Getting the piece is more than half the fun in antiquing. By Amanda Bedgood

Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2013

Proper antiquing is less shopping and more sport. It requires a healthy dose of knowledge, an ample eye and knack for keen observation. There are certain elements that a piece gives away — little somethings that go unknown by a novice but are just the clues that let experts like Merrick Valentino know exactly what they’ve discovered. And more important, what that piece is worth.

“I love the thrill of the hunt,” Valentino says.

The antique seller began years ago researching and purchasing antiques and 15 years ago became a seller. And now she’s sharing her inside tips for snagging a great deal in the world of antiques.

“If you have the money you can always go and find an expensive, nice, quality piece. But for me it’s finding things that are a great buy,” she says.

She breaks down the basics for us to determine whether a piece is truly antique or a reproduction.

“A piece is considered an antique if it’s 100 years or older, and some reproduction period pieces are still considered antiques,” she says. “You want to look for signs of early workmanship in the proportions, the finish and the materials used such as wood, hardware and design details.”

She says to research specifics before you begin the hunt. Note that certain styles have particular qualities and elements within that style.

“For example: a Queen Anne chair has a dutch foot, and there are variations on the balls of the feet. Those are different elements that identify the style of the antique,” Valentino says.

There are certain qualities that can help you determine the age of a piece, and certain little litmus tests even a novice can perform. Valentino points to wood worm holes.

“Some of the reproductions actually make those (wood worm holes) to make it look old. Take a little straight pin and if you can put it directly in the hole, it’s probably reproduced. Worms never eat in a straight line,” she says.

She warns to look at married pieces that have used two original pieces to create a new one.

“Look at the style and the finish and where it’s worn where the pieces are sitting on top of each other. Is it the same wood? Those are all clues as to whether it’s original or a married piece. The value of married pieces are affected only if not irreversible.”

Nails are another good indicator of age.

“Old pieces have wrought iron nails ... reproductions will use the old nails and make the furniture with them. The clue to look for — a blackened area in the adjoining wood. The iron creates a blackened area around the nail,” she says.

She also says to become familiar with different types of wood. Know that certain woods are used more likely in certain pieces.

“Look for soft wood on the backs of furniture. They didn’t use expensive wood except for on the front ... if you see a piece and it’s completely finished on the bottom of drawers and the back it’s probably not quite as old.”

As Valentino explains the intricacies of shopping — hunting — for antiques, it’s clear there’s a world of knowledge to be had. Enough information to overwhelm some. But it’s something she embraces with zeal — like any good hunter.

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