What you should know before buying antiques

  • Article by: ROSE RUSSELL , Toledo Blade
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 1:49 PM

Experts advise looking for quality craftsmanship and visual appeal.

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Antiques appraiser Barney Stickles, shown next to an 1890 vintage cabinet in his home.

Photo: Photos by Amy E. Voigt • Toledo Blade,

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When you shop for antiques, don’t go in cold. You need to have some knowledge so you don’t just end up with something old.

“Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s an antique,” said Byron “Barney” Stickles, an antiques appraiser. “There was junk made in the old days as well as now. It takes 100 years to be an antique.”

The Federal Trade Commission stipulates that something must be a century old to be called an antique, and dealers say that something that is at least 50 years old is considered “vintage.”

“Usually there’s a blurring of the lines,” said James Valentine, owner of Valentine Antiques in Toledo, Ohio. “The word ‘vintage’ is almost a new definition and no one has put a concrete definition to that word yet.”

Though it takes years of experience to readily identify antiques, before setting out to make a purchase, inexperienced buyers should read up on the subject and talk with reputable dealers.

“Study,” said Stickles. “You will make a few mistakes, but don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you buy quality, it will not hurt. If you buy quality and you overpay, you will recover.”

Stickles, who developed a love for antiques as a child growing up in a home filled with them, suggests looking for items that are signed, but he notes that not all antiques have a signature.

“Sometimes things are not necessarily signed, and that’s where experience comes in,” he said. “You look for workmanship. People today make beautiful things that will be wonderful tomorrow.”

Valentine concurs.

“You want to look for quality,” he said, adding that an item should also be visually appealing. “You can look for quality and something that is appealing at the same time.”

Those without years of experience in buying antiques might also bear in mind these points from Valentine: Close examination of a piece billed as an antique reveals the quality of workmanship. Is furniture held together with pegs and is there dovetailing? Are there hand-carving marks?

“You look underneath and if you see pressed board, it’s a sign that it’s not old. If you see staples and screws, it’s not old. And if you see ‘Made in China,’ it’s probably not old. That’s a good way to eliminate a lot of things,” Valentine added.

Stickles warns buyers to be wary of antique furniture that’s been stripped and refinished, because those processes can depreciate a piece by as much as 50 percent.

“In most cases, you don’t refinish but you protect the original patina, the original finish,” Stickles said.

And not all antiques are expensive, Valentine said.

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  • A hand-stitched quilt made by Stickles’ grandmother in 1884 qualifies as an antique because it’s more than 100 years old.

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