25 Tips to Help You Shop for Antiques Like a Pro

Many people like to go “antiquing”.  Whether you shop to collect, to invest, or to decorate, you will want to make sure you know as much as you can about an item before you buy.

Here are some tips that should be helpful next time you go shopping.


  • Take a magnifying glass: Always the most useful tool to carry with you.
  • Take a tape measure: Small and compact, an absolute must for sizing.
  • Take a flash light: Invaluable tool that you will use often.  (All of these tools come in small sizes that can be kept on a key chain.)

Glassware and Pottery

  • Check for chips or roughness with your palm:  Your fingertips are more callused.
  • Ping with your finger: Set the piece in your hand and give it a light tap with your finger.  If there are no cracks, it should “ring”.  If there are cracks, it will “clack”.
  • Look at bottom: You are looking for maker’s marks and wear.  If you shop for a certain “brand”, you probably are familiar with how the company marked their pieces and how their marks indicate age. Wear should appear in a random pattern and not look fresh.  Wear can be applied to the bottom of a reproduction piece by rubbing it on a rough surface.  This wear would look new and sometimes be done all in one direction.
  • Small amount of damage can mean there is more: If you find a small chip that you feel you can live with, be sure to look carefully at the surrounding area.  Most often, a chip indicates the piece was hit or perhaps fell to the floor and there could be cracks leading from the chip or more damage in another area.
  • Hand painted: Here is where you need your magnifying glass.  If a piece is hand painted, you will be able to see brush strokes throughout the entire scene.  If you can see little dots, it means it is a decal and not hand painted.  Sometimes you will find a few brush strokes over or around the dots.  This is more like “hand colored” and not hand painted.
  • Look at the piece through a bright light: (Glassware)  Get your flashlight!  If the piece is between you and a bright light, you can see flaws, cracks, and base color (as in carnival glass or amethyst glass).
  • Stains, chips, and cracks: Keep in mind that these flaws will devalue the item and are a major consideration when buying.  If you are collecting or investing, flaws can be the biggest reason not to buy.  If you absolutely love a piece and must have it, in spite of its flaws, then its value is relative to your own judgment.


  • Smell: Open the book, stick your nose in it and take a whiff.  If it has an odor that makes you recoil, it is an indication that it could be musty or moldy.
  • Look for gray “dust” on the pages: This is mold!  Stay away!
  • Wrinkled pages: This means the book has been wet.  Not a good sign…mold could start growing.
  • Broken spines: Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but certainly an indicator that pages could start coming out and the book could eventually fall apart.


  • Wrinkles: Like with any other paper product, it indicates that it has been wet.
  • Gray dust: Again, our old friend mold.  Stay away!
  • Picture is too perfect: Be aware that reproduction prints are often put into old frames.  This is an issue for people who collect and invest.  If you don’t care that it may be new, then price is your major consideration.


  • Look at the entire piece: Spread it out so you can see everything.
  • Stains: In an old piece, the stain is generally set and will not come out.
  • Holes: Holes can be mended, but the piece will usually be worth less.
  • Mold and mildew: Will not come out.  Stay away!


  • Matching pieces: Many larger furniture items were made in two pieces.  Be sure the top and bottom  match.
  • Screws: Check what type of screws were used.  If you find all Phillips head screws, this is probably a newer piece.  (Don’t worry if you find one or two newer screws on a piece if all the rest look old.  Screws do get replaced over the years.)
  • Wear marks: Let’s say you are looking at a chair.  Is the finish worn on the arms where you would normally place your hands?  Are the front rungs of the chair worn where people may have put their feet?  These are normal wear marks that are made over many years and may be a hint that it is an old piece.

Fashion Jewelry

  • Tap it to your teeth: I know this sounds silly and you will look kind of silly doing it, but it works.  If you are trying to distinguish between plastic and some other substance, tapping it to your teeth will give you an instant answer.  Plastic has a dull sound when tapped.  Glass or stones have a much clearer sound when tapped and feel like a harder substance.  Experiment a little to get to know the difference.

Keep these tips in mind when you go antiquing and you will be shopping like a pro!

Good luck!



4 thoughts on “25 Tips to Help You Shop for Antiques Like a Pro

  1. Pingback: How to Turn $10.00 into $20.00 Work at Home Lesson 5 « Antique Alter Ego

  2. Pingback: Scrub-a-Dub-Dub Antiques in the Tub (or) How to Clean Your Vintage Items « Antique Alter Ego

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