Going to an antique shop has that “a trip down memory lane” feel. Things that you’ve never even seen before — or think you’ve never seen — can feel so familiar, and arouse such memories of nostalgia and longing.
We’re drawn to what we see, even if we don’t know why.
And once you get bitten by that bug, soon it becomes a kind of sociological and anthropological and historical education all experienced through what the experts call “material culture” or what people use, make, relate to.
So many of my customers are so wowed by this that when they’re checking out at the register they heap on the compliments:
- You have such a beautiful store, where do you get all this?
- I had such fun here and I love your old timey music, too!
- There’s so much to see — I’ll definitely be back soon!
- I want to collect antiques, how do you find out about all these things?
Of course we love the positive feedback. And we thrive on giving our customers an unforgettable shopping experience. But most of all, we love sharing our knowledge of the items we find!
Whether we write some information up on a tag, or look it up right then when a customer asks, or, best of all, when we just happen to know because it’s an item we’re now truly familiar with, sharing information about the world of material culture is an endless delight!
So what if you want to get just a little bit more knowledgeable about antiques and you’re not sure where to start?
Well I’ve got three quick ideas for getting up to speed on the antiques world without much effort and with a lot of fun. If you decide to become an expert later, go for it. But this will help you dip a toe in the water without trying too hard.
#1 Go Antiquing!
There’s a reason “antiquing” is an honorary verb. It’s because to go out to antique shops looking at antiques is an activity to actively do. You don’t have to buy. You can just browse. But the very act of getting out there and seeing things is an education in itself.
First it can help acquaint you to what you like, what you’re drawn to. That rush of excitement or quick draw of breath is signal enough to you of what thrills you in the antique and vintage world. Maybe you’ll see something from your childhood. Or discover the perfect gift for a family member or friend. And that meaningfulness and fun is informative — informative of where your interest lies in the antique world.
I wrote an e-book titled A Digital Guide to Antique Shopping in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Region. It will help you get started locally. And there’s a world of other shops not listed that span the entire Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, the East Coast, the world!!!! Because once you get started visiting antique shops every weekend, trust me, you’ll be back again and again and again. And it’s your best source for experiential learning.
#2 Read Up
Once you’ve discovered an area of passion in the antique world, your next step is to get a few books on your areas of interest.
Whether you’ve got a flair for the Mad Men era designs of Mid Century Modern, a love of the clean lines of Scandinavian pieces, a passion for rare coins or stamps, or your heart goes pitter patter for 1920s costume jewelry, believe me, there’s a book out there on all of that and more.
There are books on collecting vinyl records, comic books, ceramic and porcelain figurines, minor but not forgotten artists’ works, textiles, Native American and Black American memorabilia, children’s books, the Civil War and the World Wars, pop culture advertising art, dolls, Matchbox cars, and the list goes on and on.
And the good news is that half the time you can find these collectors’ guides at…antique stores! And for a lot less than new.
So find your area of interest, get a few books, and start learning the lingo, the history, the pricing structure. You’ll end up more informed about what you want, what it’s worth, when it’s real and when it’s fake, and the best places to source it.
It’s just plain fun to up your knowledge quotient! And just to keep the learnin’ going strong even in the most casual way, you can always tune in to PBS’s Antiques Roadshow or the History Channel’s ever-popular American Pickers!
#3 Hit an Antiques Festival or Show…or Class
In addition to everyday antiquing, quite often there are antiques expos, antiques festivals, and antiques workshops or classes.
The great thing about these is that many vendors at expos and festivals are real specialists in just one category. And since they pack soooo many vendors into one event, there’s some chance there will be a specialist in what you love, from antique bikes to DC Comics, the Civil War to Hollywood movies, Art Deco furnishings to tramp art.
Now, if your area of interest is super esoteric, you might have to seek out a show or festival just for that, but Google it — they usually exist somewhere, sometime!
Another boon at shows is that often there is an area for appraisals, giving you an opportunity to potentially sell an item you have, or at least get a better sense of what a decent market price for it might be.
Finally, these expos and festivals are chock full of little learning opportunities, where your ticket price gives you access to mini-workshops, short lectures, and panel talks on all kinds of vintage and antique niches.
Becoming an Expert
Becoming an expert in an area — or many — in the antique and vintage world can take a lifetime. But with a little passion, a little effort, and the willingness to jump in, you’ll soon be learning the difference between Depression glass and hobnail, between Empire and Neo Empire, between barkcloth and damask, and between Limoges and Llandro.
I say come on in, the water is fine!
— Ellen Boden, Proprietress, Staunton Antiques Center