The Affordable IT Item

Rules: Antiques as Investments

By: Staff • Apr 06, 2010 • 1 Comments

Stephen Gray is the perfect example of a collector. But people don’t build collections the way they used to 


In December 2009 Sotheby’s auctioned off a single owner collection of American Arts & Crafts furniture. Building the collection was the life’s work of one Stephen Gray.

He was so fond of Gustav Stickley's dark quarter sawn oak furniture, hammered copper accessories, pottery and the soothing paintings that are all part of the American Arts & Crafts aesthetic, that he bought only the best. What's more, he lived with it, using it on a daily basis and thoroughly enjoying his surroundings.

After many years of scooping up the best, Stephen Gray reached the point where he knew his collection was complete. He had, at the very least, one of everything he wanted. He had preserved an aesthetic.

Ironically, collectors like Stephen Gray are a dying breed.

People just don’t build collections the way they used to any more than they fill curio cabinets with curiosities. The world has changed. Buying antiques has changed.

You buy things because they go with your home décor. Or because you have space for a painting above the sofa or mantle piece. Or because a Country French table rubbed smooth by generations of hands makes you happy.

So when we talk about investment quality antiques, we are not suggesting you set out to build a collection, preserve a category and, in effect, turn your home into a museum.

On the contrary, we believe that everything you buy should be functional or so beautiful that you simply can’t live without it.

Our mantra is: always buy what you like because everyone has a different definition of value. Always buy the best you can at the time.

If you are buying in hopes of seeing a return on your money someday, follow these rules. 

Rule #1: Make sure the piece is authentic.

Always work with a reputable dealer you can trust. He or she will ell everything you need to know about the item you want to purchase. If you have any qualms, ask for pictures of the outside, the inside, the back and the joints. Get a second opinion from an expert, appraiser or the specialist at your local museum.

Rule #2: Know the period, age, condition.

Learn the piece’s true age. You can do this by comparison shopping, researching comparable pieces on the price database, in Miller’s Antiques Price Guide and other resources. Be sure the condition is excellent.

Rule #3: Be aware of comparable values to make sure you are paying fair market price. 

Again, you can do this by comparison shopping, checking the online and printed price guides and auction catalogs and the online price databases.

Rule #4: Remember even investment quality items come good, better, best.

Don’t buy something that is more expensive than you can afford. Buy within your budget and don’t expect to make a fortune when you sell unless you are buying at the highest levels. Best advice: buy and trade in, buy again, each time moving up a notch in the quality index.

BOTTOM LINE: Quality plus condition equals price.

If you are buying a rare piece in great condition, expect to pay top dollar. If you have to compromise on either quality or condition, remember that affects the price you pay.


April’s Affordable IT Items:

Julie Garrett VanDolen says that garden furniture and some architectural elements are undervalued right now.  For the patio look for wrought iron chaises and for outdoor entertaining iron chandeliers are wonderful. Both are low maintenance and high style.

Justin Garrett adds outdoor fountains and water features to the IT list. There are some wonderful cast stone, bronze, and marble beauties waiting to return to their glory days. Statuary looks chic in any garden setting.

A Few Places to Find Furniture for Your Outdoor Entertaining Space or Garden:

Jean Marc Fray:

Pittet Architecturals:

Le Louvre:

Need ideas on how to add a classical feel to a contemporary garden? Check out this Ezine Article: