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In this buying antiques in auction guide, you'll learn ways to improve the way you buy antique, collectible or vintage pieces online to find hidden gems.
5 Mins

Buyer's Guide: Antiques

Lewis Findley
Lewis Findley

How Do I Buy Antiques at Auction

Buying antiques at auction can be a fun, challenging or even a stressful experience. If any emotions have been missed then let us know!

These feelings are amplified when looking online as you can't physically interact with the lots. Buying antiques should be a rewarding experience where you find that hidden gem or uncover that missing piece to your perfect living space.

Antiques, collectibles and vintage pieces can change the dynamic of your desired room but there are things you need to look out for. For example, are they genuine? Or, are you paying the right price? 

In this guide, you'll learn new ways to improve your understanding of antiques, collectibles and vintage items.

1) Research 

Research is king. It's necessary to understand what an item is before you delve even further into it.

That's to say, have you ever wondered what the difference is between an Antique, Collectible or Vintage item?

  • Antique - An item which is more than 100 years old. 
  • Collectible - An item which is less than 100 years old.
  • Vintage - An item which is back in fashion (current tastes) or less than 25 years old.

It's important to understand that these terms do not add any value to the item in question, it's actually influenced by demand. This means that collectibles can sell for more than antiques or vintage items can sell for more than collectibles. 

Whilst researching the item, you need to determine factors such as age, quality and historical importance. 

2) Original or Marriage?

This can refer to an antique or vintage piece of furniture that's original or if it's been married to another piece of furniture. For example, a storage unit with a glass-fronted cabinet. 

It's important that you scrutinise the images and check for signs that they are of the same grain of wood, colour or timber.

Other questions you need to ask yourself are if there are any unused screw holes or if the proportions are natural and don't seem strange. If there are remaining questions, they maybe or were combined.

Finally, another thing you can look for is natural signs of wear and tear. This can dramatically affect the price of the item, so it's important to not take images for face value. Take a detailed look and if you need to, ask the vendor/auction house for more images.

3)  Advice From Interior Designers

If you have found an item you like but need a second opinion on how you could incorporate it into your desired living space, consider asking an interior designer for advice. 

This will give you a fantastic insight into how you could transform the space you have in mind or if you need to redecorate and buy other items!

Allow your desired item to shine in your living space and advice from interior designers could help take you there.

Take photos of your desired space, measurements if necessary, images of the item(s) you want to add and begin your journey.

However, if you're in it for financial investment then discuss the current trends and what collectors or homeowners are looking for. 

4) Signs of Professional Use?

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As items age, they develop a patina which tells its own story.

How it looks will depend on the item but you can find that previous owners have had their prized possessions restored or taken it to a professional for cleaning.

It's important to look for signs of restoration, as this can affect the price of the item. How? Parts of it may have been replaced such as handles which makes the item lose its originality. 

If the item has received some work, it's important to see if it matches the original item. Why? Polishing may involve chemicals that could affect the item's aesthetic looks.

Ask if any polishing was completed traditionally, and by a professional, because you wouldn't an important mark, signature etc. wiped off!

5) Visit Fairs and Galleries

To get an idea of what you like, why not go to a fair or a gallery?

You'll be able to ask questions, interact with the item and gain a greater understanding of what appeals to you. 

There are various events which you can visit, so why not get involved?

The greatest benefit of going to these shows is the ability to familiarise yourself with the world of antiques and uncover what era, decoration, country etc. is where your heart is.


Here's a bonus tip to help!

6) Don't Forget CARD! 

A bonus tip for any aspiring collector or general buyer. 

The CARD system is made up of the condition, age, rarity and desirability. These four factors provide a massive insight into the value of the item and how it may perform on the market. Let's break them down with examples.


Is the item intact? Are there any marks? Are there signs of wear? Is there a patina? Does it work?

These questions and more were answered when an M4 Enigma machine went into an auction. Fully operational and dating back to WW2, it was used by the German Navy after its predecessor, the M3, was compromised! It later set a world record. 


Identify where the item is from and its historical importance to uncover any surprising or unknown information.

Regarded as the most famous gun in French history, a revolver used by the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud to shoot his lover in 1873 was sold in auction for £370,000! 


Extremely important. There have been many instances where the rarity of an item just catapulted the price.

This was evident when a vase went 150x over its estimate after it was discovered the item linked back to the Qianlong Emperor between 1796 and 1820!


Is there a demand for the item? Are they in fashion? Was there a recent sale?

If you need a reason to look in your attic, a vase was discovered which turned out to be a commission from the Qing Court who needed a vase for ceremonial purposes. 

This find coincided with a boom in the Chinese Porcelain market which dramatically increased its desirability.

Final Words

Antiques can be a fantastic way to transform your living space. They can come in all shapes and sizes from vases on a mantlepiece all the way to furniture!

It's an adventure which can help you understand more about yourself and lead to creating your dream home!

Before you ruthlessly start turning your objects upside down, hit the share button if you think this guide might help someone!

Auctions can be a popular place to buy antiques and you can find a wide variety of antiques, collectibles and vintage items, so why not see if you can find yourself a hidden gem?

It only takes one click to Bid, Win and Love, so find something for you at WG and don't forget your CARD!