Expert Advice: How to Tell if An Antique is Valuable

Antiquing is one of the UK’s favourite hobbies and it’s easy to see why. The pastime can be both exciting and profitable - you only need to look at stories like this from a 2015 car boot sale where a young couple of Beanie Baby enthusiasts in Cornwall bought a Princess Diana memorial Beanie Baby for £10, knowing it could sell for up to £62,000.

However, while money can be made from buying and selling antiques, for many the hobby is also about craftsmanship, nostalgia and personal connections to items.

What’s more, of everyone in the UK, people of retirement age are the most likely to have an antique in their possession. So, to help you both decide whether you potentially own any antiques and to look for any signs that they might be of value, we spoke to expert James Constantinou – the star of Channel 4's Posh Pawn and the Founder and CEO of Prestige Pawnbrokers & Prestige Luxury Boutique.

Interview with James Constantinou

Can you tell us what exactly is an ‘antique’? 

Typically, an antique is an item of value, significance or interest that is over 100 years old. There are many items of value and interest that don’t qualify as antique and are instead referred to as vintage.

In conversational language, and even in sales and marketing materials, these terms have become somewhat interchangeable. But, when it comes to appraising items, it’s important for us to get this right.

Dating an item is often a critical component of the appraisal process, and in some instances just a few years can have a significant impact on the amount of money we are able to offer for an item. 

What are some of the most common household items that might be antiques?

A lot of our customers ask us how to identify an antique, and this can be a very difficult question to answer. At Prestige, we most commonly see antique jewellery in our stores. From rings through to cufflinks, many households will include an item of antique jewellery that may be worth a lot more than its owner anticipates.

We also see lots of antique timepieces, including both wrist and pocket watches, with early Cartier pieces always piquing our interest. In terms of household items, we often see antique art, silverware and furniture. 

 
How can you tell if an antique is valuable?

Identifying an antique item is about both proving and disproving its age. So, signs of modern-day manufacturing processes or materials immediately indicate that something is likely to be a replica rather than an original antique.

In the trade, we often use Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks to assist in ageing and valuing jewellery, flatware and similar items. Sometimes, we can also rely on signatures, authentication cards or a service history.

With the majority of antiques, you would expect to see some signs of wear and tear or ageing. For example, this could be light damage on a painting, or microscopic scratches on a piece of gold.

To help identify whether an item is an antique or not, it’s important to utilise any expertise you have around you. I’m incredibly lucky to have a team that specialise in specific areas.

We often see antique instruments and we have an expert in that area to appraise and value these before we offer our customers a purchase price or loan rate.

How can you help keep antiques in the best condition to add value?

One of the most important things in terms of the value of antiques is the ability to provide provenance. So, if you do have an item of value, be sure to keep hold of any paperwork or anything that can prove the history of the piece.

Original and additional parts also have an impact on value, along with the overall condition of a piece. For example, keeping art or furniture out of natural sunlight and away from any sprays or chemicals that may alter their condition is important.

With jewellery, keeping it in its original state typically leads to optimum market value, so it’s advisable to avoid engravings or the addition or omission of stones. If possible, try and keep items in their original boxes and always have them professionally cleaned and cared for.

How do you go about getting an antique valued and sold?

There are many opportunities to have items of value appraised. At Prestige, as well as letting customers buy antiques, we also provide the option to take a loan against antiques, usually for a period of less than a year. This provides customers with a cash injection but also means that customers can retain long-term ownership of their valuable items.

There are lots of other opportunities for you to have your items valued though, and I always think it’s good to keep an eye out for local antique fairs. At these events, you will often find lots of experts and a number of dealers. If you’re lucky, one of these will be looking for the item you are selling. 

Have you ever encountered any particularly interesting items at prestige?

There aren’t many days when something unusual doesn’t come through the doors of one of our six stores! We see lots of both vintage and antique items and we often see items of jewellery that literally take our breath away.

It’s often the tales of items or the reasons for their sale that are of most interest, but I would say that appraising a pair of Queen Victoria’s knickers continues to be one of the most unusual moments of my career.

If you have any antique items you would like valued or are keen to understand the best antique items to buy, you can of course pay us a visit as well and we’ll be happy to help. 

Making an Investment in an Antique: Help and Advice 

If you’re thinking about visiting an antique fair and picking up a few items, then it’s important to follow a process that goes some way to safeguarding a return on your investment.

These top tips will help teach you how to find and pick antiques to add to your collection.

  • Research or Resource

If you are keen to begin investing in antiques, it’s important that you conduct your own research or find a reliable expert to help you make your initial investment decisions. If you are looking to invest in items it’s important that you remain focused on the objective value of an item - both with regards to financial worth and market appeal.

  • Facts and Fakes

Before buying an item, it’s important to perform some basic checks to ensure that the item is not a fake. Secondly, make sure you are armed with the facts, paperwork and any associated provenance details so you are able to sell the item in the future.

  • Interest and Influences

When it comes to investing in antiques, you should have clarity around how quickly you want to sell your item and the type of return you would like to achieve.

With that in mind, you need to evaluate not only the item you are looking to buy but also the market you wish to sell it in. So, ask yourself what the current level of interest is and what, if anything, could influence or affect the demand and therefore the value for this item now or in the future.

  • Quality and Condition

By definition, antique items will have been produced over 100 years ago and so in most instances, some signs of wear and tear will be expected. However, like James suggested, you need to carefully look for any damage, repairs or personalisation (such as engravings), as these will all impact the value of a piece.

If possible, it’s always good to know how well an item has been cared for, cleaned, repaired and stored. Look for signs of damage by light, heat or smoke and take time to examine all items properly before making an offer.

  • Need and Negotiation

As with any deal, try to keep a level head and ensure you remain detached from any passion, excitement or personal interest you have in the item. You should also remember that a seller probably wants to sell an item more than you want to buy it.

So, always negotiate and have the confidence to remain calm and in control when bartering over the cost. Any saving you can make when you buy will allow you to make a further gain when it comes to selling your item.

Antiquing when Downsizing

By following these top tips, you’ll find it easy to identify an antique. If you’re moving into one of our properties, then identifying your antiques and valuable items can be incredibly useful as part of the downsizing process. Plus, by taking up antiquing, you’ll find it easy to make new friends and spend time with like-minded individuals, which can also help you tackle loneliness in retirement.

So, start exploring your home today. You never know what high-value antiques you might uncover.