Persistence Pays OffThe most successful bargain antique hunters shop with frequency. Know when your local thrift stores restock. Head out on Friday and Saturday mornings to hit the estate and garage sales. Scour every flea market and antique mall you run across. Peruse online auctions regularly. It’s like fishing. The more often you cast bait, the more likely you are to reel in a whale of a deal.
Shop Early and Shop LateIt’s true that the early bird often gets the worm when it comes to antiques shopping, but don’t forget to drop by late in a sale to see what’s left, too. Many times items priced too high initially will be dirt cheap toward the end of an estate sale. The same goes for flea market and antique show shopping. Dealers will often make decent deals late in a show, especially for their good customers, rather than haul yet another piece back home.
Do Your HomeworkBeing able to recognize a good deal requires study before you shop. Whether you’re perusing eBay in your pajamas or schlepping across a flea market field with a flashlight, boning up on values in your specialty areas makes good sense. This includes having a rough idea about how much the item you’re contemplating sells for in different venues. Some harder to find antiques and collectibles bring higher prices online, and other more common items attract buyers when they can be examined in person.
Develop an Eye for QualityYou don’t need to know everything about every antiques genre to discover a bargain if you hone your eye for quality. Learn the feel of fine glass and porcelain in comparison to lesser quality pieces. Look for nicely detailed hand painting on ceramics, and fine stitching in textiles. Study the signs of quality craftsmanship and extraordinary design in furniture and jewelry. Sleuth for marks and labels previously overlooked by sellers. And especially in your strong areas of interest, be sure you know how to categorize good, better, and best in terms of materials, workmanship, and design so you can look for unmarked pieces that are way undervalued.
Phone a FriendIf you’re out in the field shopping and just don’t know whether or not something you’re contemplating is a bargain, use your phone to access the Internet or call a friend and ask them to price similar items for you online. Be prepared to walk them through completed item searches on eBay or browsing a favorite online dealer if need be.
Travel with Some ReferencesEspecially at garage sales, don’t be shy about asking a seller to hold something for you while you “go get your wallet.” Look up a piece in a reference book stowed in your auto to refresh your memory on subtleties that add value to an ordinary piece or look up a rough estimate price. If you decide the item isn’t what you thought it was, simply tell the seller you changed your mind so they can put it back out for sale.
Watch Other BuyersIf you’ve picked up an item and suddenly feel as if you’re being stalked around a garage sale, you may have a sleeper in hand. It’s likely another shopper has recognized your find and hopes you’ll put the item back so they can snatch it up.
A Few Shopping Cautions to ConsiderNow that you're armed with secrets employed by antiques shopping pros, keep these cautions in mind as you practice the craft:
- Don’t be seduced by a bargain price. It’s not a bargain if condition issues diminish the value of the piece.
- Watch for reproductions. Sometimes a “too good to be true” deal is just that, even at garage sales. “It belonged to my grandmother” might be a true statement, but did grandma buy it at the gift shop down the block a few months ago?
- Don’t let it get away. If you even think you’re interested in a piece, pick it up and hold it while you shop. You can always put it back if you change your mind.