Antiquing is a load of fun and it’s even better of course when you find that perfect antique table or some other item. But first, read this list of 20 important tips when specifically buying an antique table.
Antiques will always be around.
Today’s furniture, at least some of it, will be antiques in 100 years. Of course, today’s antiques will still be antiques in 100 years.
With a good eye and persistence, you can furnish your house relatively inexpensively if you’re willing to buy distressed antiques and fixing them up. It’s a lot of work but over the years you can end up with a showcase house where every room has gorgeous antique furniture that nobody can buy anywhere else.
One of the most popular antique furniture items people look for are antique tables. Here’s our list of antique table buying tips.
1. What makes something an antique?
To qualify as an antique, furniture should be at least 100 years old. 30 to 40 years old means it is classified as “vintage” furniture. If an item is between 75 to 99 years old, then it is called a “near antique.” Even if it was mass produced, it can still be considered an antique, as long as it meets that general age qualification.
Being an antique does not necessarily mean that it is a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture. There were still a lot of tables being made for various uses around the time of the early 1900s and earlier. That was the time of the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of international trade, so there were a vibrant mix of new designs, exotic woods and various craftsmanship being offered with tables and furniture in general.
2. Use the Internet to find locations where the antiques are being sold.
The Internet provides a great resource for where to find those hidden treasures. People, antique stores and other sellers will actively announce their sales location(s), dates and times via the Internet. Whether as a social media posting or something like an online classified via Craig’s List, you will find a map to these antique table treasures by going online.
3. Know where to look.
The market for antiques is just like any other market in that it deals with supply and demand. You, as the buyer demand a collectible table. The seller(s) are providing just such an antique, and when these two things come together, we have a market going on. You know what you are looking for, but the key is finding the right seller, with the right table just for you.
Be willing to look at different sources for where this table might be. Again, check the Internet for classifieds, browse thrift stores, use social media and lawn signs to help direct you to garage sales, register with auctioneers (including online auctioneers like eBay) and visit antique dealers to browse their inventory. By covering these multiple, possible sources, you give yourself the opportunity to be exposed to a larger inventory of antiques and increase the chance of finding the right table for you.
4. Buying online vs. in-person.
It makes a difference if you are buying antiques online or in-person. In-person, you can do a thorough examination of a table antique, checking it for defects, blemishes or authenticity. Buying online takes a different approach though. But you can still do a very thorough “virtual” inspection. Just be sure to check pictures carefully, enlarging when possible in order to magnify the table’s attributes. Also, after your virtual inspection, it is a good practice to arrange to see the table in person if possible before buying. Another good tip is to see about returns ahead of finalizing the sale so that you know whether or not this is an option for you.
5. Get to know who you are dealing with to help avoid counterfeit items and knock-offs.
People offering imitations as the real thing is an age-old con (think about the fake Egyptian and Middle East artifacts over the years). However, that does not mean that you want to be the latest victim of someone’s unscrupulous activities. Get to know who you are dealing with as much as you can ahead of time.
This is especially true if the antique is a significant purchase, in terms of price. You want to make sure that your purchase is authentic and the person on the other end of the transaction is reputable. Check the Better Business Bureau if dealing with a business to see what their rating is. Also, check out online reviews of the seller to see if there are any red flags there as well.
6. Don’t let wear, tear and scratches deter you.
Some antiques may need a lot of TLC to be restored to their rightful condition. In fact, let defects and worn areas be a bargaining chip to get the price down some. It is all about negotiation when it comes to getting the right price for your antique. Those areas that might turn other buyers off may just be your discount “coupon” when it comes to reducing the stated price for the table.
7. Make sure the style of the table will fit your decor.
If getting the table for your own personal use and not as a piece of inventory to restore and then resell, make sure the table will fit into your style and what you are trying to do with a particular room’s decor. A great looking table antique can still stand out like a sore thumb if it is the oddball piece of furniture in the room where it will reside. Consider the overall decor and then decide if this new addition will actually be a right fit.
8. Can you even get the table thru the door?
The antique that you are eyeing is still furniture, so just like when moving, make sure it will fit into the space (and the doors, hallways, room, etc.) that you plan to move it through. Take measurements of the table to make sure that you have the right vehicle size if you have to move it yourself. Also, measure the doorways, hallways and room size where the table will reside in order to make sure it is a good fit, not only aesthetically, but physically as well.
9. Check for bugs.
Termites, and nowadays, bed bugs have greatly increased in their numbers throughout the West. People often get rid of their furniture due to bug infestations and bed bugs are not just limited to taking up residence in beds! Bed bugs are often found in accompanying chairs to a table.
They can live in the seat cushions just like they do in the mattress of a bed. Therefore, check accompanying chairs (if any) to the table you are thinking about. But don’t just stop there. Thoroughly check the table itself for any signs of bed bugs, termites or any other little critters that may be taking up residence in this antique.
10. If you are buying the table to resell it later, know its real value first.
You don’t want to over-spend on a table that you think has some higher value than it really has in hopes of reselling it later. This would put you at an immediate loss. Some tips to know value are: research the table on the Internet or other resources (you can do immediate research right there via your phone or mobile device), be educated about the time period before you go and know where to go in order to get more information on the things that you do not know (like a local appraiser who has special expertise in this era of furniture).
11. Fact or Fiction: Love at first sight?
Don’t fall in love with every piece you see on first look, especially if the piece is at a shop or an antique dealer. The piece being at a physical location, like an antique dealer’s shop, means that you have time to research the piece and make an informed decision about whether or not to acquire it. Not doing an impulse buy may help you save on the price of the table, or even, walk away from a bad deal altogether.
12. Don’t believe the hype?
Have you fallen in love with “antique hunting” after watching shows like PBS’ Antique Roadshow? While it would be great to find that diamond in the rough of all the table antiques out there, not all tables will make the cut. Most pieces will belong more to the 70s show, Sanford and Son, with their collection of junkyard items than they will be the rare finds that could make for an interesting segment on Antique Roadshow.
Don’t just accept the first price that the seller is throwing out there. Based on your research, you will be an informed potential buyer. Only transition from “potential” to “actual” buyer if the price is right and you can get actual value from the transaction.
Expect to begin negotiating on the price of an antique at least 25-50% off whatever the seller’s initial price offer is. From there, work to what you believe would be a good price for you. The good price for you should be known ahead of time too and be based on your research. That way, you won’t be too off from where you want to truly be during the price negotiations.
14. Know your table’s antique styles.
This tip goes to the relevance of information and being an informed consumer again. There are a number of different styles of table, and furniture in general for that matter, that fall under the generic banner of being called an “antique.” Is it a butler table or a butterfly? Knowing the style of your antique will help you to understand and determine its true value. Other table styles worth noting are: console or pier, Demilune, gate-leg, Guéridon, hutch, Kang, Pembroke, piecrust, tea or trestle.
15. Check the legs and feet.
You can tell a lot about the antique nature of a table by examining its style. Particularly, careful examination of the legs and feet of the table convey not only the style of the table but can help pinpoint the table’s origination, period, and even, authenticity. So, take time to do a little bending and looking down below the tabletop in order to get a fuller picture of what you are contemplating purchasing.
16. Look for quality workmanship.
If your antique purchase is of a table you are thinking about for personal use, you definitely want to have something in your home that boasts quality workmanship. If it is truly an antique, then it has proven itself to be able to ‘stand the test of time.’ But it is still worth it to make sure that it will last for an additional tenure in your home. Sometimes, over time, certain antiques undergo stabilizing repairs and you want to make sure that those repairs will also hold up. Dovetail joints are usually a sign of good workmanship, so check for these as well.
17. Do a budget.
Believe it or not, this simple step is a very important one when trying to source antiques. You may come across a lot of potential buys and tables that you like, but by having your budget in place, you will be better able to make the selection that is just right for you and your budget.
18. Is it original hardware?
Check for the table’s original hardware. If the original hardware and finishings are still present, then this is not only a sign of good and quality workmanship, the presence of this hardware will enhance the overall value of the antique. If the table has undergone some restoration at some point, there may be some replacement hardware present. In this case, the replacement hardware can either be combined with the original pieces or fully replacing the original hardware. Again, the more the original hardware, the more the antique’s value will be enhanced.
19. Check for any original inscriptions.
Look for any original inscriptions as these are valuable clues in determining the true origin of a piece. Depending on the time period and the manufacturer, an inscription could be anything from a handwritten initialing to a stamped brass plaque. Some other inscriptions are paper tags glued to the furniture or spray painted stencils acknowledging the furniture’s manufacturer.
If you are lucky, you will find one of these tags that help indicate where the table places in history. Note though, not every single piece of furniture has an inscription. Sometimes an inscription was only included on one piece of a suite of furniture, so that table you are looking at might be a true antique and still lack an inscription though.
20. What to look for.
The first rule of buying any antique is to buy what you really like. If the table cannot pass this test, it will not be something that you enjoy looking at every day. Even if reselling the piece, it should be something that you are proud of having in your possession for that brief period while you restored it before letting it go.
However, when selecting a piece to buy, you should be looking for: the antique’s condition, proportion or design, surface, quality, provenance and rarity. Having any antique meet all of these conditions means that you have a real ‘winner.’ These conditions also make the collectible ‘shine’ and boost its monetary value.
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