Antique “pickin” has become sport to many people. It’s the thrill of the hunt. Climbing through dusty barns and dimly lit back rooms to find that great bargain. Combing through mountains of stuff at yard sales and attending auctions. Some folks pick to decorate their own homes. Some pick to add to a collection they have started. Some pick to resell in stores or antique booths. Some do all of the above.
But, how do you know what to pick and whether it is a good deal? The truth is, you don’t always know until you get it home and do a little research. When I pick for my store, I usually go with a general theme in mind. It may be a gardening booth or a farm theme. It may be old-fashioned toys or an antique sewing theme. I then look for items that will fit in with that theme. If I am picking for the store, I also look for the best price possible and am not afraid to try to bargain or bundle items for the price since it will be resold. If I am picking for something for my home, I may be willing to pay more for the item.
Another great place to find items is in your own attic or a family member’s attic. Many items have been passed down from generation to generation and sometimes have the greatest value. When items are out at yard sales, many times the sellers do not have any idea about the value of that old glassware that they are putting out for sale for a nickel!
After I bring all of my wonderful purchases home, I start doing research on the Internet. If there are any markings or names on the item, start by looking up those markings or names. You can usually find information about the item along with a great history of the company that made it.
As to value, that’s a little more difficult. A lot of people think that because an item is listed on Ebay for sale, that is what the item is worth. Not always so. When you look on Ebay or any other auction site, you need to look at the “sold items” to find a good price. These are the prices that were actually paid for the antique, not just someone’s wishful thinking. Condition is also a contributing factor. Obviously, the better the condition, the higher the value.
If you think your item is worth a great deal of money, it may also be worth having it professionally appraised. If you do not want to spend the money on an appraisal, shop around some antique stores to get a general idea of what the asking prices are for the item. Other good Internet resources are Replacements.com, Ruby Lane, Abebooks or Biblio.com. You can also ask antique dealers and proprietors in the business. As you do your research, start your own research file. Print out the mark identifiers, histories and other information for future reference.
One of my favorite pieces in my personal collection (which is pictured) was in my mother’s house. I had always admired this beautiful, hand-painted vase. It is a piece that could have just as easily been found sitting on a yard sale table or in an antique shop. When I brought this vase home, I looked on the bottom and saw the Nippon mark. I did some research and learned all about Nippon china (1891 – 1921 Japan). I finally found a similar piece with an actual sale value of $750. Sometimes, you just get lucky!
Ultimately, an item is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Where you make your money is the difference between what you paid for the item and what you sold it for. Sometimes you get great deals and sometimes you just had a lot of fun scrounging in that old dusty barn. The more picking and researching you do, the better educated and informed you will become at spotting those highly collectable items. Most of all, just have fun!
Ellen Geisel is the owner of Barker’s Grove Antiques located in White Horse, PA. Ellen has lived in the Chester/Lancaster County area her whole life and has loved “picking” since she was a child.