Be a true bargain hunter: how to spot the most valuable antiques
You’ve probably heard of someone who picked up a bargain at an antique store or even a garage sale, only to find – much to their delight – that it was actually worth a fortune. So how can you become one of these lucky souls?
There’s no guarantee, but with a little knowledge, anyone can have a head start in spotting their very own bobby-dazzler – and there’s a new book that promises to help.
Bargain Hunt: The Spotter’s Guide To Antiques is packed with advice from experts who work on BBC’s popular Bargain Hunt series, detailing the best ways to identify quality across a range of younger antiques and collectibles – from the recognition of manufacturers’ brands to the revealing history of fashions.
“There’s so much to learn,” says author Karen Farrington. “Most of us have a sense for particular items – maybe you inherited a piece of china from your grandmother and did a bit of research on it, or maybe you inherited some a necklace and learned a bit about jewelry, and there are plenty of guides out there that will set you up with some degree of knowledge before you start.
“Any expert will tell you that the best way to get into something like this is to go to an antique fair and touch things if you can. Having a bit of knowledge will help make the right choices.
She says that for every type of item, if you have a set – a full set of chairs, a tea set, a toy set, or cigarette cards – they’re much more valuable than if you don’t. only one or two. However, she adds: “But then people like to complete collections [too] and will sometimes pay high prices for an item that will complement their ensemble.
Here are some of the things to look for…
Bargain Hunt expert Ben Cooper says older British ceramics should bear marks to identify the skill of the maker, but with coveted Chinese porcelain this is not the case.
“Imperial porcelain may have blue rings on the bottom or auspicious characters,” he explains. He points out that there are many copies of Chinese porcelain on the market, but adds: “A number of original and rare Chinese pieces are found in sheds and lofts, so could you have a rare piece of Chinese art? at home ? The short answer is yes.”
On a much more mundane but probably much more accessible level, ceramic sets made exclusively for good old Woolworths in the 1950s and 1960s are actually worth a lot of money these days. A set of monochrome Homemaker homewares is now very expensive — even incomplete sets are reasonable value, says Farrington. A bargain hunter bought a partial Homemaker tea set for £35 and sold it for £50. Farrington says, “A teapot that might have sold for 10 shillings at the time, might be worth as much as £200 today.”
Another type of porcelain to look out for is Royal Worcester painted and signed by artist Harry Davis, who began decorating porcelain in 1898 when he was just 13 years old. Farrington says his work is sought after – in an episode of Bargain Hunt, expert Philip Serrell spotted a small vase signed by Davis and bought as a bonus for £170 (when the expert can use money left over from the budget of the team to purchase an item for auction). It sold for £780.
Many people assume that the older the item, the more valuable it is – but that’s not necessarily the case. Farrington explains: “Time and time again on Bargain Hunt you see what we call ‘brown furniture’ – old-fashioned or Victorian – which is really of very little value. Candidates believe that because something is old, it has value. But sometimes it’s heartbreaking, it’s old, beautifully designed and very well done, but it still has no value. It really depends on the taste of the consumer of the day.
She says a good example of more modern items that have risen in value tremendously is 1970s furniture. it was a mistake,” she says sadly.
“It depends on who made it, where it was made, and the design, but 1970s furniture can really be at the top of furniture charts, in a way that something like a Victorian walnut chest doesn’t. just isn’t.”
Farrington says early IKEA furniture is worth a lot these days – which she says “is extraordinary” – as are the ubiquitous post-war G Plan pieces, high-quality Ercol wooden furniture and chairs and sofas. Vintage handcrafted Parker Knoll. “If you get one of those James Bond-style Parker Knoll chairs, it will see you well financially,” she advises.
The glass is “notoriously difficult” to appraise, says Farrington, who points out that glass from the Georgian period can be valuable – although there are counterfeits. The real thing is usually gray rather than white, and Farrington says the glass looks smoky when you put white paper behind it.
Also, when close together side by side, the legs of Georgian glasses normally touch before the bowls, and the glass may contain “seeds” due to the way it was made.
Cooper’s advice on buying glass is simple: “Buy what you like, what appeals to you, and buy what you can afford.”
And Farrington points out that it’s not just about how much money you can make buying an item. “You should never rule anything out just because you think it’s not going to be worth much,” she says. “Something called carnival glass, which you can get very cheaply at carnivals and fairs, can look very pretty and absolutely fall in the right place when you put it on your fireplace or wherever you put it, so why would you care about its value?
“What’s going up in value now are things like original movie posters – they change hands for a surprising amount of money,” says Farrington, who suggests going to your local movie theater and trying to get the latest Bond posters. “Keep them in acid-free tissues to preserve them and see what happens,” she says.
“A lot of adults revisit their youth by repurchasing toys they loved and lost, or never had,” says Farrington, who explains that there are a wide variety of valuable toys, including Pokémon cards, branded figurines like Buzz Lightyear and Star. Wars toys – a rare rocket-firing Boba Fett figurine that sold for £18,600 last year.
“If you’ve had a particular toy in your toy box since you were young, it might be worth something, but it probably won’t be because toys were meant to be used,” says Farrington. “The ones that are worth a huge amount of money are the ones that not only come in their original packaging, but still have the little holes in the top of the carton where they are placed in rows – these are the ones most likely to get damaged. have tremendous value.”
Bargain Hunt: The Spotter’s Guide to Antiques is published by BBC Books on July 14, priced at £16.99.