Have a Treasure Hunt at Home
Develop your eye for valuable collectibles and your house will become a hunting ground for antiques
"Are you living in a hidden goldmine? Maybe not enough to jack in your job but may be worth a few bob!"
Once upon a time (2005, to be precise), Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald hit the big time by bartering his way, item by item, from a single red paperclip to a two-storey farmhouse.
The moral of the story is that with savvy appraisal skills, you will learn to identify the things people want to own. That way, pots of gold may lie.
The acronym RADAR will help you to develop your sense of what makes a valuable antique.
R = rarity
A = aesthetics
D = desirability
A = authenticity
R = really great condition
Only a few were made, or only a few remain. It could also mean an uncharacteristic colour, style or size for a particular piece. For example, Tiffany only made a few wisteria lamps, as the hundreds of tiny pieces of glass made production so time-consuming, so they are more rare than their lamps with poppy and daffodil designs. It may be worth noting that an original lamp, made in the Tiffany Studios from the 1890s to 1930s, sold a few years back at Christies for well over a million pounds.
Overall pleasing appearance. That’s not always a matter of personal taste, as great pieces of art and furniture tend to have universal appeal.
What’s in vogue right now.
Separating real from repro is all part of the fun in the antiques game. As technology advances, it’s that much easier to create amazing fakes. Don’t take risks with any potentially priceless heirloom – take it to a trusted
dealer who knows what’s what.
Really great condition
A minor chip can devalue the finest antique object. So learn to spot scratches, breaks, dings, gouges, chips, cracks, fractures, missing parts, discolouration, signs of repair (glue, paint, mismatched screws, etc).
Now with all that in mind, take a fresh look at your valuables at home.
To the uninitiated, china’s just china, innit, me old china?
The reality is a little more complex, so here are the main points you need to know before assessing the contents of your granny’s kitchen cupboards for antique treasures.
There are three main types of porcelain, all known as ‘china’, as production originated in China.
Antique-china-jug BONE CHINA JUG- Kate Miller- Wilson
- Bone china. This was produced in English factories, such as Spode and Royal Worcester, from 1750. Bone ash was added to finely ground stone and clay to make thin, translucent tea sets, vases and dinnerware.
- Hard-paste porcelain. A major fixture in antique Chinese art, this originally included kaolin and ground alabaster. German factory Meissen was the first in Europe to take on hard-paste porcelain in 1710.
- Soft-paste porcelain. European manufacturers developed a softer, kaolin-free method, involving local clays (the most notable coming from Limoges in France).
To work out which kind of china you have, hold it VERY CAREFULLY up to the light. With bone china, you’ll see a lot of light coming through. It’s more likely to be ivory than pure white.
Tell the difference between hard and soft-paste porcelain by tapping the edge lightly with a coin. A high-pitched tone indicates hard-paste.
Most fine china has a backstamp, showing where it was made, so you can continue your research into its origin through an online backstamp library.
Do you possess a popular pattern?
A few china patterns have kept their allure and are as popular now as they were when they were first created.
House Beautiful identifies these beauties:
Spode’s Blue Italian. Featuring scenes from Italy, in constant production since 1816.
Meissen’s Ming Dragon. Meissen have been making this Asian-inspired design for the best part of 300 years. The dragon appears in various colours on a white background.
Royal Copenhagen’s Flora Danica. Its delicate use of botanical art from the 1790s make this one of the most collectible and valued china patterns.
Deruta’s Raffaellesco. First created in the 1600s, this has been a favourite ever since.
If you’re on the hunt for high-net-worth antiques in your cellar or attic, your antenna should twitch at the sight of a Chinoiserie vase, mirror, lamp or trinket box.
The Asian images of pagodas and monkeys wearing costumes have been popular since the late 19th century. A blue and white lamp can fetch hundreds and some of the most prized objects are from the UK or the US, not China or Japan at all.
When assessing glassware, keep in mind the RADAR rules. You don’t need to be an expert to know that glass is fragile and the condition drastically affects its value.
A complete set of Edwardian champagne glasses will be worth more than one that’s missing pieces. Collectors are unlikely to be interested in chipped, cracked glass, unless it’s very old and/or rare.
Heavy glass and intricately detailed pieces will carry more value than thin, delicate glass.
The first thing a trained professional will want to establish is which company made the glass. If you happen to own a pre-war Lalique, designed and overseen by René Lalique himself, you may well be in the money, unless you want to keep hold of it for investment purposes. Just make sure you display or store it somewhere very, very safe!
Cut lead glass, which has its outer design cut by machine or hand, is elaborate and often expensive. The technique is often used to make bowls, wine glasses, decanters and chandeliers. It is clear and heavy, and the outside edges will feel sharper.
Of all the treasures we own, jewellery often has the most sentimental value, so if you’re thinking of selling, it’s important to ensure you fetch the right kind of price.
Gen up on your gems. If you have boxes full of vintage treasures (‘I wish’, we hear you cry), invest in a jewellers’ loupe with a x10 magnification lens.
With diamond jewellery, it’s all about the 4 Cs - carat, colour, clarity, cut.
The loupe will help you check the cut of your diamonds and other precious stones, as well as possible imperfections.
Feel the weight of the jewellery and learn about the designers’ trademarks, signatures and stamps.
Test the fastenings to see if they work and are in keeping with the design.
Rule out fakes. Breathe over diamonds. Your breath should disappear instantly. If it stays for more than 2-3 seconds, it’s a phoney.
Natural pearls are heavier, tend to be knotted between each pearl, and feel gritty if you rub them against your teeth.
Compare prices with similar items, but remember the mark-up in stores is huge.
Selling jewellery can be a disappointing business as the money offered may be so much lower than hoped. Many dealers only like to trade in signed pieces by major designers – Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, for example.
However, the rarest items often command the best prices, so if you have a quirky piece, with an animal design, eye-catching shape, or extraordinary craftsmanship, you may get a pleasant surprise.
Coco Chanel said:
‘Jewellery is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them look beautiful’.
We take your point, Coco, but those pearls were worth a bob or two.
OTHER DESIRABLE COLLECTIBLES!
The antiques market is vast and hugely varied, encompassing all manner of objects, from coins, medals, globes and games to baths, prams, agricultural containers, and even locks and keys.
It’s worth keeping your ‘antiques sleuth’ head on and consulting online valuation sites, but remember it is always best to seek the opinion of a trusted, trained dealer.
The common misconception is that they’re slippery characters in bow ties and blazers, slapping gigantic mark-ups on your family silver. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Antiques dealers often travel far and wide to sift out the precious from the trash. There is no substitute for that kind of hands-on experience. They’ll have a keen understanding of the fluctuations of the antiques market (suffering from the downturns along with the rest of us) as well as a sharp awareness for what’s in demand in the here and now.
So start seeking out the treasures in your home. Tune into your inner RADAR and see if you can find some diamonds in the dust.
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