Aside from a few anchor pieces in my home, I realize most of my furniture and accessories are previously owned. For me there’s nothing better than seeing what the latest goods are at the second hand store, estate sale, antique shop, yard or consignment sale and even Ebay. It’s fun when I spot something really great but also draining trying to sift through a lot of not so great stuff.
While shopping and collecting certain items is purely personal, here are a few general clues for some of my favorite things like books, silver, furniture and crystal to help you determine what you might be getting for the price you are paying.
1. Looks are deceiving. While prettier, more organized stores are easier on the eyes, don’t discard the musty, cluttered store either. Take a deep breath and survey the layout. Do certain items seem to be lumped together like glassware, china, tools, or books or by style (traditional versus more modern pieces). Rather than walk aimlessly around, start at one point and work your way in a more linear fashion or if you know what kinds of things you are looking for, zero in. Also don’t be discouraged by dirty or tarnished goods – keep your mind open to the possibilities.
2. Books – Check the spine and flip through the pages to see the condition. Take time to check out the front page for print date (s) and edition number. There seems to be a difference in what a collector considers first edition versus the bibliographer so keep that in mind especially if the book has a heavy price tag. You may want to ask the seller a bit more about it. You might find a book club book, for example, which shows the first year it was printed but is not necessarily the first edition from the publisher. A hardcover with its original dust jacket in tact adds additional value as well. Is it signed by the author? A signature will also increase the value…especially if it is not made out to anyone. And for more current books, there’s lots of options to shop resourcefully.
3. Silver – is it sterling or plated? There’s nothing wrong with silverplate, but to see if it might be sterling, look for marks like S/S, 92.5 , sterling or sterling 925 on the bottom of the piece. EP means electroplated or silver plated. EPNS would mean electroplated nickel silver. Is the piece flaking anywhere or is a copper color showing through? If so, likely silver-plated. I carry a small polishing cloth so I can clean up the piece to determine more about it. If a little tarnish or black rubs off on the cloth, then I know it’s probably sterling.
4. Pictures/Paintings – Check the frame. A good frame will generally indicate a better picture. Is it a reproduction or an original? If an original is important to you, you should be able to feel the brush strokes and thickness of the paint. Reproductions may have the appearance of paint strokes, the “feel” will be uniform and smooth. Can you take out of the frame to investigate the backside for further information or detail? If the frame needs replacing, can it be done with a standard-size store bought frame or would you need to custom?
5. Wood Furniture – Can it be repaired, refinished, repainted or modified somehow. Is it glued together or nailed and how sturdy or heavy is it? Can you feel the grain of the wood? With the exception of pine, real wood will be heavier compared to veneer or a laminate; it is more durable and will last longer. Check for flaking or lifting up at the corners to better help you determine if it is a laminated or veneer piece.
6. Crystal – Is it memorex? Certainly don’t jump into any high pitch soprano to find out. A quick test to determine if it is crystal versus glass is to take a pen and tap the rip of the glass or opening. Also, rub one finger around the rim. If you begin to hear a consistent ring, then it’s crystal. Hold it up to the light and see if you get a prism or rainbow of color. Check for any chips or scratches that may diminish the value or your enjoyment of the piece. Because crystal contains lead, it will be heavier than a glass item of similar size. More importantly because the lead can leach into liquids over time, you won’t want to store anything in a crystal decanter for consumption later. Using stemware is fine as your beverage will not be in the glass long enough to have any ill effects.
7. Negotiate – It can’t hurt to ask. Be reasonable though and only ask if you feel it is too much, you are buying multiple items or really want the item but just can’t justify the purchase at the asking price. While it can be fun to haggle, no one likes to feel as if they are being taken advantage of so always play nice!
8. Do you like it? It doesn’t really matter what I say or think; the most important thing is do you like it, does it fit into your budget or are you willing to pay the price and then be at peace with that decision? Sometimes certain items will just speak to you because it brings back a memory or is that unique piece to finish your home and inspires you. As long as it makes you feel good, then that’s the best find of all.