9 Antiquing Tips That Stand the Test of Time
9 Antiquing Tips That Stand the Test of Time
9 Tips for Antiquing Success
How to find vintage furniture, decor, collectibles and more
By Carol J. Alexander
Jamie Oliver loves homesteading and the rural lifestyle so much, it’s only natural she would decorate her and her husband’s Virginia farmhouse with antiques that remind her of both.
“Our families have a long history of farming, gardening, and self-sufficiency, so a lot of the pieces we use are food, livestock, and farming related,” Jamie says. “Displaying and using the items ties us to those old-fashioned values we cherish.”
Whether you decorate your home with vintage treasures like Jamie or collect unique pieces such as perfume bottles, scouring for unique antiques can be intimidating. Quality is sometimes hard to spot, and you want to make sure you’re not paying too much—or getting hoodwinked altogether.

Fortunately, there are professionals and hobbyists who’ve dedicated their lives to antique scouting, and they’re happy to share their advice.

vintage home decoration
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1. Focus on One Purchase at a Time
Do you collect porcelain teacups? Or do you need the perfect coffee table for your family room? Before embarking on your scouting journey, know what you’re looking for. Linda Swope, who has 20 years of experience in the antiquing business, is a collector and dealer at the Factory Antique Mall in Verona, Virginia—the largest antique mall in America. She recommends newbies focus on one thing to avoid getting overwhelmed.
antique teacup
antique jars and kettles
2. Know your Style
Whether you prefer shabby chic, contemporary, or industrial, figure out which styles you like. Also try to identify the specific elements of those styles that you love most. One way to do this is to create a Pinterest board and save images you like, whether they’re of furniture, art, collectibles, or interior design.

When Jamie is looking for a new item, “sometimes details, size, or shape of the piece lead us,” she says. “We knew we wanted something to go over the living room windows, and the space was very narrow and long. A crosscut saw was the perfect fit.”

Before you look for new antiques in-person or online, prepare paint chips of your wall colors, fabric swatches from your drapes and other décor, and make a list of important measurements, like window sizes. This will help you determine whether pieces will fit in well in your home.
3. Do Your Homework
You may want to add to your grandmother’s collection of cast iron trivets, but you have no idea how to tell originals from reproductions. Linda shares these pointers:
Read books: She recommends starting with those published by Collector Books.
Join online forums: You’ll find active conversations happening in the forums on Antiquers.com and the antique community on eBay.
Learn from the pros: “Talk to dealers,” Linda says. “Ask them to show you what they look for.”
antique couch and dining table
4. Learn Which Details to Look for
Depending on what you’re shopping for, certain details give clues to the age and authenticity of an item. In furniture, look for a mortise and tenon joint or wooden pegs, which indicate not just age but quality woodwork. In glassware, look for the markings, which will help you identify both the age and the maker of the piece. For pottery, furniture, and a variety of other items, look for signs that they’ve been repainted, such as chips that reveal another color underneath.
5. But Don’t Get Hung Up on Every Detail
If you find the perfect ottoman but the leather is worn, check out the structure of the piece. You can replace or repair leather, but if the joints are loose or a leg is broken, you might want to pass it up.
6. Ask Questions
Linda suggests talking to the seller about the piece you’re considering, and recommends starting with the following questions:

  • Where did you buy it?
  • Is it handmade?
  • Has it been repaired?
  • Is it old or made to look old?
  • Is there a story behind it?
antique keys
7. Only Buy What Speaks to You
“Unless you really love an item, don’t be too hasty in purchasing it,” Linda says. “The item has to call to you. Or, before you know it, you end up with 2,000 of something in your living room and nothing is special anymore.”

One way to ensure an antique is a good fit is to consider its utility. “We look for ways to use antiques for everyday household storage,” Jamie says. In her home, an antique sewing machine cabinet drawer holds toothbrushes and a soap dispenser on the bathroom sink. Old lard cans serve as laundry hampers and enamelware pots with lids hold bread and dish towels in the kitchen.

The item has to call to you. Or, before you know it, you end up with 2,000 of something in your living room and nothing is special anymore.
–Linda Swope
The item has to call to you. Or, before you know it, you end up with 2,000 of something in your living room and nothing is special anymore.
–Linda Swope
The item has to call to you. Or, before you know it, you end up with 2,000 of something in your living room and nothing is special anymore.
–Linda Swope
8. Set a Budget
After doing your homework, decide what you can spend and stick to it. In some instances, such at flea markets and estate sales and on certain websites, don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you’re shopping through an antique mall, you can ask employees to contact a seller with a reasonable offer.
9. Shop Around
Look on various websites and at several flea markets, antique malls, shows, auctions, and even thrift stores. “You don’t know where you’ll find your favorite things,” Linda says.
antique engine room telegraph
While all these tips will help you score special antique finds, it’s important to remember that the process is supposed to be fun. “There’s great joy in the treasure hunt itself,” Jamie says.
Antique Terms and Lingo to Know
If you’re new to antique scouting, you might encounter what sounds like a foreign language of terms. For a successful scouting adventure, learn to identify the following elements and techniques.
Mortise and tenon
Mortise and tenon: A joint that connects two pieces of wood, mainly at right angles.
Lithograph: A printing technique whereby the picture is carved in a stone or metal plate, inked, and then transferred to paper.
Transferware: Pottery decorated by pressing a print on paper onto the ceramic piece.
Carnival Glass
Carnival Glass: Molded or pressed glass with a metallic, iridescent shimmer.
Depression Glass
Depression Glass: Clear or colored machine-made glassware distributed for free or cheap during the Great Depression, but quite valuable today.
Tintype: A photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal.
To learn more about antiquing, Linda recommends reading the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.
About the Writer
Carol J. Alexander writes about sustainable living, food, and home remodeling from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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