How Antiques Work

Buying Antiques

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton adds to his collection in an antique shop in downtown Prague 11 November 2005.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton adds to his collection in an antique shop in downtown Prague 11 November 2005.
Michal Cizek/AFP/­Getty Images

­As demonstrated by the success of TV programs like PBS's "Antiques Roadshow" and HGTV's "Cash in the Attic," many people find antiques in their own homes. If you want to start or add to your antiques collection, there are some reliable places to look for them.

One of the best places to see and learn about antiques is in museums. These pieces are generally professionally authenticated, in pristine condition and grouped by period or style. They are often identified by maker and location of manufacture, and museum docents may be able to fill in historical details as well. Studying museum displays will help you learn to recognize antiques when you see them in the wild.

When you're ready to start buying antiques yourself, the hunting grounds are wide. Nearly every community has a store specializing in antiques. Smaller shops usually have offerings selected by one dealer, the storeowner. Larger antique malls feature booths or floor space that numerous individual dealers can rent to display their wares. You can expect to find antiques in good to excellent condition with prices to match.

Auctions are guaranteed to heighten the excitement of the antique shopping experience. A quick Internet search for "antiques auction" plus your city or state will bring up a list of auctions in your area. Auctions carry a wide and ever-changing array of antiques and collectibles. Most have viewing hours before the auction so that you can examine the items for sale and determine what you want to bid on and how high you're willing to go. Auctions are competitive and thrilling. In the end, you may walk away with the steal of the year. Or you may get caught up in the game and cast caution to the wind. It's a good idea to attend a few auctions as a spectator to get a feel for the merchandise and the cadence of the auctioneer before you sign up for a bidding card.

Internet auctions also offer antiques for sale. The drawback here is that you must rely on the seller's description and photos of the item. You can't examine the actual articles you're bidding on, the bidding may last for days and you can't take your prize home at the end of the auction.

Antique shows bring many dealers together for a limited event, usually a weekend. Some venues charge admission fees, so it's worth doing a little research to find out what dealers are participating and what they specialize in handling. Then, if you decide to go to the show, you'll save time by knowing which booths have merchandise that interests you.

Look in antique shops and newspaper classified ads for notices about estate sales that include antiques. These are auctions of the contents of a home, often without a reserve price (the minimum bid at which the item will be sold). The classifieds also carry ads for antiques, furniture and miscellaneous items. All of these are potential sources for antiques.

When you really know what to look for, you may be able to find treasures at truly bargain prices in flea markets, second-hand stores and garage sales. But where do you go to authenticate your find?