If you like to look at antiques like art, you might also want to concentrate on furniture and other items made by a craftsman rather than those produced in a factory. That even becomes more difficult as the first piece of furniture to leave a factory in the United States did so more than a century ago. Beyond its design, much of the furniture even from Victorian times was factory made. Beyond its design it can’t be far admired for the art that went into its making.
If you are one who admires old furniture, it may be because you live in an old house. It’s easy to like an old house. You can find lots of people living in old houses, yet inside there are plain white walls and furniture from a department store. Old houses are even more fun and interesting with old furniture in them. You may want to find antiques that are appropriate to the time period when the house was built. If this is your motivation for collecting antiques, it may matter less whether or not they were individually crafted for factory produced. Still, before you go shopping and make a big purchase you could later regret, you’ll want to get a better idea of what style of furniture would have been in the house when it was new.
It’s not my personal intention to strictly adhere to a period décor, however. I enjoy antiques more for their artistic value and would miss the soft cushions as soon as I traded a modern sofa for an antique one. While some collectors like to have a home furnished almost entirely in period antiques, its people like me who lead some antiques to being less valuable. One of the main contributors to the value of an antique is whether or not it has a modern purpose. An antique instrument or chair potty or in some instances seating furniture and bedding is not going to be in as much demand as a sideboard, table or bookcase.
Some collectors look at antiques from an investment standpoint. The way I see it if you buy something at a department store, its value can greatly diminished as soon as it leaves the store. If you carefully buy an antique, the chances are good it will keep its value or increase in value. Of course that’s not always the case as the market for certain styles of antiques fluctuates similar to the art market. I should also mention that some things you might bring home from an antique mall may cost you later to dispose of. If your goal is to buy antiques as an investment, buy the best you can afford and seek lots of advice beforehand.
You may be asking where to find the good antiques and how to learn which ones they are. The best way is probably to befriend a reputable dealer. Dealers love to learn about what you collect and are usually happy to help you understand an item and justify its asking price. One of the most famous antique dealers, Israel Sack, kept a large file of every piece of furniture sold through his shop and allowed his customers access to the file for reference.
Another way to start is to begin to watch auctions. The better auction houses have an expert make an assessment of the age and condition of a piece of furniture. They also provide an estimated hammer price. It may be better to watch auctions for a while before bidding to get a sense of what items are desirable and how much they should sell for. If you decide to bid, remember there is usually a 15 -20 percent fee on top of the hammer price known as the buyer’s premium. If an auction is within a reasonable distance its also advisable to go to the preview to inspect the items.
Another great way to learn about antiques and meet dealers is to attend an antiques show. There are at least two held in Pittsburgh each year, one in Sewickley and one in Fox Chapel. There are many other shows within driving distance. There’s usually an admission fee and the shows usually benefit a charity or non-profit organization.
What about ebay? Like the large antique mall, ebay may be better left for the experienced collector. Many pieces of furniture have been reproduced several times since the period in which the style originated. This is especially true for earlier styles. Experienced dealers and collectors usually find it easy to spot a reproduction, but it’s not always absolutely apparent. More, especially when you get into the more expensive furniture it may have been deliberately faked. It wouldn’t be the first time a piece has been deliberately aged and hidden in a corner for someone else to “discover.”
Subscribing to Maine Antiques Digest and Antiques Magazine are also great ways to begin to learn about antiques and collecting. Maine Antiques Digest is especially useful in establishing what price items can bring.
I should add finally that some antique malls restrict the quality of the merchandise offered there and the dealers are knowledgeable. Here are some places to find antiques in Pittsburgh:
Antique Center of Strabane
2510 Washington Rd.- Route 19 South
Mark Evers Antiques and Fine Art
4951 Centre Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
5867 Ellsworth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Gallery in the Square
5850 Ellsworth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15232