The Gentleman’s Journal guide to buying antiques

We asked the experts to give us their top tips for making the best investments

Starting an antique collection may seem like an incredibly daunting task. How can you be sure that you will see returns on your investment? How do you know when the price is right? And how on earth do you go about demystifying the cryptic signals of sale that wave, nod and eyebrow-wiggle their way around auction houses?

Much like fine wine or contemporary art, finding confidence in your own taste when it comes to purchasing an antique can start to feel a little bit too much like hard work. Good thing, then, that Gentleman’s Journal have called on the real industry experts to bring you a comprehensive guide on what you should (and shouldn’t) be looking for — before you splash all of your inheritance money…

Ask yourself "do I like this?"

This might sound incredibly simple, but if you’re feeling rushed and a little out of your comfort zone, then the heat of the moment might blind you to the fact you aren’t actually that keen on the piece you’ve just blown three month’s salary on. “Decide whether you like it or not first,” comes the advice from Harry Apter, Co-Founder of Apter-Fredericks Antiques.

“If you’re going to buy a painting, ask yourself: am I happy to hang this above my bed and look at it every day? Any item must have ‘eye appeal’, first and foremost.”

Do your research around the price...

The Gentleman’s Journal guide to buying antiques

As with any significant investment, it is of paramount importance that you know you’re paying the right amount and not getting short-changed. “Always do a little bit of research around price,” says Apter. “There is no RRP for antiques — so ask yourself why it might be a little more or less than the market value.”

According to Apter, the key things to factor in are originality, colour and design. “Always ask about authenticity, too. And if they tell you it’s absolutely untouched, that’s unlikely — nothing over 250 years old hasn’t had a piece of veneer replaced at one point or another,” he cautions.

Simon Phillips, owner of Ronald Phillips Antiques offers similar advice, and recommends that you buy the best you can afford. “Spend even more than you can afford on something better — since this is the piece you will enjoy forever, and you will forget about the price fairly quickly. Don’t buy for investment — buy to enjoy it,”  he says.

Ensure the piece is good quality

Again, this might sound simple, but the quality of your chosen piece will entirely dictate whether or not you’re making a sound investment. “Always look for good condition rather than totally restored and refinished items,” says Phillips. He is also insistent that items have to be strong and usable, as well as beautiful.

For Apter, a huge factor in selecting a good piece is trusting the dealer that you’re working with. “Trusting the person you’re buying it from is important,” he says  “Do you have an empathy and a connection with the dealer? Do they appear to have a passion for the object? And, most importantly, would they own it themselves?”

Don't follow trends...

The Gentleman’s Journal guide to buying antiques

You’ll have heard it said that fashion is fleeting but style is eternal. And, when it comes to buying an antique, you’ll want to be sure that your piece won’t become woefully unfashionable a year or two after purchase. Don’t be afraid to opt for a piece that you aren’t sure will fit with your existing collection, as Phillips explains “different styles can mix well if they are very good standalone pieces.”

“A piece that has a good original surface, for example wax on wood, or original gilt on mirrors, is always more desirable and collectible,” explains Phillips. Choosing a piece that carries these hallmarks of quality will inevitably ensure that you’re investing in both style and substance.

Further Reading