How to: Buy antiques and collectibles as gifts
Buying a gift for some people on your holiday list is a breeze—Timmy wants a boxcar for his wooden train set, Mom's desperate for the latest P.D. James thriller, cousin Mary wants clothing gift certificates. Others, however, can prove much tougher.
Why not focus on a loved one's hobby, collection or general interest and buy an antique or collectible as a gift—a vintage scarf for a fashion student, an antique camera for the photography buff. Sound appealing? Here's how to pick the right gift and have fun along the way.Know their taste and style
Before heading out, have an idea of what you're looking for. “Be really clear about what their interests are,” advises Laura Harding, co-partner in the Southworks Antiques mall in Cambridge, Ont., with her husband, Douglas.
- For collectors: Know what they're missing and how particular they are about condition.
- For stylistas: Have an idea of their taste and décor—is their dining room dark woods and reds or light pine and sage?
- For hobbyists: Be guided by pastimes. “If someone loves Daschunds, get them a figurine, something they can start collecting, something that enhances what they already love,” says Harding.
- For the sentimentalist: Evoke the past. Harding bought a Thumbelina doll for her sister, who's not a collector, and she adores it. “It brought back all these memories for her.”
Do your research
Still unsure? Stick to items you would use yourself or something that can be used in a new way. “We had a woman here buying sterling silver sugar tongs as shower gifts,” says Harding. “Not many people use sugar tongs anymore, but she told them it was for plucking strawberry tops. The brides loved it.”
No matter what you're shopping for, understanding quality and price is essential. But because of an antique's rarity, and therefore the near-impossibility of comparing two identical objects, research is key to knowing why pieces are priced as they are—and whether that price is fair.
Resource books are great for learning about identification markings and price ranges, though they may not be current to when an item is available. “Demand can change. Chintz had a huge value just a few years ago. Now decorators don't want it,” explains Harding.
Along with general price guides, such as Miller's and Kovels, look for books and websites specific to certain antiques and collectibles, like jukeboxes, coins or Royal Doulton Bunnykins. You may also want to speak with collectible club members, especially if your gift recipient is part of that club, as they may know exactly what you should buy, at what price and where to buy it.Shop wisely
Although the Internet is great for research, Harding prefers purchasing in person. “You have to be much more cautious when you're shopping online,” she explains. “The ability to take an item back, to take action, to get restitution becomes more difficult.”
Going to a physical store also allows you to get up close with an item; to pick it up, look at it under the light, check for cracks and evaluate the best price for the condition. “The more you're handling antiques, the more you're around them, the more things become obvious in your investigation,” she explains. “This is the right weight, the right size, the right markings.”
Telling real from fake is tricky business. Guides like Antique & Collectibles Trader and Repronews.com provide information on what has been recently reproduced, and how you can tell if an object is a reproduction.
The best places to shop for antiques and collectibles come via word of mouth, says Harding. You can also visit the Canadian Antiques Dealers Association, which lists sellers who have agreed to adhere to certain standards and include article description on all invoices—important if you need to take action.
While every store has a different policy, it's up to you as the buyer to check the item carefully. At Southworks Antiques, all sales are final unless the item turns out not to be what was stated on the invoice.Get creative, but play it safe
Harding offers some final advice and wisdom as you set off on the hunt.
- Buy antiques, save the planet: antiques are the purest form of recycling, which the younger generation really appreciates.
- Stay financially sound: even in poor economic times, a good quality antique will hold up for years and usually retain its value. No re-buying because the MDF chipped.
- Have fun with it: even if you don't have an idea, browse to get the creative juices flowing.
- Go traditional: if they like books, don't buy a $600 book press. Buy a book.
- Be fair: stick with gifts that don't need to be on display.
- Buy confidently: if you're not happy paying a certain price, don't pay it.
When it comes to antiques and collectibles, the more you know—about the object and the gift recipient—the better your purchase will be. “Antiques can be highly personal,” adds Harding. “And they show how much you've thought of the person.”