A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Expert Antiquers Reveal the 9 Secrets to Scoring the Best Deal

Do you love the Antiques Roadshow and yearn to start antiquing but not sure how to go about it? Check out what these veteran antiquers have to say for newbies who want to start picking their way to their next cherished keepsake.

1 / 8
Aris Suwanmalee/shutterstock

Find your niche

Are you drawn to the Antiques Roadshow because of the history and stories each item tells? Or the thrill of finding something valuable but not sure how to start antiquing beyond your grandma’s attic? Maybe it’s a mid-century modern atomic wall clock that makes you tick or a vintage Raggedy Ann doll that evokes happy memories of childhood. If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of purchasing something from an antique store or estate sale, think about what really catches your eye and speaks to your personality. “I would advise to find a niche, something that really makes you happy and passionate,” says Stacie Morrell who started the online department for the Goodwill of the Columbia Willamette. She holds the record for selling the most expensive item for a non-profit online, an original watercolor by a listed American abstract artist for $165,000 for Goodwill. Take a look in your attic to see if you have any of these seven valuable antiques that could make you rich!

2 / 8
SFIO CRACHO/shutterstock

Do your homework

“Once you find that specific niche or subject, start reading as many reference books on collecting that particular area as possible,” says Morrell.  “Pick books that are specific to the era or area of your choice, in order to get the most information possible,” recommends Morrell. “You want to be knowledgeable on all aspects of your chosen passion.” After hitting the books, take yourself on a field trip and visit reputable antique shops and ask questions about the items that interest you. You’ll learn more and build a good relationship with the owner.

3 / 8

Where are the antiques?

For some, the thrill of the chase is part of the adventure. Start locally by visiting small antique shops. Take an afternoon to peruse the booths at an antique mall. Spend the weekends hitting garage sales. Find an estate sale or auction.”Flea markets and antique shows are also a great way to meet and make connections in your chosen fields of collecting and a way to see things you normally might not, as many dealers travel to shows across the country or even internationally,” says Morrell. If hitting the pavement isn’t your bag, there’s plenty of antiques available online at eBay, Etsy, and Ruby Lane. (Think you’re an antique expert? Try to guess what these antique objects were used for back in the day!)

4 / 8

Tools of the trade

You’ll need more than your wallet when you embark on your hunt for antiques. Randy Farmer and Michael Moore, owners of Artifacts and longtime exhibitors of the Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville know the right tools can make or break an afternoon of antiquing. Say you find a stunning French Provincial Rococo Louis XVI sofa but not sure it will fit in the cozy nook you have in mind. You don’t want to pass it up but what will you do if that $2,000 sofa doesn’t fit? “When shopping, bring along floor plans, photos, measurements, paint and fabric samples, and anything necessary to transport your purchases, ” advises Farmer and Moore. Other essentials include a flashlight, magnifying glass, blankets, bubble wrap and small boxes. (Don’t miss these 14 thrift store shopping secrets for how to find hidden gems that last a lifetime!)

5 / 8

Estate sales

The protocol of garage sales and antique shops are fairly easy to navigate: You shop and buy. Estate sales are in a category of their own. An estate sale will usually post most of the popular items in a brochure or online. That’s a plus for doing your homework before the sale. “If an Eero Saarinen tulip-base side table seems of interest, do some digging into secondary market values to have a better sense of what you might pay for it,” says John Neiheisel, fine art & antiques specialist and generalist at Everything But The House (EBTH), an online estate sale marketplace. If you’re hoping to save some cash, estate sale companies tend to drop prices later in the day. “From my experience, companies will drop prices by anywhere from 25 to 50 percent after the first six hours of the sale and will continue to drop prices from the tag price throughout the remainder of the day,” says Neiheisel. But remember, if something tickles your fancy don’t hesitate to pick it up. If you hem and haw or wait for the price to drop it could be gone. Every item is tagged at an estate sale. If the tulip-side table is still in plain sight when you circle back, but the tag is missing, that indicates the items was sold but the buyer didn’t pick it up yet.

6 / 8

Online estate sales

Online estate sales, such as EBTH are great alternatives for those who want to peruse Snoopy snow globes in their pajamas. “Every single item of an estate is up for grabs by anyone, whether you’re bidding the first day of the sale or at the last hour,” notes Neiheisel. Some advantages to online estate sales are obvious: You don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to secure your place in line, dig through musty basements and hot attics, or worry about haggling. Online estate sales should have antique specialists to authenticate the items so you don’t have to do so much research. All the details should be clearly stated in the description. Read the estate sale company reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau before bidding. (Here are the eight ways to save big bucks while online shopping that every savvy shopper should know!)

7 / 8

Is it an antique?

There are reproductions that are exceptionally detailed to look like an antique. The painstaking efforts of the fine details, carvings, or even distressing make them look authentic that you may be inclined to buy it. This is where research is so important. Some manufactures have very distinctive labels or marks. “You need to make sure you have researched and understand what you are viewing,” says Farmer and Moore. “Be respectful and mindful of the amount of time, money, and energy that dealers put into their business. It is fairly common to ask for a better price, but it is always good, as a buyer, to know an appropriate price range of items that are of interest,” advises Farmer and Moore.

8 / 8

Haggling hacks

They say “cash is king” for a good reason. There are a lot of benefits for paying with cash and getting a great deal on antiques is one of them. “You have more leverage to bargain a better price when you pay in cash because it helps antique dealers avoid paying transaction fees to credit card companies,” says Bob Ellis, of Bavarian Clockworks. “One trick is to only bring larger bills with you. So if a product costs $88, you have a good chance of getting it reduced to $80 if the smallest bill you have is $20.” Asking for a better price may make you feel sheepish, but most antique stores are willing to lower their price to sell the item and make room for more inventory. Check out these seven other convincing reasons it’s better to pay with cash.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.