The popularity of Antiques Roadshow on PBS speaks to one secret desire in many of us: the dream of finding a rare, valuable object in a house clearance or yard sale. True, the valuable part is mostly fantasy. Even experts struggle to make money in the antique business. But it’s certainly possible to discover delightful and beautiful pieces where others least expect to find them. Here’s how to get started.
1. Get to Know What You’re Looking for – and Looking At
If you’re serious about finding those covetable objects overlooked by everyone else, you’re going to need to develop an expert eye (or at least a semi-expert one). This means doing your homework.
Because ‘antiques’ is a vast field covering everything from fireplaces and architectural salvage to jewelry and fine art, you’re also going to need to be selective. Pick an area you really love, and you’ll find that developing your expertise comes naturally and pleasurably.
There’s one caveat: good for you if 19th-century Russian silver is your thing, but you might not get to see too much of it in your neighborhood yard sales (though of course, that depends on your neighborhood!). It might be a better idea to specialize in 1970s dinner services, or ephemera – the type of antique you’ll encounter more frequently in your local setting.
2. Browse the Marketplace
So you may not be in it for the money, but you’ll find it easier to nurture your expertise if you have a good idea of what’s hot and what’s not. This means getting up close and personal with the marketplace for your chosen specialty.
Visit auctions if you can. This is the very best way of finding out which antiques are the most covetable, and which might be the next big thing. Of course, checking out dealerships and eBay is also a reasonable way to gather market intelligence, as is consulting a range of current price guides.
But don’t forget that the market is fickle. Just because tin toy cars are the collectible of the moment doesn’t mean they’ll be as desirable next year. With a little persistence and observation, you’ll get a feel for how the market in your specialty cycles.
3. Don’t Overlook It If It’s Not That Old
Collectors of a certain age, this one’s for you. I want to be delicate, so I’ll whisper it quietly: just because you owned an object in your childhood or teens, this doesn’t mean that it’s not covetable now.
According to the US Customs Service, an object isn’t considered an antique unless it’s a century old. Granted, your old Rubik’s cube might not be an antique, but there may still be a market for it. There’s now a thriving trade in late 20th century collectibles, so if you owned some of these the first time around, you could have a substantial head start. After all, the tchotchkes of yesteryear are the collectibles of today and could be the antiques of tomorrow.
4. Hone Your Interpersonal Skills
If you’re looking for antiques at yard sales, especially when you’re still building your expertise, it can be helpful to hear the backstory behind particular pieces. This can give you clues to the provenance of items, and alert you when objects are more desirable than they seem at first glance.
So it’s always worth having a friendly conversation with the person holding the sale: that random tangle of wires and metal may turn out to be a valuable 1940s toaster, and only those in the know will ever find out. Besides that fact, honing your interpersonal skills will also help you connect well with the seller