Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Buying Antique and Vintage Furniture: An Antique Dealer's Guide 2

This is the second in a short series where we'll be showing you the pros and cons of buying vintage and antique furniture. This time we'll be focusing on buying from online auction sites, probably the riskiest place in terms of knowing what you're getting, but the best place in terms of variety and price. 

Online Auction Sites

Online auction sites have transformed both the buying and selling experience in so many ways. On the positive side it's now incredibly easy for anyone to set up their own business. Without the need for a bricks and mortar shop, you can start small with very little finance and grow your business in your own time. 

But is this new selling culture also good for the consumer? As we discussed in our previous post, when you visit an antiques shop you should expect the dealer to have an indepth knowledge of the items they are selling and to be able to date pieces correctly and not mislead. If a person with very little knowledge of antique furniture opened a physical shop their inexperience would quickly show, and just as quickly, their sales would falter. 

It's true that there are some great bargains to be had on online auction sites, but beware, not everything is what it claims to be. Antique and vintage furniture, as well as being practical and beautiful, can serve as a great investment. It's important therefore to know that what you are buying is genuine.  

Buying From Private Sellers

Obviously not everyone selling on an online site is a dealer, they are many who simply want to de-clutter or update their decor. The great thing about buying from private sellers is that they don't tend to make grand claims about their items. Indeed, their lack of knowledge can sometimes work to your advantage. I routinely see people mis-describing furniture, usually crediting it as being more modern or less inherently valuable than it actually is. 

You can of course ask the seller questions and ask for more indepth photos. But you should probably be wary of bidding too high. With private sellers you can't return an item, so if you make a mistake that's simply tough. Although you can always relist the item and get your money back that way if you are so inclined. 

When it comes to buying from private sellers there are really only 2 rules: 

1. If it is decorative - buy it because you love it.
2. If it is functional - make sure you educate yourself about the item so that you know the pertinent questions to ask the seller regarding the condition.  

These 2 rules also apply to buying from business sellers, however, be warned - this is more of a minefield! 

Business Sellers

Of course there are great business sellers out there selling on auction sites. We are constantly being told about the death of the high street and high business rates and rents mean that many dealers now have 'virtual shops'. 

It's common for dealers, such as ourselves, to sell from a website but to also have listings on an auction site. It's a great way of showcasing our items to a large audience. Of course the feedback system is there to help buyers make informed decisions, but what other things should you consider? 

1. Always make sure you read item descriptions carefully - sellers will often list items as 'French', but then in the description describe the item as 'french style'. You'll also see 'antique style' and 'vintage style'. This means that they aren't genuine and are probably new items made to look old. 

2. Also be careful of sellers misinterpreting or mis-describing the age of pieces. This might be a genuine mistake on their part but any dealer worth their salt should know the difference between Georgian, Victorian and Art Deco furniture. I routinely see items listed as Georgian, and in the case of French furniture, Louis XVI. If genuine these pieces would be highly collectible and command serious prices. If in doubt, email the seller and ask for clarification on the age of the item. Georgian furniture covers the reign of George I (1714-1727) through to the death of George IV (1830). Genuine Louis XVI pieces are extremely rare on the UK market and date from the 1700s.  

3. If the price seems too good to be true then it probably is. So you've found a 'Georgian' bureau for £150? If it was genuine no dealer could buy it for that, let alone make a profit. Any dealer selling it at that price either knows it's not genuine, but assumes you won't, or knows nothing about the items they're selling. The same is true of genuine French furniture. Because of it's popularity and the dearth of pieces on the UK market it commands a certain price. Often sellers with cheaper furniture will describe it as French in order to aid it's saleability  Again, if in doubt, email the seller and ask to know the date and the origin of the piece. 

The Author

Ali Stokes is the owner of the UK based online boutique Dazzle Vintage Furniture. The website specialises in selling authentic French furniture and accessories which have been imported from France. 

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