The best way to learn about antiques and collectibles is by reading. "Libraries and bookstores are full of good-quality reference books on just about every collectible known to man," says Potter. "If they made it there's somebody out there collecting it and there is undoubtedly a collectors' club promoting it."
Another technique is shopping around. "The way to learn about things are at auctions where you can touch them," says Christopher Lewis, executive producer of Antiques Roadshow U.K. "The only way to know things is to handle them – and then you have to see thousands of them before you can pick out the valuable one."
When you're ready to buy, find a dealer or auctioneer you trust and ask questions. If you're unsure about an object's authenticity, ask the dealer to guarantee it. If they won't, move on. You can also look for dealers approved by the Canadian Antique Dealers Association, an organization dedicated to safeguarding antique buyers.
Other things to keep in mind include wear and tear and markings. If a book is valued at $250 but the spine is in bad shape, it may cost just as much to get it rebound. If something is used and not reproduced, it would have signs of aging, like scratches, and age, like the type of dovetailing, joints and ridging. Finally, objects bearing marks of the maker, and metal content for jewelry and silver, helps the appraisal.
To determine whether the price is right, check out price guides for that field. "Keep in mind that they are just guides," says Potter. "Exposure to the market is important-look around for the same type of item in other shops and compare prices." When it comes to haggling, some dealers enjoy it, others don't. "These people have overhead costs like any other business," he adds. "Unlike the local furniture or electronics dealer, they can't replenish their stock by phone or fax."
If you already own pieces and want to find out more, you can visit a museum for an evaluation, but unlikely a value. You can also log onto the Antiques Roadshow Web site, which has a database of over 5,000 pieces.
Most important, however, is an antique or collectible's beauty. "I tell people to buy what you like," says Alistair Dickenson, a London, England, dealer and expert with Antiques Roadshow U.K. "You have to live with it."