Antiques & Art: Part 3 – Becoming a Collector

Louis XV Marching Figures

A pair of whimsical Louis XV style ormolu & bronze Military marching Figures each raised on rococo bases, one a drummer boy the other an officer both adorned with foliate motifs. French, 19th century, courtesy Martyn Cook Antiques, Sydney

Being a collector of antiques and art offers many challenges along the way.

The old adage caveat emptor, let the buyer beware is good advice today so you will need ‘be prepared’ if you decide to take the journey.

The use of antiques in either traditional or modern settings is always desirable; the lure of the past is strong,

The choice available in lovely decorative pieces is highlighted by the colour, warmth and mellowness of wood that has faded and aged, enhanced by the gentle softness of old gilding and notable because of the amazing variety in exotic inlays and now extinct materials.

Most that do survive in great condition were produced by the talented experienced craftsmen of their day, who refined their own particular skills into art’ forms .

The attributes they collectively offer when combined with the ‘thrill of the chase’ make many antiques completely irresistible.

An appreciation, the sensitive recognition of good qualities in design and art is only gained through learning the theory and practicing, which constantly challenges all accepted theories. If you wish to deal or to collect in the fields of antiques and art you also need to understand a great many things.

Robert Adam Engraving

18th century Engraving – Robert Adam Architect, Columns and Capitals for Carlton House 1770, published as the Act directs June 1774. Designer: Robert Adam Engraver J Zucchi sculp, Londini – English, courtesy Martyn Cook Antiques, Sydney

If you would like to become a collector, a potential purchaser or, a dealer in antiques and art it is important to spend time gaining and expanding your knowledge.

You may find the first two parts of this series helpful – Part 1 | Part 2 and in this we are focusing on becoming a collector in the world of antiques, although many of the questions we ask could be asked about ‘art’ as well.

Some of the most respected antique dealers in the world were, at first collectors, who pursued their personal preference over many years before becoming dealers, working in the field of their choice.

Others gained an apprenticeship with some of the great dealers of their day. It’s also a fact that most great dealers are always happy to talk with people who share their passion and share their knowledge as well.

So if you are determined you need to get out there and get your network going by visiting your local dealer’s and talking to them about antiques and the sort of things that have attracted you to becoming a collector.

Interestingly in our age a lot of dealers are now abandoning their shops or galleries and preferring to showcase their wares in the various antique fairs held by the various bodies or associations they belong to all over the country. It makes good sense.

Becoming a dealer of antiques is no easy task. A large sum of knowledge, together with a good deal of professional experience, is required.

Antiques Detail 2

Selection of fine French antiques from Anton Venoir Interiors, Prahran, Melbourne

Being recognised as a professional happens when you pass the criteria to belong to many of the associations and industry bodies who regulate their members.


Selection of furniture, Allpress Antiques, Malvern, Melbourne

CINOA is the international body for antiques dealers worldwide. It is based in Europe.

In the USA there are many different guilds and associations to choose from.

If you live in the USA contact The National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, which lists the dealers in your state.

In the UK there is BADA and LAPADA

In Australia obtain a list of the Dealers in each State of Australia from the AA&ADA, Australian Antique & Art Dealers Association website.

All dealers will tell you that there are then many factors to consider when assessing a piece of antique furniture.

Why one piece of furniture is very much more expensive than another, while often looking very similar, can seem confusing for many at first.

However once you start ‘training your eye’ you will begin to see the differences in both materials and craftsmanship quality for yourself. The more you look, the more you will see.

As a prospective purchaser or collector if you understand the differences in quality, you can then decide your own path and establish just how pure you may wish your pieces to be.

These days it’s quite in order to choose something as wonderful as cut glass chandelier simply for its decorative qualities.


Selection Valentine’s Antiques, Bendigo, Victoria

If it has some age and charm it will light up any space it occupies be it traditional, modern or contemporary.

If you want to collect antiques or art with investment potential in mind, the differences between pieces made in period, and a copy made at a later time can also affect re-sale value and would need to be considered.

What are the most important points to understand about an antique?

Before you go on the journey to become a collector of either antiques or art here are the first questions to ask and find answers for when viewing an object.

When was the item produced?
Was it made to serve a specific function?
Who was the craftsman or artist who produced it?
What type of materials was it made from?
Were those materials available at that time?
How and where was it constructed?
Were the materials readily available at that time in the place where it was made?
Does it have the type of wear you would expect from something made during that period?
Is the wear consistent with its age and exposure to light based on where it has been?
What repairs does it have?
Are the repairs acceptable without affecting intrinsic or monetary value?
Does it conform to a known decorative or style type?


Dining furniture, courtesy Online Antiques


Eight-Light-Cut Glass Chandelier with metal mounts c1815, English, Mallett Antiques, London

Was it made for a patron?
If so, what were his particular eccentricities?
Was it made during the period when its design was first conceived?
What has happened to it since it was first made.
Where has it been?
Has it been ‘altered’ in any way?
What level of restoration affects its monetary value
What is the difference between conservation and restoration?
How do I know which one to apply?

Only when you have the answers to these initial questions will you really begin to be able to begin to be able to assess what it is you are looking at.

However be prepared, some may never be answered.

The secret is to satisfy your own curiosity on knowing about and having answers for the majority of points.

This is just a start… there are more considerations to becoming a collector.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

continued Part 4 of our series

Antiques & Art: Part 1 – Understanding Art

Antiques & Art: Part 2 – Understanding Antiques

Antiques & Art: Part 4 – Collector’s Considerations

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