Spring has sprung, which means it's time for yard sales, flea markets, and antiques shows. While yard sales seem to be everywhere you turn, many browsers leave within just a few minutes if they do not find what they're looking for. It's no wonder: While browsing through an antiques show, it's not always easy to sort through vintage textiles, 19th century glassware, Art Deco lighting and Victorian-era armchairs, to find just the right piece for your home. But if you're armed with the right tips on what to look for and what to avoid, it can make the search a lot easier. Joss & Main's Style Director, Donna Garlough, has compiled her top tips for scouring through antiques shows to find authentic and beautiful items to complement your home.
1. Know your labels. It's important to know the difference between antiques, near-antiques, vintage, collectibles and reproductions when shopping around. A true antique is 100 years or older, near-antiques are 75-99 years old, and vintage items are usually from the 40s, 50s or 60s (approximately 25-74 years old). A collectible is considered to be anything that people collect. The age of a collectible is usually not important, except if an item is labeled a vintage collectible, which means it's at least 50 years old. Also important to note is that you might run into reproductions at antique stores. A reproduction is an item created to look like an original, but has no true value in the world of antiques.
2. Look for red flags. In order to avoid reproductions, take a look and see if the dealer has a large number of one specific item in stock. This may be a red flag.
3. Read up. If you know you're in the market for a certain item, do your research before visiting an antiques store. Know how that type of piece was typically created during that period -- were modern screws common? Were wood details hand-carved? And find out which stamps or trademarks were common at the time. These markers can be an indication of the item's authenticity and quality.
4. Be inquisitive. While shopping antiques, it's perfectly normal to ask a dealer questions such as: How long have you been a dealer? How did you determine the price for the item? Can I return this piece? What criteria did you use to identify the item? How do you know the piece is genuine? Lastly, make sure to ask to see ownership papers and anything that can validate the original origin of an item.
5. Expect to find signs of age. Don't forget that if you're buying an antique, it's over 100 years old and should not look new. Even if it's been well cared for, you should expect to find some evidence of wear and tear. Black marks from water, nicks and dings on or around the edge of an item, and even worm holes are good signs that the antique is genuine. Take out all drawers to examine sides and bottoms. An antique will have irregular dovetail joints, while a new piece will have joints that are even, regular, and cut by a machine. Irregular hardware also indicates that your item may be an antique. Reproductions typically have regular, mass-produced hardware. Steer clear of consistent color, factory-rounded corners and modern screws, which are all signs of new items.
6. Preserve what you find. If you're dealing with a high-quality antique, think twice about replacing original finishes or fabrics -- it might lose value if you try to resell it in the future. Old paint fades, and that's fine! You should also avoid using oil on stained woods which will oxidize and turn the wood black. A good way to protect a wood surface is solid wax, such as paste wax or butcher's wax.
7. A simple fix goes a long way. If you're not interested in reselling an antique, then feel free to spruce it up and make it your own. Replacing knobs and hardware can easily transform a piece. Same with a coat of fresh paint or a newly upholstered seat. Try not to get too caught up on cosmetic flaws. Instead, see the potential in a piece and focus your attention on each item's silhouette and its overall structure. Ask yourself questions like: Is it sturdy? Are the arms and legs cracked? Do the drawers open and close with ease?
8. Know what to avoid. Not all deals are good deals. Some things to steer clear of include used pots and pans that look rusted (no matter how cheap they are). Avoid certain baby items like cribs and high chairs, which may not meet modern safety standards, and kids' toys and furniture, which may have inserts and small pieces that can come loose and become choking hazards or cause other injuries.
9. The smell test. It may sound silly, but the smell of a piece can tell you a lot about where it came from. It can alert you to red flags such as a smoke-filled house or past water damage. Some smells may air out, but others can linger and last the life of a piece. Smell can also be a good indicator of age of the wood.