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Tips on Buying Antique Furniture in England

The buying of English antique furniture has a dual appeal. On the one hand is the pleasure to be taken by filling one's home with antiques, fine creations of master craftsmen, and on the other is the possibility of later financial gain as well chosen antique furniture appreciates in value.

Choosing Styles

When collecting and buying antique furniture in England and Britain generally the amount of time one is willing to spend will play a deciding factor in choices made. There may also be a desire to furnish rooms with furniture of the same antique period although a mixture of styles can also show to good effect.

The decor style of one's home will also have a role with furniture made of native wood such as beech wood, oak, elm, yew, and the fruit woods being well suited to old country cottages. Such English country furniture, made in provincial areas, is also cheaper than that made of imported woods such as mahogany, walnut, satinwood, and rosewood.

Buying & Budgets

As a rule it is advisable to buy the best quality furniture that our budget will allow, a few high grade antiques are preferable to a greater amount of furniture of dubious heritage.

These tips are to be balanced, for the beginner in buying antique furniture, with the fact that if mistakes are going to be made it is better they be inexpensive ones. As with much else in life, mistakes in buying antiques early on can prove to be valuable learning experiences.

Antique Furniture Shops

Antique shops will be our main source of supply. They vary in nature and quality to a great extent.

British Antique Dealers Association

For buying antique furniture of earlier periods in England, that is the Georgian era in the eighteenth century and before, it is strongly advisable to buy only from registered members of the B.A.D.A. Members of the Association have reputations to maintain and will guarantee whether pieces are authentic or not and will point out what later alterations have been made.

Other Antique Shops

Prices for antique furniture sold by members of the British Antique Dealers Association may not be affordable for all however and it is then that we contemplate taking our chances in run of the mill antique shops, the kind which offer a variety of antiques with a smattering of furniture.

What furniture ordinary antique shops sell is usually from the early Victorian and late Victorian eras, or the Edwardian era, often reproductions of furniture made in the mid Georgian and late Georgian ages. Prices offered for such antique furniture will likely be lower than in specialist shops and dealers however the risk is far greater that dealers do not know the pieces well enough to accurately inform you of their real origins.

Painted Armchair, 1880
Painted wood armchair, with cane seat, 1880. Armchairs with painted decoration and cane seats, like this example, were very fashionable in the 1790s and again in the 1880s. The light construction and floral decoration suggest that this type of chair was designed for a more feminine setting, such as a drawing room or boudoir. The makers Wright and Mansfield were famous for their furniture in 18th century styles. They specialised in furniture based on the designs of Robert Adam, Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton, whose designs inspired this chair.

There are also other antique furniture dealers who work behind the scenes, without an attractive shopfront on the high street, doing business with other members of the antique trade. For the more knowledgeable collector these antiques dealers may be a good source for old furniture in a "natural" state, unprettified for sale and ideal for those liking to carry out repairs themselves.

Lastly, secondhand furniture and junk shops are very unlikely to prove happy hunting grounds.

Selecting Antique Furniture

When shopping for particular models go around to a range of antique furniture dealers to establish the general fair price. Antique dealers are invariably happy to allow prospective buyers to nose around and understand that people will rarely buy something on their first visit.

Pay careful attention to condition and decide what level of imperfection you are prepared to accept. Unless you are a capable furniture restorer yourself avoid pieces that are structurally weak. Problems such as missing brass handles or keyhole plates should be treated as minor considering that reproductions of antique furniture hardware are easy to obtain. Woodworm is a special problem with soft woods such as pine and beech but can be treated if not already too serious.

Antique Furniture Auctions

Descriptions given at auctions of antique furniture can be vague and misleading for the novice collector. When certain of an items´ provenance antique auctioneers will label it "Georgian", or "Regency", etc. Terms such as "Chippendale", and "Hepplewhite" refer to furniture made in the late 18th century in the style of the designers mentioned. "Chippendale style", etc tends to mean a reproduction, usually of the Victorian era.

Before auction lots need to be carefully looked at, thinking in terms of structural soundness and authenticity. Check authenticity by opening drawers and cupboards, looking at undersides of chairs and tables. (See article on detecting fakes and reproductions).

Before making bids it might be wise to start off merely as a spectator, watching and learning, over a period of some time, in order to gain a good feel for how auctions work, to ascertain current market prices. Test yourself against the market, mark out a few pieces each time before auction and estimate their value later comparing your judgement with that of the results on the auction floor. Keep records of this.

Once you have started bidding at antique auctions be aware that some pieces will be bid up well beyond their ordinary value simply because one or two bidders are determined to have them. Don't join in on these occasions, keep a cool head and only pay what you think, or hopefully now know, is the true value.

Happy Hunting!

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