Shopping - Buying Guides

How to: Buy antiques and collectibles as gifts

Top tips to score the perfect antique present for a unique person on your list.

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.” 

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.”

Do your research
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.

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