When you walk into a junk shop full of one-dollar items, it’s tempting to just buy everything you see. But to buy well, I think it pays to set a few limits. Here are my tips:
- Don’t buy anything that is damaged, apart from minor wear and tear. Inspect everything carefully for chips or cracks. Good quality chinaware has a ring when you tap it: if it’s cracked the sound will be more hollow. Wooden furniture can be permanently damaged by water, whereas small scratches can often be polished out and small dents can sometimes be filled and disguised. Good dealers will always point out any flaws to you. For this reason, buying antiques online can be risky, but it is a good place to do your research.
- Look for the maker’s mark, or at least check for the country of manufacture. I love Japanese ceramics and stainless steel and Danish teak and glassware. And Wedgewood and Mikasa ceramics from the 60s and 70s look very retro.
- Buy complete sets. Most crockery was sold in sets of six, so be careful when you see sets of two or four. But if only one piece is missing, sometimes you can find replacements on eBay. You just search the brand and model number, which is why it’s a good idea to buy things with a maker’s mark. A complete setting will hold its value, like this set of Mikasa Terra Stone E1955 cups and saucers, still in its original box. I think it’s never been used- how sad to have something so nice and never use it!
- Carry a tape measure. That way, when you see a piece that looks just right, you can be confident in your purchase. I also carry a notebook with some measurements from rooms in my home, and a little business card file with cards from all the dealers and shops I like to go to.
- Keep the price tags. This is important if you want to resell things later. It’s easy to forget what you paid for something, and doing this always reminds me just how cheap things are second-hand, even for collectible antique pieces.
- When you find a good dealer, befriend them. I’ve met a few great dealers who go to all the auctions, garage sales and junk shops to source the best items. They keep their prices reasonable and even deliver furniture for free, so sometimes it’s a better strategy to find good dealers, rather than try to find the forgotten items in the junk shops. Also, most dealers have to pay rent as well, so I never haggle over prices.
But of course, if you see something you love, ignore all the above and buy it and enjoy! You’ll always pay less, and you’ll get a unique item with a history.
PS: Lots of dealers these days have Facebook pages where they post new items. I’m thinking of joining Facebook for access to these pages, so when I create a Zoe at Home Facebook page, you can be sure I will let you know!
- Part one of this series, Unearthing rough diamonds: 6 tips for antiques shopping
- And from the A Beautiful Mess blog: A Beautiful Mess Flea Market Shopping Tips