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How to spot a genuine antique

Paul Hayes
antique 300x225 How to spot a genuine antique

(Getty Images)

One of the questions that I am often asked is, “How can I spot a genuine antique?” and my answer is usually the same, “well, it takes years of practice and dedication, as well as a willingness to rely on your gut instinct, as to whether something is a good buy or not”.

I count myself as extremely lucky. I grew up in the antiques business, my father being a dealer before me. Every week we would visit local shops, auctions and car boot sales looking for salable items that we could supply to other dealers and collectors. Upon our return we would discuss and research the day’s purchases, whilst displaying them on the dining room table, waiting for our clients to arrive.

This was a time before the internet, where any research was done either by nipping down to the reference section of the library to find the item listed in a relevant reference book or by telephoning a network of specialist dealers and collectors, in the hope that someone would recognise a maker or artist. This could be extremely time consuming, often taking several weeks to pinpoint an exact opinion and value.

Over time, I was able to recognize a certain quality in any item and this ability enabled me to sort the wheat from the chaff, allowing me to sell off the cheaper, poorer quality items and concentrate my research efforts on the better ones. Using this strategy I am able to determine whether an item is mass produced and of poor quality, or is something that demands more research.

For example, the presence of a signature on a painting tells me that the artist is proud of his or her work, and perhaps has taken painting seriously enough to put their name to it. This probably means that the artist has held exhibitions of his or her work, and has sold their paintings through a gallery or auction. If you are lucky there is sometimes evidence of this on the reverse, a gallery mark or auction lot number etc.

If this is present, there are various publications available for research. Using this information, I can find out who the artist was, where he or she was from and in more recent years, when was the last time one of his or her paintings was sold at auction and the amount it fetched. This then can give me a ballpark figure of what this particular painting could be worth.

Studying a hallmark on a solid silver item can reveal the age, quality and maker of the piece which again, upon research can determine its value. One factor to always take into consideration is the condition of the piece, a crack, a chip or a blemish can drastically reduce the value of any antique, as investors will usually try and buy the best examples possible, in order to get the biggest return. Buyers beware though, the value of all antiques can go down as well as up and I am speaking from experience as I have a house full of them!

Top Tip: Buy the best example possible of items you like, you might end up having to live with them for quite some time!

Paul Hayes is the resident  antiques expert on a fabulous new television programme called “Antiques House” which can be seen on Sky Arts 2, channel 130 at 7pm

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