HOW TO BUY VINTAGE

 

Vintage furniture can add personality to your home and when carefully chosen and cared for, special pieces can also make excellent investments.

Adding vintage or antique items to the homeware mix is a great way to create a complex and rewarding interior. Pieces often come with the warmth of use and a bit of their own history, thanks previous lives.

You can decide on your own personal vintage-to-new ratio – meaning the vintage items can dominate at one end of the scale or simply be scattered in between your more modern pieces. The aim is to have the items living harmoniously together irrespective of their different ages, styles, materials and colours.

WHY VINTAGE?

Whether they’re genuine antiques or classic vintage pieces, at the end of the day, you’re paying for a slice of history, so it can be expensive. But along with these proven performers, there are also more affordable options that may not have the pedigree but are similar in style and effect.

Even better, you be plain lucky and find a gem that hasn’t been spotted by other customers or take advantage of dealers who are happy to accept a lower price in order to move product. Whether you’re fossicking in a junk shop, vintage store or at a fine-art auction, the fun is in finding just the right piece at a good price.

QUALITY

Furniture and decorative items made as little as 20 years ago often have a more substantial quality or are made of materials that are no longer economically viable, such as solid timber.

RANGE

Because you’re looking at pieces made over decades, or even centuries, the variety of product is greater than what is currently available. Many small, modern operations are now under the control of larger, often publicly listed companies or have been forced to close, amalgamate or at least reduce the variety of their output to improve profitability.

INDIVIDUALITY

Many of the items are rare, so very few other people are likely to have something identical – think of it as buying limited editions at bargain prices!

WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE

1. vintage dealers

While dealers are generally the most expensive option, they can also be experts who prevent you from squandering money on fakes and items in bad condition. Most dealers spend lots of time sourcing pieces – visiting auction houses and buying privately or from overseas – so the quality and range of product is hard for the average person to rival. Most mid- to high-end dealers will only sell items in either good original condition or properly restored, which will save you time finding reliable craftspeople. If you’re looking for a particular piece, it’s OK to put down your request on several dealers’ lists and see who is successful.

2. auction houses

Before you get tempted by what’s on offer, don’t forget that most auction houses charge a buyers’ premium of around 15-25 per cent on the hammer price, plus 10 per cent GST on the commission (and storage charges if you don’t pick up on time) – so what might seem a bargain can end up far from it. Most large auctioneers have an online presence, which is great news for the keen interstate or overseas buyer who is prepared to freight their purchase home – the only hitch is you can’t personally inspect the item on the auctioneer’s floor.

Like any other businesses, auction houses tend to specialise – 20th-century design or aboriginal art, for example – so do your research to find the auction house’s strength.

It’s worth a bit about how bidding works before you put your paddle up! 

3. eBay, Gumtree, etc

Although eBay and Gumtree have become a routine source for some vintage junkies, finding a gem isn’t easy. While some listings are added by reputable dealers who don’t have their own websites, many private sellers are far from knowledgeable and might think a piece is genuine or original but have no real proof. Always check the item’s condition and the seller’s credentials and be wary of buying expensive items, unless you’ve dealt with the seller before.

4. junk stores, garage sales & roadside finds

Often, charity and junk stores simply want to shift their wares quickly and cheaply and they’re not fussed about pedigree – so bargains can be found. And some garage sales are great for sorting through someone’s grandma’s gems.

WHAT TO PAY

The key to not overpaying is research – read books and check past auction catalogues and auction results. A comprehensive knowledge of the market gives you a substantial buying advantage.

INVESTMENT BUYS

If you’re inexperienced and looking to buy an investment piece, you will need to talk to a dealer who knows that category of item intimately.

AUTHENTICITY

Labels, signatures or original sales receipts are all worth having when buying an investment piece (anything that proves the item’s origin). Most glass, timber and ceramic pieces of high quality are signed by the artist. In furniture, look for retained labels with the designer’s or manufacturer’s name and stamped or branded dates. Copies of successful designs abound, so proof of authenticity is important before handing over the money.

RARITY

A limited-edition run of a production piece, special colours or small numbers due to age and damage earmark items as rarities. In furniture and product design, prototypes are highly collectable, and early examples more prized than more recent production.

PROVENANCE

A collectable item is usually worth considerably more if it has a provenance, meaning there is evidence (a bill of sale or published documentation) that the item was once owned by someone important. Items with a good provenance can add as much as 50–500 per cent extra value over the standard version.

 

Like this? Try our other guides too:

how to bid on a piece at an auction