Antique collecting: novices need more time than money
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Eventually it is the marketplace, that vast network of antique shops, auctions, shows, and even flea markets, that becomes the most important aspect of a connoisseur's education. Start with the biggest, most reputable dealers first, and forget about bargain-hunting in out-of-the-way shops until you are more experienced. Besides being the safest places to do business, the larger, more established antique stores tend to have the greatest turnover and offer the most choice, which is the basis for those comparisons.Skip to next paragraph
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Any reputable dealer will allow you to study the merchandise thoroughly before a single dollar is exchanged. Don't just observe the exterior of an item, but ask to have the drawers taken out, the piece turned upside down to have a look at all surfaces. By doing so you will get one of the most valuable lessons in becoming a connoisseur: learning to determine if a piece is well made.
Studying how an item is constructed is perhaps the most important way to judge whether or not it belongs in your collection. Age comes into play insofar as most of the hand-crafted, really beautifully made furniture in America was produced before 1830. There are some notable exceptions, however, such as the outstanding furniture made during the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century, individually crafted items that are considered far more desirable than much of the mass-produced furniture of the Victorian era. And, in fact, the best antique reproductions, those that are produced by skilled cabinetmakers using the same fine woods and techniques employed in the past, are often worth nearly as much as the originals.
Another thing to watch out for when studying furniture is the condition and amount of restoration that has been done. A piece of furniture with its original finish, whether natural wood or painted, is likely to be worth far more than an identical piece that has been stripped or otherwise altered. And pieces that have all their original parts will hold the most value.
One characteristic that separates the connoisseur from the careless collector is this: The connoisseur is rarely swayed by fads or by what the decorating magazines are touting as the latest ''look.''
Once you have carefully studied furniture examples and are wary of the pitfalls of fads and fakery, you are ready to make your first purchase. At this stage, or at any other during your collecting career, it is prudent to get a written statement from the dealer guaranteeing that an item is all that he claims it to be. If, despite your careful study, an object turns out to be otherwise, you will have some legal muster to set the matter straight.
When shopping for antiques it is often tempting to look for the incredible bargain, that fabulously valuable item tucked in the dusty corner of a shop that the ignorant owner is selling for only a fraction of its worth. But usually what happens in such a situation is that the collector is the one defeated by his own greed. More often than not, the dealer knows exactly what he's got, and may even be waiting for a bargain-hunting customer to come along and outsmart himself.
Finally, it is important to realize that being a connoisseur doesn't mean adhering to the rigid tenets of quality and sound advice alone. Taste is a deeply individual matter, and the real joy of collecting is buying something that appeals to your heart as well as your head. The reason for careful study is to ensure that the gap between the two won't be far apart.