How to Identify and Research Your Antiques

antiques in a narrow corner in a store

Jorge Royan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Lots of questions come up when it comes to antiques. What exactly do you have? Do you have something of value? Is your piece a reproduction? With a little effort, you can learn how to identify your antiques and research their values. This knowledge will also help you know what to look for so you can avoid being taken by fakes.

Look for Marks and Signatures

The first step in identifying and valuing antiques and collectibles is often determining the maker of the item by researching a mark or signature.

It's very common to find marks on costume jewelry, for instance, they're just really small and often hidden in an obscure spot. Glassware marks are not as common as on other items, like pottery and porcelain, but they do present from time to time. 

Pottery and porcelain marks are often very visible, you simply need to look on the bottom or back of a piece to locate them. Many of the best pottery houses have very well-known marks that are easy to identify. The marks sometimes changed over the years they were doing business, so these identifiers may be able to tell you more about the age of the piece as well.

Likewise, silver and silverplate marks are often a series of small symbols placed inside squares. If you know how to read them, they can tell you the maker, the country of origin, and in some cases even the date they were made.

Furniture can also be labeled, so be sure to check inside drawers and on the backs and undersides of pieces for a manufacturer or craftsman's name.

Markings on a silver pot
Elisa Cicinelli / Getty Images

Decoding Antique Furniture

Furniture is a category unto itself in the world of antiques. There are various styles, famous makers, and a number of confusing terms that you need to know. For instance, did you know that a sideboard and a buffet are basically the same thing?

When identifying antique furniture, one of the first things to look at is the style or period. Chippendale is a style of furniture that was crafted in the mid- to late-1700s while Queen Anne furniture dates to earlier in the century. The two styles look similar, but to the trained eye, there are distinct differences. Likewise, Eastlake is the name of a style from the late-Victorian period (late 1800s) that is distinctly different from its contemporaries.

Among modern furniture designers, a name like Eames will come up often and these pieces are very collectible. Not only does Eames furniture have a unique, clean style that's easily recognizable, but you'll also find labels underneath the pieces. There are many other Mid-Century furniture designers that made pieces that are collectible today as well. 

Looking at particular styles of furniture and the components can also be very helpful in figuring out what you have and how old it might be.

Chippendale drawer details
De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti / Getty Images

Don't Get Fooled by Reproductions

Getting stung by a reproduction is one way to "pay for your education." Learning how to distinguish reproductions from genuine antiques may not be the easiest thing you can do, but it's worth the effort and sure is a lot easier on the pocketbook.

Testing Your Antiques for Authenticity

There are a number of ways to test antiques and collectibles for authenticity, some of which employ very clever methods. For instance, a black light can be very handy for testing everything from porcelain to works of art. Also, if you collect Bakelite, you'll definitely want to know how to identify it by using various methods.

Get a Good Antique Guide

Knowledge is power in the antique marketplace and anything you can do to research your antiques or those you're thinking of buying will help. You might turn to internet research for some quick tips, but having a good library on the topics you specialize in can also be very helpful.

A trusted antique guide on general antiques is often a good place to start with research. These books can offer a good foundation as you expand your learning on your favorite types of antiques.