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What Is Antiquing?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Antiquing can refer to two different things. In the first sense, it means going out and shopping or looking for antiques in a variety of locations. In the second sense, it refers to applying special treatments to furniture to make it appear antique. Given that the two concepts have very different meanings, the intent is usually clear from the context.

The first sense of antiquing is immensely popular in some regions of the world. Antiques can be found at estate sales, auctions, garage sales, and various shops, some of which may specialize in antiques. Some areas are famous for their antiquing possibilities, like the American Northeast, where some people go on antiquing tours. Many people enjoy the thrill of the chase, as they pore through an assortment of goods to find beautiful or valuable antiques; some people actually make antiquing a profession, seeking out antiques which can be resold.

Antiquing requires a great deal of skill, as it is easy to pick up an inauthentic, worthless, or badly damaged antique if you don't know what you are doing. Most people gain their skills through years of practice, and by working with people who are experienced at identification. If you are a beginner, you may want to visit a library or bookstore and take a look at books which are devoted to the identification and valuing of antiques, to ensure that you will be more confident in the field. You may also want to consider focusing on a specific type or period of antiques, like Victorian glassware or Shaker furniture.

Shopping for antiques can be a great a deal of fun, especially when you make a real find. As a general rule, look for things which show obvious signs of decades of use and wear, such as discoloration, stains, rounded corners, and so forth. An antique which looks perfect is probably too good to be true; avoid “antiques” which have obvious modern construction materials like particleboard, screws, and so forth.

In the second sense, antiquing is often done to make furnishings more visually interesting. Some furniture companies offer antiqued pieces to customers who like the look or want new furniture which will blend in with older furniture, and it is possible to antique things yourself, as well. Numerous books and do it yourself websites have extensive antiquing guides to help people who want to learn about the various techniques which can be used to artificially age furniture for an antique look.

Some older items aren’t technically antiques. Vintage pieces are under 100 years old, while items over 100 years old are considered antiques. Antiques are usually classified as collectible, investment, or decorative.

Antique, Vintage, and Classic Cars

Automobiles follow a different rule than most items when it comes to classification. When a car reaches the 20-year mark, it becomes a classic. At 45 years old, autos are known as antique. Vintage cars were produced between 1919 and 1930.

Valuable Antiques Worth Searching For

You might enjoy antiquing as a hobby, just to see what you can find. However, if you’re more of an investment antique hunter, there are several potentially valuable items to be on the lookout for. If you intend to collect antiques for their value, be sure they are in excellent condition.

Depression Glass

Not all depression glass is valuable, but certain pieces might be worth a lot. There are a few patterns that are consistently sought after, including:

  • American Sweetheart
  • Sunflower
  • Cameo
  • Waterford
  • Royal Lace
  • Moonstone
  • Cherry Blossom
  • Patrician

Postcards

Look for postcards featuring moments in history, holiday themes, famous people, and matte printing. Some older cards that include advertising are also highly collectible.

Clocks

Many antique collectors look for older clocks that are either in certain styles or from specific time periods. Rare and important clocks are extremely uncommon finds because most are in private collections or museums.

Rare Coins

If you come across an old coin collection, see if they are rare and therefore valuable. Some coins are worth millions of dollars, and you can find lists of the most prized coins.

China

Most china sets aren’t worth much, even if they are older. However, china sets from important manufacturers can be highly valued. Wedgewood, Meissen, Spode, and Royal Copenhagen sets are among those that are the most collectible.

Comic Books

Extremely rare vintage comics can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most valuable were kept in protective containers. Those are not common finds, but there are several that are worth hundreds.

Some to watch for include those that first introduced important characters, any Daring Mystery comics, and certain superhero releases. Many sites list specific issues by name, so if you find a comic you think might be valuable, check it against a list.

Perfume Bottles

Older perfume bottles were often quite decorative, even ornate. Unique shapes, materials, styles, sizes, and characteristics such as glass stoppers are some of the features you should look for. Bottles from certain manufacturers or specific eras, originating in particular countries, and commercial bottles that contained rare scents are also good finds.

Jewelry and Watches

Well-made jewelry stands up to the test of time better than some other types of antiques. Ancient jewelry made by Neanderthals 130,000 years ago was found in a cave. Many ancient Egyptian tombs included loose jewels and pieces of jewelry. While you’re unlikely to see that sort of jewelry at a garage sale, there are plenty of more recent jewelry pieces that can be worth lots of money.

Pieces from several distinctive time periods, beginning in 1714, can be found today. Locating high-quality pieces from the Georgian era (1714-1837) is rare, but jewelry made since the Victorian era (1837-1901) is relatively easy to find.

Pieces made by particular jewelers such as Tiffany & Co. are usually a good bet. Costume jewelry from top makers including Dior, Miriam Haskel, Coro, and Weiss is some of the most valuable vintage jewelry you can find.

Vintage timepieces from watchmakers such as Patek Phillipe, Rolex, and Tag Heuer are among the most sought-after. Both pocketwatches and wristwatches can be valuable.

Furniture

You can find a vast assortment of antique furniture if you look in the right places. Furniture is categorized by style or type of furniture.

Many distinctive furniture styles have been produced since 1685, including William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Federal, Sheraton, Empire, Victorian, French Restoration, Gothic Revival, Rococo Revival, Elizabethan, Louis XVI, Naturalistic, Renaissance Revival, Neo-Greek, Eastlake, Art Furniture, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism or Mid-Century.

Many types of furniture from these eras are still in excellent condition, including chairs, sofas, tables, desks, armoires, chests, sideboards, chess tables, bookcases, and beds.

Antique Popularity

Antique collectors do so for many reasons. Some people collect items because they hold sentimental value, while others want to bring a sense of history into their lives. Investors add to their private collections or resell items to make a profit. Whatever reasons you might have, antiquing is still a popular and sometimes lucrative pastime.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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