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Antiques and collectibles

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by Mark Lamendola

Are you considering going into antiques and collectibles? Many people venture into this and end up with a ragtag collection that isn't worth much, but cost them a great deal of time and money. Now it takes up space and collects dust, and they can't get rid of the things they've collected. Then there are those people who have an impressive collection that gives other people a sense of awe and wonder.

How can you ensure you are in that second group, rather than in the first? As with the martial arts, the key is focus. You must decide on an area in which to specialize, then learn all you can about it. Make it your passion. Don't even start collecting, no matter how tempting a "buy" is until you are knowledgeable about the area you've chosen.

Begin by obtaining books related to your area. Suppose, for example, you want to collect 18th century American rocking chairs. You get a general book on antiques, then one on rocking chairs for starters. You should also obtain books on famous people of the era for which you are collecting antiques, in this case the 18th century.

Next, you will want to view actual artifacts and photos from this era (if, however, you are collecting 15th century chamber pots you would not be able to get photos taken in the time because photography didn't exist then). But where? In a museum or in museums. You may have to travel out of town to find the museum with your particular artifacts.

You'll also want to know what kinds of antiques are not from your era of specialty. So comb those books and museums to look for items that don't belong. In our example, you might spot a 19th century rocking chair and notice that a different varnish was used or some other standard has changed. What you want to do is "bracket" the era in which you are specializing.

Now that you've gotten some good self-education, you need to head out to the antique shows. Again, don't buy anything. Just look, listen, and learn. Ask exhibitors questions. Many of the answers will be wrong, so politely ask something like, "How do you know that?" Be sure to thank the exhibitor for being so informative.

After you've attended three or four antique shows, you probably have a good feel for what's genuine and what's not. Now you're ready to buy. Make your first few purchases from antiques dealers, not from private individuals. Avoid flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales until you have a few pieces of your own.

You want to buy things that go together. Remember, you are building a collection. So make a plan, and update it as your collection expands. For example, maybe you were collecting New York Yankees baseball cards from the 1940s. You have just about all of them now, so you decide to expand your collecting to include the 1930s and 1950s. By doing this, you can have a wider collection but also gain some trading ability when someone who has a 1947 card you want needs that 1932 card you have.

Always be on the lookout for forgeries, especially at those times when you expand your collection and start into a new era or series. In many cases, it will be nearly impossible to tell a restoration from an original from a forgery just by examining it. So try to establish the chain of custody. Ask, "How did you obtain this item, and when?"

A caution with antique furniture is to avoid "created antiques." Back in the 1970s, there was an "antiquing" craze. What people did was obtain bare wooden furniture or strip down some old piece that had a damaged finish. Then they'd apply a base coat of paint from the "antiquing" kit. After that dried, they'd then apply the "antiquing" finish. This was basically black paint that they would smear over the first coat, and wipe to create "age lines" in the paint.

The idea was to have the look of antique furniture without having to spend the money on it. Remember, this was in the 1970s. That was a period of very high inflation (the Fed was pumping out money like crazy), rapid price increases, and very high unemployment. It included the 1973 Arab Oil embargo and many other unsettling events. So a cheap way to look chic went over very well. One of the flaws in this "antiquing" craze was, in keeping with the leisure suits and loud colors of the era, the colors were often quite vivid and certainly not antique.

Amazingly, there were people who were churning out their "created antiques" and selling them as heirlooms! It was just unfortunate that the word "antique" was used at all with this 1970s fad.

You may find some similar craze happened in your area of interest. If so, don't allow that to distract you. If someone offers to sell you, for example, a reproduction print as if it's original artwork, just consider that a hazard of collecting.


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