some examples to keep in mind:

  • Ivory - As a beginner, stay away from anything made of elephant or walrus ivory. It is illegal to sell many ivory antique pieces.
  • Eagle feathers - Similarly, it's usually illegal to sell antiques with eagle feathers incorporated in them.
  • Native artifacts - There are some very specific laws related to buying and selling Native American artifacts. The legality depends on where the piece came from, so it's better to avoid these as a novice collector.

Learn to Spot a Fake

If you'll be collecting antiques that people tend to reproduce, such as highly coveted pottery or coins, it's essential that you learn how to spot a fake. This can vary depending on the piece. For instance, if you're collecting antique Depression glass, take some time to learn about specific pieces that are likely to be faked. In general, anything that looks too new or bears the marks of modern manufacturing is likely to be a reproduction or possibly a fake. If something looks new, it very well may be.

Realize Collecting Antiques Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

Many people assume that collecting antiques is an expensive hobby, but this doesn't have to be the case. In fact, there are lots of items you can collect for five dollars or less. Start with something you love and simply enjoy building a collection. You'll learn as you go, and you'll have a great time too. Now, get some tips about the kinds of antiques and collectibles you should look for.

Collecting Antiques: A Practical Guide for Beginners