Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a great week-end. My sweet husband and I spent yesterday in Bennington (VT); I’ll tell you all about it next week. Today I thought I’d shares some of the factors that guide my antique buying. My parents raised me to love and appreciate all things old and beautiful. Avid antique collectors, they decorated our home with vintage finds picked up at auctions and antique shops. Over our kitchen table hung a stunning brass lantern with a large, white glass shade. In the hallway an old oak refrigerator that my father refinished served as a bar, and in another hallway sat a Hitchcock deacon’s bench, another piece my father refurbished. And in nooks and crannies throughout the house stood old bottles and other treasures discovered during “digs” I took with my father through the years. My parents instilled in me a love of vintage and antiques that has only grown through the years. Along the way, I learned to keep several factors in mind that help me out when buying quality vintage and antiques. All you antique lovers out there likely use the same “rules,” but sometimes it helps to talk about them every now and then.
Beauty of Design
The design of an object is, of course, what initially draws us to it. We walk into a room and the well-conceived shape of a piece of furniture or pottery or other object, draws us in. We take it in with our eyes, and our hands reach out to touch it’s surface. This thing of beauty begs us to fully experience it with all of our senses. We respond to perfect balance, strong lines, sometimes a touch of whimsy, the interplay of light and shadow, how all the pieces fit and work together. We sense the beauty and perhaps the rightness of such things. Sometimes they even make us feel giddy, or better still, joyful.
The concept of beauty in design cuts across all periods and genres, as do the other four elements. We can be as consumed with the design of a piece of streamlined mid-century modern furniture as by an elegant, curvy piece of French furniture. Beauty inhabits objects of all kinds, even every day items like kitchen wares and bed linens. The vase pictured here certainly exemplifies beauty in design. The designer used curves, perfect balance, and a luscious shade of green to create this stunning, but simple piece. Holding this delicate vase, with its elegant curves and silky smooth surface, never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Unless you’re looking for something to simply serve a decorative purpose, it almost never pays to buy an item that has a flaw. Its value has been cut in half [or more] by the damage. Yes, it was once a thing of beauty, but it is no longer, so turn away, run if you have to, but don’t buy it! Because I deal with such a large quantity of merchandise, I have a rule that governs my buying: only buy imperfect if it can very easily be made perfect. In other words, I can’t replace a chip, fix a crack, restore torn fabric, or replace a missing gem, so I will not be buying any of those items. I’ll let someone else deal with it.
The exception to this rule would be the type of collectible for which there are no perfect examples, all the perfect ones are in museums. But don’t take this rule to the extreme. Many types of antiques and collectibles are expected to have a minimal amount of age-related wear. Take the yellow ware bowl (above). It has no chips, cracks, or crazing, but the rim has some age-related staining or browning that is impossible to avoid when dealing with yellow ware, the work-horse of the kitchen. This McCoy mixing bowl, in very good vintage condition sells for $75-100.00. However, if it had a chip or crack, the value would be reduced by half or more. A small flake on the rim or the base might reduce it by 30-40%. If you have a choice between an excellent and a very good condition piece, choose the one in excellent condition, if you can afford it.
Quality of workmanship
Well-crafted pieces invariable hold their value and typically increase in value over time. Quality pieces often last longer because of their fine construction, and they are intrinsically valued because of that construction. Look for signed pieces (demonstrates the craftman’s pride), intricate detail, ultra-smooth surfaces, and parts that move easily and function properly. Dowel joints on a piece of furniture, tiny stitches on a quilt, and detailed embossing on a piece of pottery, for example.
The highest caliber workman will tend to choose the highest quality materials to make his/her wares. Mahogany over pine [furniture], cotton/linen/wool over polyester [textiles], and bronze over plaster [sculpture], just to name a few examples. These materials cost more, usually produce a finer product, and ultimately last longer. In the photo above you see hand-stitched quilting sewn on a beautiful quilt I bought in Pennsylvania several years ago. All the fabrics are cotton and the seamstress stitched 8-9 stitches/inch. It is a stunning piece of quality craftsmanship.
While considering an item, ask yourself questions like, “Have I seen many others like it? Is it unique? Is it special?” It almost goes without saying that the rarer an item is, the more valuable it is likely to be. Sometimes it seems that we all admire the latest trend setters (Chip and Joanna anyone?), but owning something extraordinary, a real statement piece that very few others have, that makes you a trendsetter. The owner of my antique shop frequently says, “If it’s unique, consider it. If it’s an antique consider it. If it’s a unique antique, buy it!”
It wouldn’t be too hard to come across a typewriter at almost any given flea market or neighborhood garage sale, and quite often sellers are under the misconception that all typewriters have value. In fact, many on the market are fairly common-place, not worth much more than $25-50.00. Remember, most households owned a manual typewriter prior to “electrified” versions. This Smith-Corona “Silent” typewriter, however, with those fabulous old keys and outfitted in maroon, is a bit more unusual, bringing $100-200.00 in excellent condition with the case. While most of us cannot afford rarities every day, we can sometimes afford them on occasion.
Not all of us have the space to display large numbers of collectibles. But if some of them serve a function in our home, in addition to being something of beauty, then that makes sense. Hoosier jars that can hold dry goods; stools and ladders that can be stood on; textiles like pillow cases, dresser scarves, and table cloths that can be used; and baskets that can hide away blankets and other goods, means our antiques are working for us. We live with them, touch and hold them, and gain more value from them than if we merely look at them.
This over-sized, footed basket serves as a good example of a utilitarian antique. It’s lovely to behold, made all the more lovely because we use it in our master bath as a waste basket. We share our house with a beagle and learned rather quickly that every waste basket must be completely out of his reach. Our master bath is large enough to accommodate its size, and I appreciate it daily, much more than if it simply stood in a corner or held a flower arrangement. Its the perfect antique accent for this modern room. The moral of the story: buy beautiful, well-made objects in good condition, some of which have utility and some of which are unique, and in the long run, you’ll be pleased with your vintage purchases.
Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting about antiques with me.
Here are some other posts you might enjoy:
Top 5 Things I’m Looking for at Garage Sales
How to Get Started Buying Vintage & Antiques for Business or Pleasure
10 Vintage Items Often Overlooked & Undervalued at Garage Sales
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